John Beech – Land Management Adviser
Species rich grasslands are one of the key habitats that we’re working to conserve and enhance across the North York Moors.
Grasslands that are high in biodiversity interest are one of this area’s rarest habitats. A lot of these sites are now isolated, so once a site can be brought up to a good condition we’re looking for opportunities to buffer and expand the site and how best to link it up to other grassland sites in order to enable a re-propagating more sustainable future.
Grasslands have been compared with tropical rainforest in terms of the numbers of species and the importance of habitat to biodiversity. But over 90% of the traditional hay meadows (one type of species rich grassland) in the UK have gone under the plough or been ‘improved’ with inputs since the 1940s. Their importance to wildlife such as pollinators which mean the habitat is an ecosystem in itself is now being grasped and our initiative is only one among many being progressed across the UK.
As part of our ongoing habitat connectivity programme, National Park staff and volunteers are currently concentrating efforts in the south west corner of the North York Moors which has a particularly rich reserve of fragmented species rich grasslands peppering the area. Ensuring these sites are well managed, properly resourced and cared for into the future is a major part of our work in the Land Management Team.
Contact was initially made with landowners in the area and then followed up with an assessment of each grassland and proposals suggested to enhance the condition of the particular meadow or rough grassland habitat sites. One of the recurring issues arising from a lack of management is encroachment by scrub and bracken which can be detrimental.
This is an example of a site near Oldstead which recently required a task force and so National Park Volunteers were called in, organised and supervised by the National Park’s Volunteer Services Team. The task was taking out some of the birch scrub that was taking over and out competing the wet grassland/heathland habitat on the site. Rather than suddenly removing the scrub, the birch stems were cut and piled into concentrated habitat heaps to provide some shelter for wildlife over the winter before slowly rotting away. During that time the long lengths of timber providing wet, damp conditions just under the bark of the cut trees is ideal for invertebrates, so provides a food source for other wildlife inhabitants of the wet grassland/heathland site.
Although this type of volunteering can look and sound like hard work, it can also be great fun to take part. At the end of the day you can see the results of your labour and you know it’s good for your natural environment as well as being good for you – you’ve had plenty of fresh air and it can actually improve your health!