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Providing evidence to improve practice

The journal, Conservation Evidence

Our online journal publishes research, monitoring results and case studies on the effects of conservation interventions. All papers include some monitoring of the effects of the intervention and are written by, or in partnership with, those who did the conservation work. It includes interventions such as habitat creation, habitat restoration, translocations, reintroductions, invasive species control, and education or integrated conservation development programmes, from anywhere around the world.

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A volume is created each year with peer-reviewed papers published throughout the year. We now accept Short Communications as well as standard papers.

Special issues contain new papers on a specific topic.

Virtual collections collate papers published in the journal on specific topics such as management of particular groups of species.

To search for papers on a specific topic within the journal select Advanced search, enter your keyword(s) and within the Source box type: "conservation evidence". This will take you to a list of actions that contain Conservation Evidence papers. In order to see the list of individual Conservation Evidence papers on the topic, please click on 'You can also search Individual Studies' at the top of this page.

Grassland Conservation



This virtual collection contains 12 papers from the Conservation Evidence journal on the conservation and restoration of grasslands.

Changes in the vegetation of hay meadows under an agri-environment scheme in South Belgium
Piqueray J., Rouxhet S., Hendrickx S. & Mahy G. (2016), 13, 47-50

We monitored five-year changes in the vegetation of 31 hay meadows under an agri-environment scheme in Wallonia, Southern Belgium. Management included delayed mowing (in July) and fertilizer prohibition. It resulted in increasing cover of characteristic forbs (such as Leucanthemum vulgare, Lotus corniculatus, Centaurea jacea) and oligotrophic grasses (Avenula pubescens, Festuca rubra), while the competitive grasses, such as Holcus lanatus, Phleum pratense and Alopecurus pratensis, tended to decrease. We interpreted this as a vegetation shift from typical hay meadow to oligotrophic grasslands due to soil impoverishment following the current management. Both habitats are of conservation value. Despite these changes in the meadow plant communities, only one of the four criteria used by the Walloon administration to indicate hay meadow conservation status changed significantly over the six-year period. This was a decrease in the cover of species indicating high grazing intensity. The number and cover of characteristic plant species, and the cover of nitrophilous species, did not change significantly.

 

High conservation value grasslands, which are usually marginal and agriculturally poor, are often difficult to manage appropriately for biodiversity enhancement. A key management tool for this is conservation grazing, by which grazing intensity, timing and duration can be altered to suppress certain plant species, such as the more dominant grasses without impacting on other less competitive herbaceous ones. It has been suggested that the application of molasses to plant leaves could effectively encourage livestock to consume old and rank pasture grasses. This study assessed whether such an approach could be adapted to UK conservation grasslands, by using molasses to target grazing towards problem areas of dominant grass species. When Dexter cattle were exposed to areas of upright brome Bromopsis erecta and wood false-brome Brachypodium sylvaticum that had received a single application of molasses in the autumn period, no preference was shown for the treated plants. In the late winter period, however, cattle showed a significant preference for upright brome plants that had received two applications of molasses. Therefore, if consideration is given to the timing and frequency of molasses applied to target vegetation, it can be used as a conservation grazing management tool for some less palatable grasses.

 

The effect of meadow management on plant species diversity was examined in a meadow in the west of England. In 2002 the meadow was assessed as species-poor. From 2002 to 2013 the meadow, along with 11 surrounding fields, was managed as a hay meadow, with grass being mown for hay in late July or early August each year and the aftermath then grazed by cattle. Vegetation surveys from 2002 and 2013 showed that the diversity of the meadow was significantly enhanced over the period of management, with ten additional meadow herb species becoming established by unaided colonisation. In consequence, a colourful, nectar-rich meadow has been created within the space of 11 years.  However, a number of species present on the farm that are more closely associated with old meadows have not yet colonised the field.

 

Concern over the decline in species-rich grassland in the UK has led to a focus on restoration. This study looks at the rate of natural colonisation of species into semi-improved grassland from adjacent unimproved species rich grassland over a 12 year period.  During this period the grassland had been managed traditionally with an annual hay cut followed by aftermath grazing and no input of fertilizer or farm yard manure.  During 2000 and 2012 vegetation surveys were carried out on two unimproved fields and two semi-improved fields.  These data were analysed for species-richness using two variables; Total species, and Wildlife Site Indicator species. A National Vegetation Classification survey was undertaken in 2012. Species-richness increased significantly in the semi-improved meadows during the study period.  These meadows now meet the criteria for Wildlife Site designation and the National Vegetation Classification community is shifting from MG6 to the target community MG5.

Deep Dale is situated within the carboniferous limestone area of the Peak District National Park.  The study site occupies an area of 36 hectares, representing the south-eastern slopes of the dale.  During the period from 1950 to 1996, the site was grazed by cattle, traditionally from the beginning of May each year.  Then, from 1997 to 2012, the grazing start date was delayed to the beginning of July in order to comply with the requirements of agri-environment schemes.  Repeat surveys indicate that this change in start date appears to have resulted in few pronounced changes to the vegetation.  Some areas of grassland on shallow soils (conforming to National Vegetation Community CG2d) have become more herb-rich with an increase in abundance of kidney vetch Anthyllis vulneraria, common milkwort Polygala vulgaris, devilsbit scabious Succisa pratensis and autumn gentian Gentianella amarella.  However, it appears that these changes are mainly associated with areas grazed preferentially (first) by livestock, whilst in an area of CG2d grazed later, fewer positive indicator species have shown an increase in their abundance and there are early signs of a decline in condition, including a decrease in the abundance of fairy flax Linum catharticum and an increase in the abundance of bryophytes.  Most significantly, areas of acid U4c grassland have shown a notable increase in the abundance of hawthorn Crataegus monogyna seedlings, and in the abundance of wavy hair-grass Deschampsia flexuosa.

 

The Scottish Wildlife Trust established a mobile flock of sheep to manage its Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) designated grasslands in eastern Scotland. A programme of monitoring (quadrat sampling and 'Site Condition Monitoring') was established to record vegetation responses to sheep grazing over several years. The project has resulted in the sheep-grazed grasslands moving towards favourable condition in terms of target plant communities. It has highlighted the need to take a flexible and responsive approach to conservation grazing, and has demonstrated the usefulness and necessity of detailed monitoring in guiding changes to grazing regimes; the level of grazing 'fine-tuning' could not have been achieved, in this instance, using external graziers.

Native North American grasslands have been degraded by invasive plants. Their control (or eradication) is often hampered by shared characteristics with native plants. There is evidence that fire, herbicide or mowing management, can cause differential responses in native and invasive grassland species. Bothriochloa ischaemum (an introduced warm-season Eurasian grass) is increasing in southern and central North America. In this study, two Bothriochloa invaded grasslands at Blackland Prairie and Edwards Plateau (Texas, southern USA) were subject to various fire, herbicide and mowing regimes to assess effects on this grass and other plants.

Former arable land at Minsmere RSPB Reserve, eastern England, was treated with sulphur, herbicide was applied to control weeds, and seeds were sown in an attempt to create acid grassland. Soil pH was reduced and acid grassland target species dominated the vegetation three years after seeding.

Nine samples of soil were taken from former arable land at Minsmere RSPB Reserve, Suffolk, England. Sulphuric acid and iron was added. The pH of the soil was reduced, but the iron addition did not appear to have an affect on reducing the quantity of extractable phosphorus.

An attempt was made to convert a former arable field to acid grassland. Elemental sulphur, bracken Pteridium aquilinum litter and heather Calluna vulgaris clippings were added and the area grazed with sheep. Over seven years the target acid grassland species cover increased considerably to 60.7%. Adjacent existing acid grassland had 85.6% cover of these species.

Former cattle-grazed grassland and arable land were converted into wet grassland by raising the water level. Over the next five years the vegetation shifted towards plant communities characteristic of wet grassland.

To restore an area of former heathland, soil nutrient levels were reduced by turf removal. Turf-stripping reduced dominance of wavy hair-grass Deschampsia flexuosa and promoted an increase in heather Calluna vulgaris.