Guest blog: News from our Durham grassland project

Claire Bending is our project officer working in Durham on threatened grasslands, including the very rare and beautiful magnesian limestone grasslands. Here she gives an update on recent work:

Saturday saw the first proper grassland survey of the project, at the site we look after at South Hetton. Since I started in summer 2009 I’ve been so busy with both paperwork to set up the project, and organising urgent tasks such as scrub clearance, I’ve hardly had a chance to really take in what grows on the sites we manage. Plenty of assessments have been done, to check on sward condition and scrub cover but nothing really beats getting the chance to crawl on the ground and look at individual plants.

As well as being an opportunity to do some unrestricted botanising, surveys such as these are invaluable for being a baseline which then can be used to chart improvement or decline of the grassland. A change in the species present can point to changes in soil pH, nutrients and grazing levels to name a few.

So with this in mind, now I’ve started I plan to repeat the survey at least every other year, as well as survey the other sites. Hopefully it will just act as a reassurance that we’ve got the site management right, but if not it may flag up issues that are not immediately apparent and enable us to make changes if need be.

I was very fortunate on the day to be accompanied by six volunteers who provided a great deal of knowledge and good company. We completed 11 survey squares, six on the acid grassland area and five on the fen, with the acid grassland averaging 16 species per 2 metre square and the fen averaging 24. I think the grassland can be called species rich!

Using the wildflower keys (before the rain started!)

What was especially great was that one of the acid grassland plots still came up with 11 species, despite 80% of the plot being bare ground following gorse removal last winter. It was encouraging to see species such as devil’s-bit scabious and bird’s-foot trefoil colonising the exposed ground so quickly.

Other highlights included the carpets of Lousewort, and finding Pepper Saxifrage and Marsh Arrowgrass – both specialities of this site.

lousewort flourishing in acid grassland following gorse clearance

lousewort flourishing in acid grassland following gorse clearance

Now all I’ve got to do is convert my crumpled notes into something other people can read!

northern marsh orchid in the fen

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About grasslandstrust

The Grasslands Trust is the only national UK charity that focuses entirely on saving grasslands that are valuable because they are rich in wildlife, history, or for other reasons.
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