September issue of Grasslands e-news is now published!

Bumblebee oon Devils-bit scabious

The September issue of Grasslands e-news is now published and has been emailed directly to our subscribers. 

There is news on our new membership scheme, forthcoming bat identification evenings at Eastleigh with Martin Reeves and our recent visit to the British Birdwatching Fair.

Our flower of the month is the Devil’s-bit scabious is found in damp meadows, marshes and woodland lines. Flowering July to October, it provides an important nectar source for late flying butterflies, hoverflies and bees. Due to successful woodland management Devil’s-bit scabious is again flowering at Carmel National Nature Reserve.

To receive a copy directly to your inbox, please subscribe online. We look forward to keeping you updated on our activities. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Elaine Shaughnessy, Director of Communications

Posted in bees, Bumblebees, Carmel, Community involvement, Discovering our Glorious Grasslands (DoGG), Eastleigh, Elaine Shaughnessy, events, grasslands, Grasslands Trust Membership, Grasslands Trust Nature Reserves, Martin Reeves, pollinators, publicity | Leave a comment

The Olympic Meadows legacy – what can we do for meadows?

This summer has been all about meadows – their beautiful flowers, the nectar-rich food they provide for our bumblebees, butterflies and moths, and the larder and habitat they provide for many of our most endearing mammals and birds – hares, voles, lapwings and skylarks.

It was an inspiration for the Olympics to plant flower-rich pictorial meadows in the Olympic Park, and to use the beautiful wildflower turf full of native grasses and flowers for the opening Olympic Ceremony.  The London 2012 Olympic Games delivered the biggest national television event since current measuring systems began with 27 million watching the opening ceremony.  We are now moving into the Paralympics with the opening ceremony tonight and the coverage will continue.

For all of us at The Grasslands Trust who are working to preserve our native meadows and pastures and their associated wildlife species, it is really good news to see the beauty of meadows beamed out to a global audience of millions.  The message that has not been included with the visual messaging is the real crisis facing our meadows and pastures and the wildlife they support. Over 97% of our traditional meadows and grasslands have gone and over the last 17 years, an area the size of Bedfordshire has disappeared.  Supported species are in significant decline and many of our bumblebees are in serious trouble.  Have a look at Bee Strawbridge talking about “An overview of the world of bees & the reasons for their decline”, from her talk at the Green Gathering Festival.

We are now in a time-critical period if we are to save the remaining 3%.  Grasslands are vital for our biodiversity, ecosystem services, and enjoyment as communities, individuals and families.  A valuable legacy of the Olympics will be for a really raised national awareness of the true situation.

What is really encouraging is all the information that is now available to enable us to grow wildlife-friendly gardens of our own – particularly by planting native flower species, growing our own wild-flower meadows in our orchards and by replacing lawns, and by not using pesticides.  Professor Sir Robert Watson, Professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia and Defra’s chief scientific adviser, in his recent article in The Telegraph has urged gardeners to plant wildflowers to protect native species.  He said that “We’ve got [a wild flower field] in Norwich at the University of East Anglia, and the number of butterflies and bees you see there is an order of magnitude above most areas … it looks a bit wild, but it looks beautiful to me.”

There is lots of good information and advice available.  Have a look at our website where you will find lots of information under Advice.  Other good sites to start with include Marc Carlton’s The Pollinator Garden and the Wildlife Gardening Forum.

If you would like to help us in our work and to grow your own garden meadow – do support us and  join our new membership scheme.

The beautiful Welcome Pack, designed by our friend Timi van Houten and with photographs by world-renowned photographer and Grasslands Trust Trustee Bob Gibbons includes a pack of native wildflower seeds and instructions for planting in large and small spaces.  Also included is the really useful Guide to Grassland Plants by the Field Studies Council and three postcards featuring lovely photos by Bob.

Together we can restore wildlife-rich meadows, protect our native species and provide beautiful green spaces for us all to enjoy.

Elaine Shaughnessy, Director of Communications

Posted in advice, bees, Bumblebees, Butterflies, Elaine Shaughnessy, grasslands, London 2012 Olympics, meadow creation, meadows, nectar-rich food, Olympic Meadows, Pastures, pictorial meadows, pollinators, wildife gardening, Wildlife, Wildlife Gardening Forum | Leave a comment

“The Grasslands Trust? Do you conserve African savannah?”

…no, we work much closer to home! Since working for The Grasslands Trust I’ve heard many interesting variations of what our name could mean. Although we are well known for our policy and advocacy work (with our detailed report on the state of the UK’s grasslands, Nature’s Tapestry) The Grasslands Trust isn’t as well known as other habitat-scale conservation Trusts. The image our name conjures up in people’s minds can be anything from African savannah to intensively farmed Welsh green hills – after which people ask “why do we need to conserve grassland, isn’t there already lots?”. Rarely do people think of our ancient wildflower-rich grasslands and meadows. Yet if you asked people about the UK’s ancient woodland they would immediately think of our remaining lush green forests and their importance as part of our heritage.

However our native wildflower meadows and pastures have played just as big a part in our culture and heritage as our ancient woodlands, and support just as many native species. The story of England’s grasslands stretches back across millennia. Almost all of the plants and animals that inhabit ancient grasslands colonised Britain after the last Ice Age – about 10,000 years ago, taking the place of creatures such as Giant ground sloths, Sabre-toothed tigers and mammoths. As the glaciers of the Ice Age retreated, grasslands replaced them and since the arrival of Neolithic farming culture 6000 years ago they have dominated the English landscape.

Commons, village greens, heathlands and wood pastures provided permanent grazing for sheep and cattle reared for meat, and oxen used as working animals. Meadow provided hay to keep the livestock alive over winter. The cycle of arable and fallow (combined with permanent grasslands) provided opportunities for wildlife to re-colonise areas as soon as conditions became suitable.

During  the early part of the 20th century, grassland management started to change with the development of new varieties of grass and the introduction of artificial fertilisers. The drive for domestic food production during the Second World War led away from grassland and towards arable, changing the English landscape entirely.  You can learn more about the history of our grasslands here.

There are a number of different grassland habitats surviving in the UK and each supports different animals, insects and plants. They have survived purely because they have not been managed intensively, but have been managed sympathetically through mowing for hay and/or light grazing.

And so the struggle facing the communications team at The Grasslands Trust is changing public perception of what we mean by “grassland”. Not all grasslands are the same, and the bright green fields of the modern English countryside are a far cry from the wildlife-filled meadows, commons and downlands of our past. Almost all of England’s grasslands have been heavily modified by agriculture. Less than 100,000ha (just 3%) of England’s lowland grasslands are still rich in wildlife, archaeology and history.

Grasslands aren’t just a part of our culture, they provide vital ecosystem services and their soils absorb carbon, helping to mitigate climate change. They help purify drinking water and provide homes for pollinating insects such as bees, which are estimated to be worth £440 million a year to England’s agricultural industries.

The Grasslands Trust focuses all its resources on the habitat-scale conservation of our native wildlife-rich meadows and pastures. If we don’t conserve grasslands, we can’t hope to conserve the iconic species they support, such as bees, butterflies and bats. Without a home, the species we know and love could easily become as extinct as the mammoths and Sabre-tooth tigers they replaced.

 

 

 

 

 

~ By Sarah Knight, Communications Officer

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Brilliant Birdwatching Fair 2012!

The British Birdwatching Fair at Rutland Water brings together a gathering of 22,000 wildlife professionals and wildlife enthusiasts over 3 days of birdwatching, a wide programme of events, exhibitions and trade stands.  It is jointly organised by Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust and the RSPB and has something for everyone.  Above all, the Fair is a great place to catch up on news and meet up with friends.

As Global Sponsor of the BirdLife International Flyways Programme, Birdfair 2012 is raising funds to support conservation action in the East Asian/Australasian Flyway Programme helping conservation efforts to protect intertidal wetlands. Simon Stuart, Chair of the IUCN  Species Survival Commission, formed part of the opening discussion panel and spoke about the issues facing migratory species.  The Fair was opened by HE U Kyaw Myo Htut, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Myanmar.

Grasslands play a vital role in providing habitat and food for the world’s migratory species but are under threat on a global scale from agriculture, farming and the timber industry. Almost half of the UK’s migratory birds have experienced a severe decline in numbers in recent decades. By protecting grassland habitats, we can not only safeguard the increasingly endangered migratory birds, but also mitigate the effects of climate change though the conservation of grasslands that produce oxygen and act as carbon sinks.

ImageI met up with Andrew Branson, Grasslands Trust Trustee and publisher of British Wildlife Magazine.  He was delighted with our new Grasslands Trust Membership Pack.  The stand was buzzing with people signing up for the journal and publications.

I caught up with Mark Avery at his book signing for his new publication Fighting for Birds.  Mark was RSPB’s conservation director for 12 years and he is now writing professionally about nature conservation. In his talk in the afternoon, Mark highlighted three key issues that particularly concern him: the need to further secure protection of birds of prey, the dramatic decline of farmland birds, and the idea that conservation NGO’s could become more effective and influential by following more competitive business practises.

ImageKevin Cox became our newest member!  I met him on the stand of the World Land Trust, for which we are both Council Members.  WLT have a great team and it was good to visit the stand with the added bonus of free coffee! There is a lot to see with 6 marquees, 3 lecture tents and the Arts Tent as well as lots of smaller exhibits.  The Fair is also a fantastic ecotourism event with knowledgeable and enthusiastic exhibitors.

A number of conservation organisations had stands and at BSBI stand (Botanical Society of the British Isles) it was good to discuss their upcoming Annual Exhibition Meeting in Cambridge later in the year where we will be exhibiting a poster on our work on protecting and restoring grasslands in the UK.

The BGCI Stand (Botanic Gardens Conservation International) looked great – well done to the team – Sara, Catherine and Chetna.  It was also in a great location to meet people.  Chatting with the Secretary General, Sara Oldfield, we caught up with another friend and colleague, Kathy MacKinnon, Vice Chair of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas.  Kathy is shortly leaving for the 2012 IUCN Congress in Jeju, Korea where issues facing the world’s grasslands will be part of the programme of discussions.

The status of the world’s seabirds has deteriorated rapidly over recent decades and several species and populations are now perilously close to extinction. Hundreds of thousands of seabirds are accidentally snared by the long-line fishing vessels. Albatrosses especially, have become increasingly threatened at a faster rate than any other species. I ended a really super day with a visit to the Langford Press Stand to meet up with my friend Bruce Pearson, the wonderful wildlife artist who was exhibiting paintings for his new book and exhibition Troubled Waters. Last year, Bruce revisited South Georgia and the Southern Ocean after 35 years.  Working with BirdLife International and the Albatross Task Force, he joined the crew of a long-line fishing boat and a trawler, off the coast of South Africa.  Bruce weaves together his artist’s personal story about his journey, following the lives of the albatrosses.

The British Birdfair is fun, interesting and importantly, sets bird conservation in the context of the global ecosystems that support birdlife worldwide through the provision of habitat, food resources, and critical staging posts for the annual migration of billions of birds a year.  Eco-tourism not only significantly contributes to the funds needed for conservation but also enables us to visit wonderful areas to see the wildlife and flora they support. Grasslands worldwide provide unique and special habitats that need protection and restoration.  Here in the UK, the work is critical, if we are to save the remaining 3% of our ancient pastures and meadows.  The dramatic decline of the British farmland birds, discussed by Mark Avery, in his talk is a case in point. We wish the IUCN Commission on Protected Areas and the IUCN Species Survival Commission every success in their meeting and deliberations in September at the World Conservation Congress and hope the outcomes help us all in our work to protect and preserve our landscapes, unique wildlife and flora and heritage.

Many thanks to the British Birdfair 2012 team and I look forward to visiting next year – British Birdfair 2013. See you on 16, 17 & 18 August 2013!

~ Elaine Shaughnessy, Director of Communications

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We have moved!

We’ve been looking forward to this day for the last 4 months and are thrilled to announce that our stunning new website has finally arrived!

This is a huge turning point for The Grasslands Trust and we hope that you are as enamoured with our new site as we are. Its been redesigned so that its focus is what we do – our projects – and advice on what you can do – whether its at home, on your farm or other green space.

From now on The Grasslands Trust blog will be posted here. Don’t panic though – all of our previous blogs will still be available for you to read on WordPress and we will be keeping our Moos, News and Views blog as an archive.

Alongside our new website, we are equally thrilled to announce the launch our membership scheme.   Please, please, please join us – it costs just £3 a month and you’ll receive a fabulous pack of goodies including a FSC field guide to wildflowers, advice on how to create your own meadow and a pack of wild-flower seed.

As you can probably tell the office is buzzing with excitement, so please explore the new site – and your feedback is greatly appreciated.

~ By Sarah (over excited Communications Officer)

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Landscape Launch of the UK Native Seed Hub at Wakehurst Place, RBG Kew

The Grasslands Trust (TGT) – Weald Meadows Nectar Networks (WMNN) are delighted to be a part of this week’s celebratory opening of the main production beds of the UK Native Seed Hub.  Set in beautiful High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty landscape – this will be a new visitor attraction for RBG Kew at Wakehurst Place, Ardingly, West Sussex.

For the last two years, under our Memorandum of Collaboration with RBG Kew-Wakehurst, I have been privileged to support this valuable project, which initially aims to illustrate and bulk up key native wildflower species.  As a member of the operations team, I have harvested selected wildflower seeds and given advice to support those species sown and planted out on the main site. It is set to be a momentous day, with our own Keith Datchler OBE and TGT and HWLT (High Weald Landscape Trust) Trustee, proud to be asked to officially open the site.

Keith Datchler OBE, Trustee of The Grasslands Trust

The morning launch is the culmination of a huge amount of work delivered by horticultural and Millennium Seed Bank staff at Wakehurst. Using their considerable skills, they have germinated a number of local Weald wildflower species, as part of their Esmée Fairbairn Foundation funded project.

We hope to see you there to view the landscape with its plot grown wildflower species, wildflower sculptures and the happy honey bees. The site will be open to the public from the afternoon of the 17th July – following the formal opening and celebration in the morning.

Dawn Brickwood, Meadows Officer
The Grasslands Trust  – Weald Meadows Nectar Networks

Posted in Author, biodiversity, Dawn Brickwood, education, events, grassland restoration, grasslands, Grasslands Trust Nature Reserves, habitat management, meadow creation, meadow restoration, research, seed, Weald Meadows Initiative, Weald Meadows Nectar Networks | Leave a comment

“Almost apocalyptic” weather threatens wildlife

The mesmerisingly awful weather’s impact on wildlife continues to make the news.

While Butterfly Conservation bravely publicise their Big Butterfly Count which their President David Attenborough launches, Butterfly expert Matthew Oates from the National Trust warns the “almost apocalyptic” summer weather could cause local extinctions of small isolated populations of butterflies and other species that depend on sunny or just dry conditions. Adult butterflies are obviously going to be very badly hit in a summer with so little sun, because they benefit from sunshine heating their wings to help them fly. Their caterpillars also suffer from being attacked by moulds in wet weather.

But it’s not all bad news – this year has been good for snails and slugs, according to the National Trust. Who would have thought it?

In case you thought this was the wettest summer ever, here are some weather trivia from this excellent website about the British (obsession with) weather.

July “1937 A very dull month. Torrential rain on St. Swithin’s Day (15th) as a result of thunderstorms over England. (I don’t know what happened for the next 40 days.) In some places it was described as the worst day in many years. It happened as a cold front moving in from the Atlantic met a depression rising coming north from the Bay of Biscay. Many places across the south recorded over 50mm. Waltham-on-the-Wolds (Leics.) had 145mm, Boston (Lincs.) had 137mm, and Pensford (Somerset) had 106mm. Further to the east downpours were more localised depending on where the thunderstorms were. Stanstead had 68mm. Three thunderstorms affected Bristol, causing double flooding. There was flooding in Weymouth. Traffic disruption, power cut off, lightning damage.”

“July 1233 The Summer Floods devastated much of southern Britain.”

” July 1816 “The year without a summer” – only 13.4C.”

“1888 Abnormally cold. There was a minimum of -3.3C at Ben Nevis on the 10th. Snow reported at various locations across Britain in the period 7-12th, particularly on the 11th as far south as Oxford and the Isle of Wight, although Philip Eden concludes that wet hail is more likely. The minimum temperature that night was about 6C at Kew. Six inches of snow were reported in the Scottish Highlands, which is a more plausible recording.”

In the past an awful summer would have meant wildlife populations suffered and numbers went down. But because wildlife was everywhere it was able to rapidly recolonise areas where local populations might have been wiped out by a freak weather event.

Not so now, where populations are often small and isolated. When a local butterfly population dies out there isn’t another population near enough to recolonise. Actually butterflies aren’t an especially good example because even some of the rare ones can disperse several miles. Truly sedentary species such as flightless or weakly-flying species of insect, or plants with large seeds, are the poorest at dispersal and these are the ones that suffer most when local extinctions happen.

Anyway look for the sun and if you see it get out, spot some butterflies and let BC know!

Miles King

Posted in biodiversity, landscape scale, weather | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The challenge of recovering our best unprotected grasslands

At Tuesday’s England Biodiversity Stakeholder Group, the latest incarnation of the England Biodiversity Group, we heard Biodiversity Minister Richard Benyon (no buzzards were mentioned) tell us he was absolutely focused on “outcomes and results”.

He’s right  – we can sometimes get lost in the processes of biodiversity conservation (and that has happened all too often over the past 20 years), and we always need to draw connections between the process and the reality. We also heard from Defra about the new set of Biodiversity Indicators they are developing. The Minister singled out the indicator “area of land in agri-environment schemes” and noted that this was one of the indicators which was showing a positive trend, alongside fish stocks and the levels of hazardous substances in the marine environment, all of which are heading in the right direction apparently.

While listening to the Minister talk quite passionately about his enthusiasm for Nature Improvement Areas, my mind wandered back to a wonderful bike ride I had taken on a sunny day off the previous week. I’d followed some fantastic green lanes around the chalk country  between Dorchester and Weymouth, followed the South Dorset Ridgeway and dropped down into Martinstown, famous as the place where the wettest day on record happened in 1955.

There was a lovely little “dry” valley (not very dry actually after the exceptionally wet weather we’ve had, although this was the day before the deluge when 110mm fell on this part of Dorset in 36 hours), with some downland on either side. I noticed that the downland hadn’t been grazed for a while – you can tell because the red fescue grass grows out and forms these waves of grass which eventually smother the wildflowers. False oat-grass was also becoming established on deeper soils within the downland banks but I still found plenty of downland plants like salad-burnet, bird’s-foot trefoil and rough hawkbit. I wondered whether these downland banks in their current state would qualify as priority habitat. One large section of downland bank was subject to another land-use change, but I’ll come back to that later.

When I got home I had a look on MAGIC and Nature on the Map to see what was going on.

priority grasslands map

This map shows that there are several separate surviving fragments of downland in this dry valley. The blue-green denotes downland – the olive green polygon is supposed to be lowland dry acid grassland. How anyone could imagine that there could be acid grassland in a dry chalk valley I don’t know.

This does just show how vital it is that the lowland grassland inventory is properly updated to become a truly comprehensive grassland inventory.

OK so that’s good news I thought, so why aren’t these banks being grazed? I looked at agri-environment scheme coverage.

Agri-Environment Schemes: purple = OELS/HLS; blue = OELS; yellow = ELS/HLS

Clearly this area of Dorset more than meets the target for AE scheme coverage in the Biodiversity Indicators – it’s practically completely covered by them and lots of HLS! That is surely great news. The only slight problem is that the schemes have almost completely missed the surviving priority habitat in the area. The only grassland that does fall into an agri-environment scheme is the mislabeled acid grassland, but at least that’s in organic entry level so it won’t be getting any artificial fertiliser.

In the first map you might notice a largeish area which isn’t downland priority habitat and which sites neatly in the middle of the 3 surviving areas of downland. Here it is marked with an arrow

Now take a look at this Google Earth image of that same piece of downland

Notice anything? It’s been planted with trees, sycamores to be precise. The first planting on the bottom of the slope was quite a while ago, possible 20 years. But the rest of the downland has been planted much more recently – perhaps 8 years ago. I’m checking with the FC as to whether an EIA  for forestry was carried out and whether the trees were funded by a farm woodland premium scheme.

Now when the first trees were planted there was no EIA requirement – unless the site was SSSI it was OK to plant it up – and that’s why it’s so important that Biodiversity 2020 recognises that unprotected priority habitat is as valuable as SSSI. Once the first trees had been planted and the downland was unmanaged for years, that would mean that it would not be classified as priority habitat (and therefore pass the EIA test) when the second lot went in.

But wouldn’t it have been better, in terms of restoring the surviving priority downland fragments, if it had been targeted for HLS (which started in 2005 remember), restored to grazing, and reconnected those now disconnected fragments. Hopefully this sort of approach will yield results in the Nature Improvement Areas.

What concerns me now is that once the surviving downland fragments have been ungrazed for a few more years, these will then lose their priority habitat status. And then even if an EIA for Forestry was carried out, they would pass the test and be eligible to be planted with more trees.

The challenge set out in The England Biodiversity Strategy, to get 90% of priority grassland habitat into favourable or recovering condition by 2020, really is a huge one.

This will be my last blog post for TGT on wordpress, as we move our blog over to our new website starting next week. I’ve enjoyed writing these posts over the past nearly two years and thanks to you all for reading and commenting. I hope that I will continue to write a blog for Buglife once I’ve moved over there.

Miles King

Posted in agri-environment, agriculture, biodiversity, grassland restoration, grazing, landscape scale, tree planting, woodland | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Discovering Carmel’s beautiful grasslands and woodlands

This weekend, while much of the UK was suffering under some of the worst rainfall on record, members of The Grasslands Trust Conservation Committee and Grasslands Trust Staff were basking in sunshine at Carmel National Nature Reserve in Carmarthenshire.  I was delighted to have been invited to join in and had the most wonderful time.  Emails were flowing on Friday night as to whether we could make it through the rain and floods but the concensus was we should try.  We were more than rewarded when passing Swansea on the Saturday morning the skies cleared and we headed for the sun.

Carmel is an absolute jewel of a place.  Situated on a limestone ridge, the area is dotted with lime kilns and quarries; once a heartland for providing lime for industrial and agricultural development.  In biodiversity terms, it is one of the UK’s richest wildlife areas and a Site of Scientific Special Interest (SSSI). Its range of habitats includes ancient woodland, heathland, and species-rich grassland which support some of the UK’s rarest plant and animal species.  Created a National Nature Reserve in 1999, and predominately owned by Tarmac, the site is managed is managed by the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW) and The Grassland Trust.

The Grassland Trust’s involvement began in 2006 when it took over management of a greater part of the Reserve to restore grasslands that had been damaged through intensive agriculture back to flower-rich meadows and pastures. The Trust owns two sites: Pant y Castell and Stag and Pheasant and leases three more: Garn South, Garn North and Pwll Edrychiad.  Our visit centred on the last three in particular as well as a visit to the Carmel Woods visiting the quarry, woodlands and the only turlough (seasonal lake) in Britain.

The mosaic of grasslands, woodlands and heath were beautiful to see and I had the great pleasure of being in the knowledgeable company of Andy Barker, James Robertson, Stephen Ward and Corinna Woodall together with Miles King and Deborah Sazer from the Trust. Going through a fairly boggy Garn South, we met our two Carneddau-type Welsh mountain ponies who arrived at Carmel at the end of April to help with vital vegetation management here, trampling down the invasive bracken and scrub.

Carneddau Ponies at Carmel

Crossing the road to Garn North, we were able to see the really wonderful improvement work that has taken place to restore the grasslands here. Standing in these beautiful meadows, with swallows (Hirundo rustica) flying overhead and dragonflies whirring in the grasses, Miles showed us old photographic maps of the area, sourced from the Archives of the National Museum of Wales, describing the history of the fields and the area. We wandered through Garn North’s meadows and glades for the rest of the afternoon, identifying plants and butterflies, and discussing the management techniques that have been used to restore these beautiful species-rich meadows.  Over the two days I learned a tremendous amount about the native grassland plants and their relationship with the numerous species they support.  They have magical names: Sweet vernal grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum) which gives the sweet vanilla scent to new mown hay; Meadowsweet or Queen of the Meadow (Filipendula ulmaria) with its fluffy heads; the exquisite little Eyebright (Euphrasia sp.) which has little whorls of tiny white flowers; and the Enchanter’s nightshade (Circaea sp.).

Our day ended visiting one of the disused limestone quarries and  kilns.  These quarry sites are not only important in the landscape as tangible remains of Welsh industries that fed and fuelled the nation, but as sites that support a number of species.  Growing on the little patches of  limestone grassland we saw a little creeping thyme (Thymus sp.), quaking grass (Briza sp.), Fairy flax (Linum catharticum), the cheery Ox-eye daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare) and yellow Agrimony (Agrimonia sp.).  We didn’t see the rare Brown-banded carder bee that created such a buzz of excitement last month but we heard from Deborah about how popular the bee-identification training sessions have become in the community, with one held the day previously.

The Brown-banded carder bee (Bombus humilis) is a rare bumblebee species that has suffered dramatic decline through the loss of traditional habitat and intensive agricultural practices. Habitat preference is for open flower-rich habitats on drier sites and it is found on quarry or brownfield sites which play a significant role in the conservation of the species. It is a UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) Priority Species. © The Bumblebee Conservation Trust

Sunday we woke up to another glorious day and spent the morning clambering around, up, and through the beautiful Carmel Woods.  We were led by Jamie Bevan,  Senior Reserves Manager, CCW,  past a towering limstone cliff last worked in the 1980’s, where we were joined by Ray Woods, and up into the mixed ash woodland. Walking through, we listened to the Green woodpecker (Picus viridis), Great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) and the Chiffchaff. Reemerging at the top of the quarry, we were rewarded by wonderful views of the Brecon Beacons, from where we walked down to see the Turlough, a unique feature of limestone.

The afternoon was spent back in meadows on The Grasslands Trust site of Pwll Edrychiad visiting first the restored meadows and then moving into the semi-improved areas. It’s a beautiful site and the meadows were full of Yellow rattle or Cockscomb (Rhinanthus minor) and orchids including the Greater Butterfly orchid (Platanthera chlorantha) and the Common Spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii).

Greater Butterfly orchid in Carmel meadows

Moving into the damper, semi-improved area, we also saw a charming, dainty umbellifer, Whorled Caraway (Carum verticillatum). Wending our way up the last hill we viewed the Slowworm (Anguis fragilis) refuges tucked into the field-margins.  It was the end of a really lovely weekend spent looking at not only has been achieved by knowledge and hard work over the last few years but looking at future opportunities for further restoration and improvement of these beautiful and important sites.  We are all collating our photographs and I can share some with you over the coming weeks so you can enjoy the views and grassland species.  If you have a chance, visit these lovely and inspirational sites.  Lucky me – I am going again at the end of the month to see our other Grassland Trust reserves of Pant y Castell and Stag and Pheasant.  I can’t wait!

Elaine Shaughnessy, Director of Communications, The Grasslands Trust

Posted in Author, bees, biodiversity, Carmel, Elaine Shaughnessy, grassland restoration, grasslands, Grasslands Trust Nature Reserves, grazing, habitat management, meadow restoration, Miles King, pollinators, Uncategorized, woodland | Leave a comment

De-regulation for agriculture is as bad as De-regulation for banking

Banker bashing dominates the headlines yet again. It turns out that traders at Barclays (and presumably the other banks) were conniving to fix the critical LIBOR rate which determines the interest rate that banks pay to borrow money from each other, to  – well to lend to you and me, but also to place large bets on the market. This is the so-called casino banking which used to be kept separate from the traditional stuffy high street banks of old, that looked after our bank accounts. That all went out of the window back in 1986 – the Big Bang as it was known at the time  – deregulation of the City was the name of the game. And we have been paying the price for this big idea for the last five years, and we will contine to pay for it for a long time. Who’s idea was the Big Bang? Chancellor of Exchequer Nigel Lawson. He created the Lawson boom of the late 80s, which became the Lawson bubble leaving millions in negative equity and created the early 90s recession.That’s deregulation for you.

Now that interest rates are at a historic low and the stock market is still struggling with the debt crisis, the banks are finding it difficult to get the returns needed to, for example, provide any sort of income for future pensioners. Is there anything that is making money at the moment? Well yes there is – land. Land prices continue to go up – it is the ultimate commodity, because as the old adage says, they’re not making it any more.

Apart from the seemingly ever bouyant London property market, fuelled in part by overseas buyers looking for a place to shelter their capital from taxes, farmland continues to be a very attractive place to invest capital. As farmland appreciates in value it gives a long term return on investment, and it also produces an annual income, through rent, ultimately derived from what it produces ie food.

This is not good news for tenant farmers, who find rental prices are going up, but the value of the food they produce is not necessarily going up at the same rate.

But there are a couple of extra reasons why farmland is so expensive and continues to increase in price. It’s an excellent tax shelter (Jimmy Carr take note if you’re reading) particular for the very long term. Capital invested in farmland is exempt from Inheritance Tax. Place your investments in a family Trust and invest that capital in farmland and you can be tax free for inheritance and also reduce your income tax at the same time.

On top of that you get around £200 a hectare per annum as a gift from the rest of us taxpayers  – it’s called the single farm payment. For a 1000ha estate (which you would now have to pay around £8M but if you’d bought it 10 years ago it would have cost you half that) that means around £200,000 a year just for owning the land. Not a bad little earner – certainly better than sticking the money in a bank account or probably even investing in the stock market.

Where does this leave things like wildlife protection or new fangled ideas like valuing ecosystem services? Let’s take an example  – a piece of grassland (say 20ha) that has been cared for by an “old boy” sympathetic farmer for 40 years – they’ve decided not to intensify their grassland and it’s full of wildlife, and it contributes to things like carbon storage, cleans the water we drink and gives homes to pollinators that mean crops like oil seed rape can be grown.

Sadly the farmer dies and the land is put up for sale. The agent advises the beneficiaries that the land is very valuable as the surrounding intensive dairy farmers would pay handsomely knowing that they could get a great return by converting the grassland to maize production (dairy cows don’t graze in buttercup meadows they eat fermented maize fed to them in large sheds). The 20ha is worth £10,000 a hectare – that’s £200,000. It would take someone pretty extraordinary (especially in these times) to turn down that sort of money.

The land is sold – but someone has noticed the wildlife value and informed Natural England (yes this is all taking place in England) that the new owner has been telling everyone in the pub that they’ve bought those weedy old fields that look scruffy and is looking forward to “improving” them by converting them into maize fields. Natural England aren’t actually allowed to enter the land to check on whether the wildlife value is good enough for them to be protected, but they get in touch with the new owner and ask permission to have a look. But it’s too late and the farmer has already ploughed them all up and planted maize. No evidence is available to show whether they were good enough to be protected either by EIA Agriculture regulations or even Widlife and Countryside Act.Even if they had been the farmer would only have had a slap on the wrist or a meagre fine a tiny fraction of the profit generated.

The ecosystem services the fields provided have been reversed; most of the carbon stored in the soils has been lost – that’s probably about 8000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent; the water that was once pure is now polluted with all the nitrogen fertiliser and pesticides applied to the maize (and those pollutants have to be removed from the water before we can drink it – in a process paid for by us the taxpayer) and the homes for all those pollinators have been lost.

The farmer gets single payment and also enters the newly arable land into Entry Level Scheme by agreeing to flail the hedgerows every couple of years instead of every year. Kerching £4000 single payment kerching £600 entry level scheme. That’ll go a long way towards paying the interest on the loan the farmer took out to buy the land.

And in the process of “improving” the land the farmer has actually increased its capital value, as well as increasing their annual income. So that”ll keep the bank manager happy. Does the farmer really have much choice about whether to “improve” the land or not?

And that is why, with our current economic model, the economic value of biodiversity and ecosystem services will always be a magnitude or two smaller than the economic returns derived from intensive agriculture. Which is why, until we agree our current economic model is hopefully flawed and come up with something a bit saner, we need stronger regulations to protect these things, not de-regulation.

Miles King

Director of Conservation

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