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Conservation Evidence Journal

Publishing evidence to improve practice


The Conservation Evidence Journal shares the global experience of those on the front line of conservation practice about the effectiveness of conservation actions. All papers include monitoring of the effects of the intervention and are written by, or in partnership with, those who did the conservation work. We encourage articles from anywhere around the world on all aspects of species and habitat management such as habitat creation, habitat restoration, translocations, reintroductions, invasive species control, changing attitudes and education. 

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The Conservation Evidence Journal is a separate publication within the Conservation Evidence project. Conservation Evidence is a free, authoritative information resource designed to support decisions about how to maintain and restore global biodiversity. You can search for summarised evidence from the scientific literature about the effects of actions for species groups and habitats using our online database

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Grassland Conservation

This virtual collection contains 16 papers from the Conservation Evidence journal on the conservation and restoration of grasslands.

Control of meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria through a change of management from grazing to mowing at an English floodplain meadow.

George L., Rothero E.C., Tatarenko I., Wallace H., Dodd M., Reed N., Fleckney A., Bellamy G. & Gowing D. (2021), 18, 44-49


Floodplain meadow grassland is a diverse habitat which has become increasingly rare throughout Europe. Meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria, is a characteristic species of its plant community, however it can become overly dominant in the sward resulting in detrimental effects on the community as a whole. High abundance can reduce both the diversity of the sward, by shading out low growing species, and the quality of the hay crop.

An eight-year management trial (2011-2019) was undertaken at Fancott Woods and Meadows SSSI by the BCN Wildlife Trust and the Floodplain Meadows Partnership, to test whether it was possible to reduce the dominance of meadowsweet through an annual hay cut with aftermath grazing instead of grazing management only, across three blocks of experimental treatments. A secondary aim of the trial was to investigate whether a change in management could also increase the plant-species diversity. Three plots were cut in June and then aftermath grazed, compared to three control plots that were only grazed from July onwards. The study found that cover of meadowsweet decreased from 55% to 6% under the annual cut and aftermath grazing treatment compared to a decrease from 58% to 35% in the control (grazed only) areas. This was accompanied by an increase in plant-species diversity in the cut areas compared to control plots. The study concluded that annual cutting can be used to control coarse and dominant meadowsweet effectively, and that cutting followed by aftermath grazing in a floodplain meadow delivers greater botanical diversity compared to grazing alone.


The response of bumblebee forage plants to 'cut and rut' restoration management of sea wall grassland on the Dengie Peninsula, Essex, England

Gardiner T. & Fargeaud K. (2020), 17, 27-31


Sea wall flood defences provide important grassland habitats for bumblebees in the UK but the abandonment of cutting could be deleterious for declining species, such as the shrill carder bee Bombus sylvarum, due to the development of floristically-poor swards and scrub encroachment. This paper reports the results from a study of bumblebees (Bombus spp.) and forage plants in rotational summer cut plots with winter soil disturbance (cut and rut) implemented in grassland unmanaged for over 10 years on a sea wall. For the cut and rut plots, bumblebee forage-plant species richness significantly increased, but not on the control, suggesting that the cut and rut management was leading to the improvement of the tussocky sward for pollinators with the increased frequency of leguminous species (e.g. Lotus tenuis and Trifolium pratense) favoured by long-tongued bumblebees (e.g. B. humilis, B. muscorum). Queens of B. sylvarum were seen foraging on the cut and rut plots four years after restoration management was initiated. An increase in the floristic diversity of the cut and rut treatment was evident after four years, suggesting that there is the potential for a significant corridor of favourable bumblebee habitat to be created in the long-term on the Essex coast.


Can species-poor grassland be diversified? A case study of lowland hay meadow restoration at Llanerchaeron, Ceredigion, Wales

Shellswell C.H. & Squire V. (2019), 16, 1-5


As part of the ‘Save Our Magnificent Meadows’ project, a two hectare field was converted to hay meadow on the National Trust’s Llanerchaeron Estate in west Wales. The field had previously been heavily grazed by sheep. Green hay was collected from an established meadow and spread by hand onto the receptor site in 2014, in order to increase the number of plant propagules present. The field was then managed as a hay meadow, with aftermath grazing. There was a significant increase in both positive indicator species and forb cover over the five year period from 2013-2017. In 2013, there was less than one positive indicator species/quadrat compared to 4.6 positive indicator species/quadrat in 2017. The results are discussed in relation to the change in management from intensive sheep grazing to hay making with aftermath grazing, and the spreading of green hay to increase the number of plant propagules present.


Restoration of a floodplain meadow in Wiltshire, UK through application of green hay and conversion from pasture to meadow management

Hosie C., Rothero E.C. & Wallace H. (2019), 16, 12-16


In July 2010 green hay from a species-rich donor field was used to diversify a species-poor floodplain meadow (the receiver field), which had previously been managed as a pasture. The receiver site was prepared through harrowing. Green hay was then collected from the donor site and spread on the receiver site using a bale shredder and spreader. It was then managed as a hay meadow, with an annual hay cut in July or August, followed by aftermath grazing. The vegetation in the receiver field was monitored from 2010-2017, as was an adjacent species-rich meadow, which was used as a target reference site. Over this period, the receiver field moved towards a species-rich sward, similar to the target Alopecurus pratensis - Sansguisorba officinalis floodplain community. In 2011, 12 months after the green hay application and change of management, species richness had increased significantly, as had the goodness-of-fit to the target floodplain-meadow community. The transformation from species-poor eutrophicated grassland to a more herb-rich floodplain meadow continued over the following six years, with further increases in the frequency and cover of target species.


Use of grazing and mowing to reduce the dominance of soft rush Juncus effusus in fen meadows in Scotland

Shellswell C.H. & Humpidge R. (2018), 15, 54-58


Three years of differing management regimes to reduce the dominance of soft rush Juncus effusus were undertaken at Moss Town Fen on the north-east Aberdeenshire coast, Scotland, UK. The effectiveness of grazing and mowing combinations of increasing intensity were trialled, from ungrazed and unmown management to continuous grazing and annual mowing for three years. Sward height and density, and rush cover were surveyed to examine the effect of the management combinations. Forb, grass, bryophyte and bare ground cover were also monitored to understand whether the management treatments had any effect on these sward components. Continuous grazing with konik ponies and at least two years of mowing (either consecutively or with a gap year) reduced rush the most. The treatments had no consistent effect on forb, grass or bryophyte cover, which may be due to a time lag between the reduction in rush cover and the germination and growth of these sward components. Bare ground cover was low, at less than 1% in most of the treatments, negating any concern that the grazing intensity was having a negative impact on the delicate fen habitat. Anecdotal observations on waterfowl and lesser butterfly orchid Platanthera bifolia support the benefits of a grazing and mowing regime to reduce rush dominance. These results also identified that a cost saving could be made by slightly reducing the intensity of management regime.


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.



Targeted conservation grazing using molasses to increase preferential consumption of old growth pasture grasses

Grange I.D. (2016), 13, 82-87


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.



Meadow management increased plant species diversity in a species-poor, neutral grassland in Herefordshire, UK

Costley J. (2015), 12, 40-42


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.



Restoring species-rich grassland at New Grove Meadows, Monmouthshire, Wales, UK

Winder J.S. (2013), 10, 20-23


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.


Impact of change in start date of grazing on limestone grassland communities, Deep Dale, Derbyshire, UK

Costley J. (2013), 10, 77-79


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.



Establishment of a mobile sheep flock to maintain and improve mesotrophic species-rich grasslands in Fife and Falkirk, Scotland

Whyte A. (2010), 7, 44-51


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.


Selective and non-selective control of invasive plants: the short-term effects of growing-season prescribed fire, herbicide, and mowing in two Texas prairies

Simmons M.T., Windhager S., Power P., Lott J., Lyons R.K. & Schwope C. (2007), 15, 662-669


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.

Creating acid grassland by adding sulphur and re-seeding at Minsmere RSPB Reserve, Suffolk, England

Ausden M. & Kemp M. (2005), 2, 13-15


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.


Using sulphur and iron oxide to aid creation of acid grassland at Minsmere RSPB Reserve, Suffolk, England

Ausden M. (2005), 2, 16-17


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.


Creating acid grassland by adding sulphur, bracken Pteridium litter and heather Calluna cuttings at Minsmere RSPB Reserve, Suffolk, England

Ausden M. & Kemp M. (2005), 2, 21-23


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.


Botanical monitoring of restored lowland wet grassland at Campfield Marsh RSPB Reserve, Cumbria, England

Lyons G. (2005), 2, 43-46


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.


Restoring heathland vegetation by turf-stripping wavy hair-grass Deschampsia flexuosa dominated grassland at The Lodge RSPB Reserve, Bedfordshire, England

Wilton-Jones G. & Ausden M. (2005), 2, 66-67


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.


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