Recipes for meadows

Aside

Coming up this Saturday (1 July) is National Meadows Day.

Wildflower meadow in the Hole of Horcum. Copyright NYMNPA.

There is a partnership project called Save our Magnificent Meadows, led by Plantlife and largely funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund which promotes the importance of hay meadows and other species rich grassland types for the country’s natural and cultural heritage..We’re not one of the landscapes where the project is directly working but we have similar aims and objectives for North York Moors grasslands too. Save our Magnificent Meadows has a really useful Advice and Guidance resource which can help land managers work out what kind of grassland they have (e.g. acid grassland, neutral grassland, calcareous grassland, cornfield flowers), what type it currently is (e.g. improved, semi improved, unimproved) and then how best to manage it for conservation benefits. In the North York Moors we have a lot of improved grassland like most places, but we still have an amount of unimproved grassland and a bigger amount of semi improved grassland. Semi improved grassland – i.e. some characteristic species found in low frequency – can have great potential for biodiversity enhancement.

Conservation grazing

Kirsty Brown – Conservation Project Assistant and Alex Cripps – Conservation Graduate Trainee

Conservation grazing as a management technique: how does it work, when do we use it and what animals do we use? These are all questions we discussed during a recent Grazing for Site Conservation Management course held at Plas Tan y Bwlch, Snowdonia National Park’s Study Centre.

Why use grazing?

Conservation grazing can be an important tool for habitat management and works in three main ways:

  • defoliation by grazing and browsing vegetation;
  • trampling by treading and breaking up vegetation;
  • dunging/urinating by recycling materials back into the system.

The combination of these three processes, along with understanding the ways that different animals graze can help manage and extend important habitats.

Grazing is the traditional way of managing hay meadows (species rich grassland). Surviving meadows have an increased fungi:bacteria ratio, when compared to improved grasslands, as fertilizers increase bacterial levels which result in less healthy soils. The addition of any type of artificial fertiliser has a negative effect. Controlling the grazing e.g. shutting the animals out of a meadow in the summer is vital to allow the plants to flower and set seed without being eaten. Where the hay meadows are shut in summer, a later shut date leads to greater meadow species richness. A helping hand to the traditional grazing method is also useful as studies have shown that the addition of appropriate seed mixes helps establish good species richness.

The course involved a number of case studies/site visits looking at grazing and non grazing on a variety of different upland habitats. Sites included Newborough Warren Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Llanddwyn Island, both on Anglesey, to study grazing management in action using ponies and cattle on coastal habitats; Caeau Tan y Bwlch, managed through a partnership between Plantlife, The Wildlife Trusts and Natural Resources Wales; and Cwm Idwal National Nature Reserve. This Nature Reserve with its mountain habitats had previously been heavily grazed, but grazing had been removed in 1998 to help restore priority features, including rare plants. The image here shows an exclosure (on the right) that has been closed off from grazing for approx. 40 years, showing how vegetation varies from that on the left, which has been excluded from grazing for only approx. 10 years. It was surprising to see that the majority of 2014-06 Grazing Course - Cwm Idwal - by Kirsty Brownvegetation in the 40-year exclusion area was still barely knee-high. On this particular site, without grazing, there is currently a diverse botanical richness of species and structure, and it hasn’t become swamped with invasive species or scrub. This is an improvement in terms of biodiversity against the original uniform short sward that once covered the area, caused by over-grazing.

Which animals?

When looking to choose the best grazing animal for an area we learnt that:

  • Sheep can select particular plants and leaves down to ground level. Horses can also select to plant level.
  • Cattle have a big, wide mouth, and eat by wrapping their tongue around vegetation then pulling it out. They can only graze down to about 5cm from the ground, and can eat a variety of plant species in one mouthful. As they take longer to digest their food, they are able to absorb more nutrients from poorer grasslands.
  • Mixing different types of grazing animals on a site can be very beneficial, e.g. on grassland dominated by Molina (Purple Moor Grass), grazing with sheep only saw increased spread of Molina, but with a ratio of 1.5 ewes to 0.75 cattle grazing the area, there was a significant decrease in Molina.
  • Some grazing animal breeds do better than others in the winter (usually native breeds over continental breeds).
  • Grazing animals change their plant preferences depending on their nutritional needs, and tend to choose the tastiest and most nutritional plants first. They can also change their preference for different plants throughout the year.
  • Where animals have had particular worming treatments it is necessary to make sure the treatments have had time to flush through (at least 3 weeks) before the animals enter a conservation grazing area, to avoid detrimentally affecting beneficial and non-target invertebrates at the conservation site.

Animal welfare

It is important to consider whether, on a conservation grazing site, the animals are going to be:

  • Living a natural life? e.g. in an environment to which the species/breed is adapted;
  • Fit and healthy? e.g. able to achieve normal growth and function, and maintain good health in adult life;
  • Happy? e.g. sense of mental satisfaction, or at least freedom from mental distress.

The Grazing Animals Project has helpful advice.

Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) regulations (2000, 2003): includes duty of care by both Owners and Keepers. Persons attending to the animals should be acquainted with the relevant statutory welfare codes. So for conservation grazing management we need to

  • Enlist the help of an expert on that species/breed.
  • Ensure a site risk assessment for the grazing animals is carried out well in advance of putting the animals on the site, keep the document under review.
  • Ensure there is adequate contingency planning, in case the usual stock keeper/checker is unable to tend to the animals for any reason.
  • Make sure we’re not accidentally breaking the latest animal movement and standstill regulations and transport welfare regulations.

2014-06 Grazing Course - Llyn Dinas - by Kirsty Brown2014-06 Grazing Course - Newborough Warren - by Kirsty BrownManagement plans

Every plan needs a sustainable goal – and we need to know when we’ve reached that goal.

Currently lapwing are in the spotlight as they are declining in the UK, however their initial population rise was due to post-war human habitat intervention, creating lots of grazed habitat that benefited them and other farmland waders over other species. What is our goal? – should we be concentrating our efforts on supporting lapwing? should we look to the species assemblages that were present prior to this? or should we work towards habitat mosaics supporting lapwing and the other species?

The rule of thumb is to start by grazing the area lightly. Establishing the level of grazing appropriate is always important, over or under grazing can be damaging or ineffectual. Incorporate regular assessment and survey. Monitoring the site is vital so that the effects of the grazing on the valuable features can be assessed, and the grazing adjusted if necessary. Be prepared to be flexible and ready to tweak if necessary – increase/decrease, change animals/timing etc. Be ready with Plan B if Plan A doesn’t work! Management plans need to be dynamic documents and be reviewed/amended/built upon as required.

Conservation grazing is not an exact science so this course was really valuable in learning from the experts and hearing about their experiences and the general principles they have adopted. As each site is so unique it is important to recognise our starting point and decide what we want our end point to be: we may currently have quite a species-poor grassland but we would like it to become a species-rich hay meadow….so then we can work up a management plan to make that happen.

2014-06 Grazing Course - Caeau Tan y Bwlch - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Llandwyn Island - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Newborough Warren - by Kirsty Brown

2014-06 Grazing Course - Cwm Idwal - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Cwm Idwal - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Cwm Idwal - by Kirsty Brown2014-06 Grazing Course - Cwm Idwal - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Cwm Idwal - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Cwm Idwal - by Kirsty Brown2014-06 Grazing Course - Cwm Idwal - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Blaen y Nant - by Kirsty Brown
2014-06 Grazing Course - Llandwyn Island - by Kirsty Brown

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2014-06 Grazing Course - Llandwyn Island - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Llandwyn Island - by Kirsty Brown2014-06 Grazing Course - Llandwyn Island - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Llandwyn Island - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Llandwyn Island - by Kirsty Brown2014-06 Grazing Course - Llandwyn Island - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Llandwyn Island - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Llandwyn Island - by Kirsty Brown2014-06 Grazing Course - Llandwyn Island - by Kirsty Brown2014-06 Grazing Course - Llyn Dinas - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Llyn Dinas - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Newborough Warren - by Kirsty Brown2014-06 Grazing Course - Newborough Warren - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Newborough Warren - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Newborough Warren - by Kirsty Brown2014-06 Grazing Course - Newborough Warren - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Newborough Warren - by Kirsty Brown 2014-06 Grazing Course - Newborough Warren - by Kirsty BrownNow to translate all we have learned to help manage relevant sites in the North York Moors National Park, through our Habitat Connectivity project!

Rosedale’s mini meadow – part 1

Ami Walker – Conservation Land Management Adviser

I’ve been busy collecting seed from around  Rosedale with Alex and Sam (our LEADER Volunteer). We have used two methods of collection:  seed suckers (a leaf blower in reverse!) are used to collect seed from lots of different plants all at the same time whereas collecting by hand means we can collect the specific type of seeds that we’re after.

The seed will be used in the churchyard of St Mary and St Laurence which occupies the site of the former Rosedale Abbey. Within the churchyard we are creating a mini meadow full of wild flowers. The particular area in the graveyard earmarked for the meadow is where workers from the 19th century Rosedale ironstone mines are buried. There are no gravestones here, as many of their struggling families couldn’t afford to have one.

Hay meadows are not as abundant in the North York Moors National Park as they are across in the Yorkshire Dales, where they are a distinctive part of the scenery. Because we have less of this resource the meadows that we do have are very important for wildflowers, insects, butterflies and birds.

It’s important to have a large variety of plants in a hay meadow rather than a wall-to-wall carpet of just one or two species. This provides a diversity of food plants for a wide range of insects which then feed birds, as well as producing flowering plants for bumble bees and butterflies such as the Meadow brown.

For the mini meadow, amongst the plants we are hoping to encourage are the ‘usual suspects’: Ribwort plantain, Red clover, Ox-eye daisies and Meadow buttercups.

In addition, a particularly interesting and useful species is Yellow rattle. The local name for it is “Poverty” because it is semi parasitic on grasses and therefore reduces the amount of grass that grows in a meadow. It’s a good plant to introduce at the start of a hay meadow creation because by subduing the grasses it allows other plants to become established and thrive.

Another nice plant to have is Pignut, which is attractive to a small sooty black moth appropriately named the Chimney-sweeper. If you walk through grassland where there is pignut at this time of year there will be an abundance of these tiny black moths.

Also we’ll be hoping for interesting grasses like Crested dogstail – the top of the stalk is flat on one side and rounded on the other, like a dog’s tail – and Sweet vernal grass which gives off the classic vanilla-like smell of new mown hay.

The next stage in the meadow creation is to cut and rake an area of grassland in the churchyard and spread the seeds that we have collected.

If you would like to help out with the mini meadow creation check out the Rosedale Abbey website for all the details.

We’ll be letting you know how we get on in future posts and in a while showing you the results.