Sharing experience and ideas is always important for any group of people with a shared interest, and this is as true of grasslands as it is of anything else. That’s why we set up the UK Grasslands Forum earlier this year, to bring together all those with an interest in all kinds of grasslands across the UK (and even beyond). Around 50 organisations have now joined the Forum.
We were also extremely lucky that Professor John Rodwell, the pre- eminent vegetation scientist and polymath, agreed to be our first chair. And we were very careful to ensure that the Forum was not a Grasslands Trust vehicle, but is a truly independent group, although we are happy to provide the secretariat, funding and do the “backroom” work.
After a very successful first meeting in January in London, we agreed that if we were to be a truly UK-wide group, we should make sure that the meetings took place around the UK. So our first field meeting was held in the magical landscape of West Fermanagh in Northern Ireland. A small group of us visited the area around Lough Melvin to see the special hay meadows and fen meadow/rush pasture and talk to the farmers about the current state and future of these amazing grasslands. One of the aims of the Forum is to provide expert advice to UK governments and statutory bodies on grasslands, and we were invited to give our views on the Fermanagh grasslands to the Northern Ireland Biodiversity Group – I’ll post that paper on here once it’s been agreed.
Earlier this week UKGF held its first seminar, investigating “Values of Grasslands”. The National Trust kindly offered to host us at Dinefwr Park in Carmarthenshire and treated us to several guided walks around the park, to see their ancient herd of White Park Cattle, amazing ancient trees (some 900 years old) and to discuss issues of grassland management and restoration.
Prof Rodwell started us thinking about what “value” means with his presentation and this was followed by a number of UKGF members who gave short presentations about the different values of grasslands. We were also very lucky to have two overseas speakers Rense Havemann from the Dutch MoD, talking about the valuable grasslands of military land; and Zsolt Molnar from Hungary telling us about his research investigating the ways pastoralists of the Hungarian plain (Hortobagy National Park – the largest area of natural grassland in Central Europe) value the Steppe grasslands, the different habitats and vegetation types.
With a wide range of topics covered and a good turnout from a broad spectrum of interested groups and individuals, there was a great deal of stimulating discussion, which we will write up and publish on the web later this year.
Thanks to the National Trust for hosting us and to the RSPB for providing financial support for the event.