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NATURE’S TAPESTRY The story of England’s grasslands and why not all grass is green.

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NATURE’STAPESTRYThe story of England’s grasslandsand why not all grass is green.

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2 Nature’s Tapestry - The Grasslands Trust

The Grasslands TrustThe Grasslands Trust is a UK RegisteredCharity (No. 1097893) and CompanyLimited by Guarantee founded in 2002 in order to reverse the decline of our wildlife-rich grasslands.

AcknowledgementsThanks to everyone who contributed to the production of this report, especially the authors of the case studies, both in thereport and on the accompanying webpage.Thanks to Lucy Cooper, Deborah Alexanderand everyone else at The Grasslands Trustfor helping produce the report. Thanksalso to Clare Pinches and AndrewThompson at Natural England who helpedto develop the report. The production ofthis report was financially supported by The European Commission DGEnvironment; and Natural England.

Author: Miles King

Editor: Andrew Branson, British Wildlife Publishing

Design: Greenhouse Graphics


3 Executive SummaryExecutive Summary and recommendations

4 Introduction

5 Chapter One What are wildlife-rich grasslands

10 Chapter Two The values of wildlife-rich grasslands

13 Chapter Three What is happening to England’s grasslands

21 Chapter Four What factors are driving change on grasslands

26 Conclusions

27 The Grasslands Trust

The following organisations endorse this report:

The production of this report is supported by the European Forum on NatureConservation and Pastoralism through its DG Environment part-funded 2011work programme. The views in this report do not necessarily reflect the viewsof the European Commission.

The RSPB believes that appropriate management of England’s semi-natural grasslands is apriority, given their importance for biodiversity and key ecosystem services. Nature’s Tapestryeffectively highlights the value of these grasslands and the threats they face - it is an importantreport on a vital subject.

Gareth Morgan, Head of Countryside and Species Conservation (Policy).

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Nature’s Tapestry - Executive Summary 3

Executive SummarySemi-natural grasslands have evolvedthrough human activity over the past 6,000years: there are practically no naturalgrasslands in England. There are now veryfew semi-natural grasslands left in England:modern agriculture has led to theirdestruction over the past 60 years. There isan important resource of grasslands thathave been partly modified by modernagriculture, but which still retain significantvalue. This resource is undervalued bysociety and provides important publicgoods.

As well as being rich in wildlife, landscapecharacter and archaeology, semi-naturalgrasslands provide a wide range ofenvironmental goods and services: carbonstorage, flood prevention, water purification,crop pollination, tourism, health, well-beingand inspiration. Intensively managedagricultural grasslands provide one service:cheap food. There is a danger that taking apurely economic approach to valuing semi-natural grasslands runs the risk of theintangible values being ignored.

Semi-natural grasslands depend onsympathetic management, such as low-intensity grazing by livestock or horses, ormowing for hay. The costs of making achange from intensive to sympatheticmanagement can be off-putting forlandowners, because the current agriculturalsubsidy system places a value only on

“efficient” food production, not on themultitude of other public goods semi-naturalgrasslands provide.

Private landowners, conservation charities,local authorities and government agencies allwork together to protect and manage semi-natural grasslands. There are some excellentlocal and national grasslands projects makinggood progress, but semi-natural grasslandsare still very vulnerable to the twin pressuresof intensification and neglect. Grasslands inSSSIs are better protected than they were,but those outside SSSIs are very vulnerable.Funding from agri-environment schemeshelps but entry level funding is poorlytargeted. Most CAP funding is through theSingle Payment Scheme. The rules governingthis scheme are unhelpful for semi-naturalgrasslands and fail to recognise theirenvironmental and heritage value, andeconomic handicaps. The regulations thatare supposed to protect semi-naturalgrasslands from intensive agriculture arelargely ineffective.

Development pressures still threatengrasslands, and changes to planning rulescould increase these threats. Grasslands arevaluable for local communities and TheGrasslands Trust is developing CommunityGrasslands to encourage this. Dog-walkersand horse-keepers, in particular, use semi-natural grasslands. Their impact can causedamage, but need not do so.

Key recommendations■ Implement in full the recommendations

in ‘Making Space for Nature’.

■ Reform the Common AgriculturalPolicy in the long term so that CAPpayments are made for the provisionof environmental public goods andthe protection of the culturallandscape, and targeted to supportlow-intensity agriculture.

■ Short-term reform of the CAP shouldfocus on improving the rules governingSingle Payment, reform the permanentpasture rules, amend the eligibilitycriteria, improve the GAEC rules toprevent damage to semi-naturalgrasslands, and ensure they are managedsympathetically. A Premium should beintroduced for farmers who commit tomaintain their semi-natural grasslands.

■ Improve targeting of agri-environmentscheme funding to ensure it is used toprotect and ensure management ofsemi-natural grasslands.

■ Notify as SSSIs all surviving significantsemi-natural grasslands.

■ Revise the EIA (Agriculture) Regulationsso they become an effective tool forprotecting semi-natural grasslands.

■ Prepare a comprehensive GrasslandsInventory, based on Natural England’sLowland Grassland Inventory.

■ Ensure the new planning systemprotects existing semi-natural grasslandsfrom development, and supportsrestoration and creation of newgrasslands in new developments.

“Since the arrivalof neolithicfarming culture,6,000 years ago,grasslands havedominated theEnglish landscape”

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Grasslands are the foundation of the Englishlandscape. They may not hold the mystery ofour ancient woodlands but England is still atheart a ‘green and pleasant’ land. It isEngland’s hedged tapestry of meadows andpastures that have so often drawn peopleback - the ‘meadowsweet, and haycock dry’of Edward Thomas, and Browning’s fields of‘buttercups - Far brighter than this gaudymelon-flower’.

The story of England’s grasslands is one that stretches back across millennia, and has for much of that time been an evolvingpartnership between our pastoral ancestorsand the ebb and flow of the wildlife that has lived among them. Change has alwaysbeen a part of the grassland cycle, but since the Second World War the pace ofchange has been such that many of thetraditional patterns of land-use have almost disappeared, along with the wildlife communities that developedalongside them.

For 6,000 years the English landscape was a palimpsest – layers of previous land-use,wildlife and human activity had developedone upon another, with traces of theprevious epoch still remaining andinfluencing the next. In the past 70 years,the palimpsest has been almost entirelyerased, leaving only those features that havesurvived below the deepest plough furrow,on the steepest slope, on the very poorestsoils, or the wettest marsh.

Those semi-natural grasslands that survivenot only hold some of our richest wildlife,but are an irreplaceable link tounderstanding our long relationship with the land.

4 Nature’s Tapestry - Introduction

Chalk downland like this has been a part of our English landscape for centuries.


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Grass is everywhere from your lawn to thelocal park, to vast swathes of the opencountryside. Just over 5 million hectares ofEngland’s farmland is covered in grasslandsof one kind or another. That’s over half theagricultural land in England. This figure doesnot even include all the lawns, parks, golfcourses and all the other places where grassgrows. Even arable land is dominated by thespecial group of grasses that humans havedomesticated – wheat, barley, rye andmaize. But these rely on annual cultivationand are not dealt with in this report.

All grasses, and all grasslands, are not thesame though. The bright green fields thatclothe the modern English countryside are a far cry from the wildlife-filled meadows,commons and downlands of the past.Almost all of England’s grasslands have beenheavily modified by agriculture. Two-thirdsare entirely improved, dominated by one ortwo types of grass grown with artificialfertilisers and herbicides. About a third aresemi-improved1, and while dominated bygrasses, these still have a few common wildflowers such as buttercups and daisies.

Less than 100,000ha or just 3% of England’slowland grasslands are still rich in wildlife,archaeology and history.

OriginsThe origins of England’s semi-naturalgrasslands2 go back thousands of years.Almost all of the plants and animals thatinhabit these grasslands colonised Britainafter the last ice age, about 10,000 yearsago. As the glaciers retreated, grasslandsreplaced them. These were, in turn, replacedby a primeval wood – the ‘Wildwood’, whichflourished for 4,000 years, occupied byMesolithic hunter-gatherers. During that

time, grassland wildlife would have survivedin naturally open spaces within theWildwood, possibly kept open by naturalevents, such as fires and floods, as well as byherds of native herbivores (e.g. auroch, elk,bison, moose, wild boar, beaver, red deer),most of which are now long extinct. Sincethe arrival of Neolithic farming culture,6,000 years ago, grasslands have dominatedthe English landscape.

The arrival of farming brought livestock andarable cultivation to Britain. This led to muchof the forested land being cleared (throughgrazing, burning and cutting) to make wayfor farmland. Mixed (arable and livestock)farming dominated and the two land usesdepended on each other – manure from thefarm animals fertilised the arable fields; aftera few years of cropping, arable fields wereleft fallow and became grazed pastures inorder to replenish the soil, before beingploughed again. Commons, village greens,heathlands and wood pastures providedpermanent grazing for sheep and cattlereared for meat, and oxen used as workinganimals. Meadows provided hay to keep thelivestock alive over winter. The cycle ofarable and fallow, combined withpermanent grasslands, providedopportunities for wildlife to re-colonise areasas soon as conditions became suitable.

In mediaeval times, the area of arable landincreased in order to provide food for aburgeoning population – in 1270, at theheight of the open-field farming system, it isestimated that 5 million hectares of Englandwas in cultivation, with over a third as fallowland. After the Black Death, a much smallerpopulation needed less arable land, and by1500 only 3.2 million hectares were arable.Population growth and improving farming

practices led to a peak in arable productionof 6 million hectares in the first half of the19th century. By the beginning of the 20thcentury, arable production had declined andthe area of permanent grassland increasedagain to 6 million hectares. During the earlypart of the 20th century, grasslandmanagement started to change, with thedevelopment of new varieties of grass andthe introduction of artificial fertilisers such asbasic slag and super-phosphate. The drive fordomestic food production during the SecondWorld War once again swung the pendulumaway from grassland and back to arable. Thistime, however, the change would transformthe English landscape entirely.

The Green Revolution Many grasslands were ploughed in the‘Great Harvests’ of 1941 and 1942, but theseismic shift in agriculture occurred in thepost-war years, with the introduction of newchemicals, new machinery and new cropvarieties. Government grants paid farmers toplough meadows, commons and downland.By 1980, 97% of all traditionally managedlowland meadows had gone, and losses toother semi-natural grasslands were almost as great. The landscapes of the pre-war yearshad largely been swept away in the drive toproduce more and cheaper food. Theuplands did not escape this intensification as subsidies encouraged damagingovergrazing, reducing their value for wildlifeand landscape character, as well reducingthe upland soil’s ability to store carbon, storewater to prevent flooding, and to purify it fordrinking purposes.

In the last 20 years there has been a gradualincrease in funds, through the EuropeanCommon Agricultural Policy (CAP), to

Nature’s Tapestry - Chapter One 5

Chapter OneWhat are wildlife-rich grasslands?

Less than 100,000ha or just 3% of England’slowland grasslands are still rich in wildlife,archaeology and history.

1. Semi-improved in this sense means a grassland where the wildlife value has been reduced as a result of agricultural activities such as the addition of artificial fertilisers, use of herbicides,long-term overgrazing or drainage. Semi-improved grasslands still retain some of the wildlife that occurs in their unimproved semi-natural counterparts. 2. For a definition see page 6.

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all figures in hectares

Figure 1 total grassland area asproportion of agricultural area of England

total grassland

total agricultural area




unimproved grassland

semi improved grassland

improved grassland

Figure 2 proportions of improved, semiimproved and unimproved grasslands





limestone grassland

marshy grassland

acid grassland

lowland meadows/pasture

upland hay meadows

Figure 3 proportions of differenttypes of unimproved grasslands

support less-intensive farming systems,mostly through agri-environment schemessuch as Countryside Stewardship,Environmentally Sensitive Areas, and nowEnvironmental Stewardship. However, mostCAP payments still do not support extensivefarming systems, and cross-compliancemeasures designed to ensure farmland ismanaged in an environmentally beneficialway will not reverse the losses of semi-natural grasslands that occurred during theprevious decades.

Natural grasslandsThere are practically no ‘natural’ grasslandsleft in England, as indeed is the casethroughout western Europe. The nearestthing to natural grassland in England occurson the coast – in dunes, on cliffs or at theback of beaches – or sometimes on theedges of rivers. Relatively natural habitatshave been modified by human activity in thepast, even though they may appear entirelynatural now. The vast majority of grasslandsrich in wildlife are termed ‘semi-natural’.

What are semi-naturalgrasslands? The communities of native wild plants andanimals found in ‘semi-natural’ grasslandsover thousands of years have been altered by the activities of people, mostly throughfarming. These activities include grazing withdomestic livestock, mowing for hay, shallowdrainage of wet ground, removal or controlof shrubs and trees, burning, and theapplication of farmyard manure and lime.The majority of semi-natural grasslandsoccurred in the unenclosed landscapes ofdowns, moors and wolds, where stockmencontrolled where their animals grazed, and

in enclosed landscapes where hedged fields of meadow or pasture dominated the landscape.

There are five3 main types of semi-naturalgrassland in England (recognised as prioritieswithin the England Biodiversity Strategy),and these sit within a larger matrix of semi-improved grassland:

6 Nature’s Tapestry - Chapter One

Ragged robin thrives in marshy grasslands.

3. Coastal floodplain/grazing marsh is a mosaic of plant communities including wet grassland, but is not covered in this report.

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Limestone grasslandsGrasslands rich in wildlife and archaeologycan be found on limestone, from the chalkdownlands of southern England to the hardlimestones of the Cotswolds, the PeakDistrict and the Craven District of Yorkshire,as well as on more unusual types such as theMagnesian Limestone grasslands of Durham.Limestone grasslands are especially rich inbutterflies and other invertebrates, as well asplants such as the pasqueflower and nativeorchids. There are 39,000ha left in England,with the majority (55%) of England’slimestone grasslands occurring on SalisburyPlain and Porton Down, in Wiltshire.

Marshy grasslandsThe rainy west of England produces soilswith more peat content, which give rise to special wet grasslands characterised byrushes and purple moor-grass. A strongholdfor these grasslands occurs in Devon andCornwall on the Culm measures, hence theirlocal name of Culm grasslands. This type ofgrassland is rare and declining in Europe andsupports threatened species such as themarsh fritillary butterfly. There are less than22,000ha left in England.

Acid grasslandsAcid grasslands are less well known thanlowland meadows or limestone grasslands.They tend to occur as mosaics with lowlandheathland in places such as the New Forest.Acid grasslands are especially important forbees and other invertebrates of openground, as well as lichens and mosses. There are just 20,000ha left in England,mostly mixed in with the 35,000ha oflowland heathland.

Lowland meadows andpasturesThese are the meadows and pastures thatonce were found in every parish of lowlandEngland. They include the more unusualfloodplain meadows with snake’s-headfritillaries, and flood pastures with marshmarigold. Most are the more typical flower-filled dry meadows that were traditionallycut for hay. Formerly found across lowlandEngland, 97% have been agriculturalllyimproved or lost since 1940 and there areless than 8,000 ha left, mostly surviving assmall individual fields on farms. Only half ofthe surviving resource lies within theprotection of Sites of Special ScientificInterest (SSSI). There are still concentrationsof lowland meadows in parts of Herefordand Worcestershire, Somerset and Dorset,East Anglia and the Weald.

Upland hay meadowsConfined to valleys in the northern uplands, these hay meadows have almostdisappeared, replaced by intensivelymanaged grasslands that are fertilised andcut for silage. Upland hay meadows areparticularly beautiful, including suchattractive flowers as globeflower, woodcrane’s-bill and melancholy thistle. Theydepend for their survival on farmers who are willing to continue to make hay late inthe season, and to graze the meadows afterthe hay has been cut. These meadows, oftentiny, are now found mainly in the NorthPennines, Yorkshire Dales and Cumbria. Less than 1,000ha of these hay meadowssurvive today.

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8 Nature’s Tapestry - Chapter One

Semi-improved grasslandsJust as semi-natural grasslands haveevolved through centuries of farmers’activities on communities of wild plantsand animals, the modern equivalent of this process has produced semi-improvedgrasslands. These started as semi-naturalgrasslands and have been subject to moremodern agricultural practices, such as theapplication of artificial fertilisers andherbicides, the seeding of agriculturalvarieties of grasses and clovers, combinedwith intensive overgrazing, deep drainage,or a shift from hay to silage production.According to the Government’sCountryside Survey, there are 1.45 millionhectares of semi-improved grasslands inEngland, but these range from fields thatalmost entirely devoid of wildlife to thosewhich are very rich in wildlife.

Improved grasslandsMost grassland in England has been‘improved’ agriculturally. That meansthat the native grasses and herbs havebeen replaced by agricultural varieties ofgrass and clover. They are given regularapplications of artificial fertiliser, or otherfertilisers such as slurry, to make themmore productive. They are regularly re-seeded to maintain that productivity,and herbicides are used to keepunwanted plants to a minimum. In wetareas, drainage has allowed grasses togrow where rushes or sedges may havepreviously thrived. Improved grasslandstend to support two or three times thelivestock as an equivalent area of semi-natural pasture, but this productivitycosts more in terms of agricultural inputssuch as fertilisers, herbicides and fuel,and in maintaining infrastructure, such

Semi-naturalgrasslands are stillvulnerable to thetwin pressures ofintensification andneglect.


Waxcap Grasslands

The importance of semi-naturalgrasslands for fungi

Semi-natural grassland is widely known to bean important habitat for many of the speciesof fungi that are considered threatened withextinction across Europe. Indeed, England isthought to be a stronghold for many ofthese grassland species, including many onthe European Red Data lists.

The presence of certain species of waxcapfungi and other larger fungi constitutes aquality ‘waxcap-grassland’ site. Indicatorspecies of these grasslands includemembers of the Clavariaceae (club andcoral fungi), Hygrophoraceae (waxcaps),Entolomataceae (pink-gilled agarics) andGeoglossaceae (earthtongues).

The specific triggers that cause these fungi to fruit are not well understood and canvary, as do the ecological needs of individualspecies. One theory is that the mycelium ofgrassland fungi may be growing at greaterdepths than usual for saprotrophs, feedingon heavily decomposed plant litter. Waxcapsand their associates occur in a range ofgrassland types, some of the most importantsites in the UK being in upland areas of semi-natural grassland, but there appears to be nocorrelation between the wealth of grasslandfungi and the usual indicator vascular plants.

Whilst totally unimproved grassland mayhold the richest wealth of ‘grassland fungi’,semi-improved grassland, including grazedor mown short swards, such as that found atThe Bury Farm in Herefordshire, needsgreater conservation awareness to helpprevent the land from reverting to long-grassmeadowland, to the detriment of waxcap-grassland fungi. Continued surveying ofsuitable sites across the country is needed togain further knowledge of the habitatrequirements of our grassland fungi in orderto ensure that England’s current position as astronghold for these fungi does not weaken,as it has done across mainland Europe.

Sheila Spence, Mycologist

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as drainage. Productive grasslands can havevalue for wildlife, for example, some speciesof geese prefer to graze on productiveimproved grasslands. Improved grasslandsinclude temporary grasslands – in mixedfarming systems, temporary grasslands areincluded in the crop rotation, are seeded,then ploughed up after one or two years.This farming system is becoming more andmore rare, as English farms focus either onarable or livestock/dairy production.

Management is key forsemi-natural grasslandsSemi-natural grasslands depend onmanagement by farmers for their existence.Historically, this management provided foodto keep people alive, so it was an essentialpart of the economy. Pastures were grazedto produce livestock, meadows were cut forhay to feed livestock through the winter. As well as grazing, grassland and heathlandcommons had other useful products – gorseand peat were cut for fuel, bracken forbedding. Limestone grasslands also providedfuel from the cutting of shrubs such ashawthorn, while juniper provided berries forfood and drinks.

As semi-natural grasslands have beenreplaced with modern, intensively managedgrasslands in the past 70 years, theagricultural value of semi-natural grasslandshas gradually dwindled away. Who wouldchoose to cut bracken for animal bedding,when straw from arable farms is readilyavailable? Gorse is no longer cut for fuelwhen more efficient fuel sources are instantlyon-tap. This has led to the neglect andabandonment of semi-natural grasslands,especially those that do not fit easily intomodern agriculture or other pursuits such as horse-keeping.

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Semi-natural grasslands are the richesthabitats for wildlife in England, supportingmore priority species than any other habitat;a fifth of all priority species are associatedwith grassland habitats.

They are valued by people and are worthconserving. This is recognised in the 1992Rio Convention on Biological Diversity,which places a duty on countries that havesigned up to the Convention to conservetheir species and habitats. There is also amore general acceptance in society that we have a moral obligation to ensure thatspecies (other than lethal pathogens) andtheir habitats do not disappear as a result ofhuman activities. We value the presence ofnature, including semi-natural grasslands,whether it is on our doorstep or in someremote location we may never visit. We arehappy knowing that penguins exist in theAntarctic, even though most of us will neversee one – most people feel diminished whennature is damaged by human activity.

These arguments have been put forward forover a century but they have not prevailed.Quite the contrary – the loss of species andhabitats has accelerated over the past 50years to the point now where many considerthe sixth global mass extinction is alreadyhappening, thanks to our actions. A newapproach has been developed which aims to highlight the economic value of nature,valuing it in terms of the ‘ecosystem goodsand services’ it provides to humanity.

Ecosystem services – perilsand opportunitiesEngland’s semi-natural grasslands provide us with a wide range of different goods andservices. These are described in the recentlypublished National Ecosystem Assessment.Their soils absorb and store carbon, helpingto mitigate climate change. Semi-naturalgrasslands help purify drinking water, unlikeintensive grasslands and arable land whereartificial fertilisers are used, which pollutedrinking water. Semi-natural grasslandsprovide us with high quality meat and dairyproducts, and there is some evidence thatfood produced from semi-natural grasslandsis healthier compared with food producedfrom intensive grasslands. Semi-naturalgrasslands provide homes for pollinatinginsects, which are estimated to be worth£440 million a year to England’s agriculturalindustries. They also provide homes forother insects that are predators of importantcrop pests.

10 Nature’s Tapestry - Chapter Two

Chapter TwoThe values of wildlife-rich grasslands


Bumblebees andgrasslandsBumblebees are important pollinators forthe majority of the wild flowers thatspecies-rich grasslands support, whilstbumblebees themselves need the pollenand nectar provided by grassland flowersthroughout their nesting season (April-September). They also pollinate manyagricultural crops. Unfortunately,bumblebees are thought to haveundergone massive declines, with theextinction and near-extinction of severalspecies, mainly as a result of thewidespread loss of flower-rich grasslandsduring the last 75 years. The continueddecline of bumblebees will thereforehave huge impacts for both agricultureand conservation.

Bumblebees rely upon flower-richhabitats to gather nectar, and they usetussocky and tall grass areas for nesting.Landscape-scale grassland restorationand creation is required to safeguard andexpand existing bumblebee populations.This is particularly important for rarebumblebee species. The shrill carder beeBombus sylvarum is one of the two rarestbumblebees in the UK and is nowrestricted to just six isolated populations,of which three are in England (SomersetLevels, north Kent/south Essex andSalisbury Plain) and three in south Wales.

The Bumblebee Habitat Project isworking in each of these areas to providehabitat in order to prevent the nationalextinction of the shrill carder bee.Grassland management, restoration andcreation are key to this work. By workingwith farmers and other landowners inpriority areas throughout England andWales, new patches of flower-rich habitatare being created in arable margins,grass strips, hedgerows, ditches andorchards, and flower-rich grasslands arebeing created and restored. The projectis supported in England by ELS and HLSoptions under the EnvironmentalStewardship scheme.

Pippa Rayner, Bumblebee Conservation Trust

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Semi-natural grasslands, along with otherhabitats, provide places where peoplecan exercise or relax – there are provenphysical and mental health benefits fromspending time in places rich in wildlife.Grassland landscapes provide thebackdrop for some of our most populartourist destinations, such as the SouthDowns, Yorkshire Dales or the LakeDistrict. Tourism is a large part of theeconomy in much of rural England, andcontributes more to the nationaleconomy than agriculture.

There is an enthusiasm at the moment to use the Ecosystem Services argumentto place a monetary value on nature, tojustify its existence in economic terms.While it is possible to place a monetaryvalue on some ecosystem services, it is far more difficult to monetise others. Forexample 1.45 million hectares of semi-improved grassland in England isestimated to store around 300 milliontonnes of carbon; if carbon is valued at£16/tonne, the carbon in those grasslandsoils would be worth nearly £5 billion.This is a notional value, in any case, as atpresent there is no mechanism to pay alandowner to store or sequester carbonin grasslands; meanwhile, farm subsidiesstill provide an incentive to cultivategrasslands, releasing that carbon store.

The ecosystem services approach is alsovulnerable to being subverted into aseries of engineered technical fixes. Grassmargins around arable fields can capturenitrogen before it enters watercourses;and wildflower seed mixes (or justagricultural varieties of clover) can be

sown around the boundaries of arable andimproved grassland fields, to provide nectarfor pollinators. There need be no place forsmall wildflower meadows filled with orchidsor butterflies.

Is it even morally justifiable to place amonetary value on the inspiration that ameadow might provide to an artist or apoet, or just the simple pleasure of walkingthrough a flower-filled meadow?

Grasslands areinspirationalAcross the centuries, semi-natural grasslandshave inspired artists and writers, from JohnConstable to David Hockney and WilliamShakespeare to Ted Hughes. In particular,the communal endeavour of hay-making on the village meadow has provided a richsource for many writers, from Jane Austen to D H Lawrence. William Shakespearedescribed meadows in several of his playsand the great rural poet, John Clare, wrotewith passion and knowledge about both the joy and loss of his Northamptonshiremeadows and commons. Shakespeareunderstood not only the need for grasslandmanagement but also the ‘services’ theyprovide us:

‘The even mead that erst brought sweetly forth

the freckled cowslip, burnet and green clover,

wanting the scythe, all uncorrected, rank,

conceives by idleness, and nothing teems

but hateful docks, rough thistles, kecksies, burs losing both beauty and utility’

Henry V Act V Scene ii

He also knew his meadow flowers:

‘When Daisies pied and violets blueAnd lady’s-smocks all silver-whiteAnd cuckoo-buds of yellow hueDo paint the meadows with delight…‘Love Labour’s Lost Act V Scene ii

Thomas Hardy celebrated the heaths andgrasslands of Dorset in his novels:

‘Their gauzy skirts had brushed up from thegrass innumerable flies and butterflies which,unable to escape, remained caged in thetransparent tissue as in an aviary.’

Tess of the d’Urbervilles, 1891

Grasslands are central toour history and cultureGrasslands full of wildlife inspire painters andwriters, but they also provide everyone withspiritual sustenance and provide spaces forcontemplation and meditation. Neolithiccultures understood the importance ofplacing ritual structures, such as stone circlesand henges, in open grass landscapes. Fromancient times until relatively recently,Maypoles were erected on village greens inEngland to celebrate the ancient fertility ritesof spring. Elsewhere, the Beltane fires of Maymarked the beginning of the pastoralsummer season when livestock were drivento the summer pastures and mountaingrazing lands. Our history is littered withepoch-changing events that occurred on themany battlefields of England – all grasslands.In the busy modern world, grasslands rich inwildlife can provide a sanctuary for amoment’s contemplation of nature.

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Semi-natural grasslands provide homes forpollinating insects, which are estimated to beworth £440 million a year to England’sagricultural industries.

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Archaeological sitesThe intensity and type of land managementare major factors affecting the survival ofarchaeological sites. Those within grasslandhave survived to the present day in far bettercondition than their counterparts incultivated land. Indeed, nationally 32% ofthe 19,711 Scheduled Monuments are ingrassland. Areas of unimproved permanentgrazing land contain some of the nation’sbest-preserved archaeological sites, whichare often visible as earthworks. Maintainingthese sites in grassland is the most benignform of management, ensuring that they arenot physically degraded by either cultivationor tree and scrub growth, but even moreimportantly, that they remain visible asreadable elements of the landscape.

However, evidence suggests that thenumber of archaeological sites survivingwithin grassland declined dramatically in thesecond half of the 20th century. These losseswere not solely at the level of small,fragmentary survivals, but in some cases on the scale of entire landscapes. As anexample, up until the mid-20th century, thevestiges of the medieval open-field systemsof the Midlands were a distinctive andreadily discernible part of the region’scharacter. Although enclosure and awholesale switch from arable to livestockrearing from the 15th century onwardslargely brought about an end to the open-field system, the extensive ‘ridge and furrow’patterns preserved in grassland were atestament to the importance and extent of communal arable production in earlierperiods. Following concern at the scale ofthis loss, in 2001 the Turning the Ploughsurvey was carried out by Northamptonshire

County Council on behalf of EnglishHeritage. This project reviewed survivingfield systems around medieval settlementsacross all or parts of nine counties:Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire,Cambridgeshire, Gloucestershire,Leicestershire, Lincolnshire,Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire andWarwickshire, covering a total area of14,000 square kilometres. Comparison withdata from the 1950s showed that of 2,000studied townships, only 104 had more than18% of their ridge and furrow surviving in1998. More startling still, of 43 outstandingsites identified in 1998, another survey in1999 showed that a further 800ha of ridgeand furrow had been lost in the interveningyear. These ridge and furrow townshipsrepresent the last definitive representationsof an agricultural system that reached aunique scale of development in the EnglishMidlands. Ridge and furrow is very rare andfragmented across Europe, and thereforethese sites are of international importance as the best examples of a regime thatdominated northern Europe for 1,000 years.

However, these losses have occurred acrossall regions, albeit at varying speeds, and arenot a purely a Midlands phenomenon. Whenthe antiquarian, artist and traveller SirRichard Colt Hoare rode across the WiltshireDowns at the start of the 19th century,sketching and recording for what wouldbecome The Ancient History of Wiltshire(1812 and 1821), he described a chalklandlandscape largely unchanged from Romantimes, with Roman roads, fields andsettlements visibly overlying those of theprehistoric society that they replaced.Despite the conversion of some grassland toarable in the 19th and 20th centuries, thiswas still largely the case up until the 1950sand 1960s. However, the construction of the

M4 motorway and wholesale intensificationas a result of entry into the CommonAgricultural Policy in the 1970s have largelydestroyed the chalk grasslands and thecultural heritage they contained, and bothnow survive only in small fragments.

The scenarios above need not be the case.As a part of the Stonehenge and AveburyWorld Heritage Site special project, atNormanton Down, a prehistoric cemeterysouth of Stonehenge, arable crops werereverted to grassland in 2003, and today theburial mounds are no longer isolated islandsin a sea of crops. In 2004, the RSPBestablished a nature reserve here to protectthe rare stone-curlews and increase theextent of chalk grassland. The RSPB iscarrying out regular wildlife surveys and 22species of butterfly were recorded in thisarea in 2008. The reversion to grassland hasled to exemplary management, and is agood illustration of how managingarchaeology within grassland can provide a wide range of benefits.

Vince Holyoak, English Heritage

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The fate of semi-natural grasslands isinextricably linked to the development ofmodern agriculture. As the productivity ofagriculture has increased over the past 70years, semi-natural grasslands have becomerestricted to ever more marginal land. Flatfields were the first to be converted tointensive grasslands or arable production;areas prone to flooding or with high watertables were drained. This left islands of semi-natural grassland confined to the steepestslopes, the poorest soils, or the very wettest land.

Increased agricultural specialisation, withbroadly livestock-rearing and dairy farming in the wetter west of England and arablemonocultures in the east, has meant that theremaining fragments of semi-naturalgrassland have become more difficult tomanage. Arable enterprises have no livestockto graze grasslands, and even on livestockfarms small grassland fragments with nowater supply, fencing, or other ‘problems’are abandoned to bracken or scrub. Survivingtraditionally managed meadows and pasturesoften have more to do with the particularattitudes and interests of individual farmersthan the mainstream of agricultural advice.

Semi-natural grasslands are still vulnerable tothe twin pressures of intensification of land-use and neglect. One of the reasons why it isdifficult to know what is happening to oursemi-natural grasslands is that England lacksa comprehensive grassland inventory.Although much progress has been madeupdating the grassland inventory in the past3 years, Natural England still has anincomplete and outdated Lowland GrasslandInventory. This is preventing grasslands frombeing adequately recognised or protected.

Protected sitesSite protection has helped prevent thecomplete loss of some grassland habitats.Starting with the National Parks and Accessto the Countryside Act in 1949, continuingthrough a succession of Acts of Parliament,legal protection afforded to Sites of SpecialScientific Interest (SSSIs) has strengthenedover the years. In the last two decades, theprotection has extended to providing fundsto enable sympathetic management of thesesites. This culminated, in 2010, in NaturalEngland’s assessment that over 95% ofEngland’s grassland SSSIs were ‘in recoveringor favourable condition’. However, thisjargon hides more than it reveals. SSSIs canbe classed as being in ‘recovering’ conditionjust because they are in an agri-environmentscheme, even if their wildlife is still declining,or even going extinct.

Overall, 68% of semi-natural grasslands inEngland are thought to occur in SSSIs. Thisvaries from 45% for marshy grassland, 55%for lowland meadows, to 77% for limestonegrassland. Natural England’s policy is todesignate as SSSIs all significant survivingsemi-natural grassland fragments, but inreality very few have been notified in recent years.

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Chapter ThreeWhat is happening to England’sgrasslands?


EIA (Agriculture)RegulationsThe European ‘Environmental ImpactAssessment’ Directive from 1985 providesa mechanism to protect ‘semi-naturalareas’ from intensive agriculture projects.This was brought into English law verylate (in 2001), and the Regulation wasrevised in 2006. The regulation applies toall agricultural land registered for singlepayment, through the Good Agriculturaland Environmental Condition (GAEC)rules. However, this Regulation fails toprotect semi-natural grasslands fromagricultural intensification.

There are many problems with the Regulation:

■ it does not apply to semi-naturalgrassland areas below 2ha, therebyexcluding a large proportion of thesurviving resource;

■ the definition of semi-natural is fartoo restrictive – it excludes grasslandsthat support valuable wildlife speciesother than plants;

■ the Regulation invariably actsretrospectively, meaning thegrasslands have already been lostbefore any action is taken;

■ the balance of evidence weighsagainst the Regulator, making iteasier for a defendant to overturn EIAdecisions on appeal.

The Grasslands Trust has brought thismatter to the attention of NaturalEngland, Defra and the EuropeanCommission, and is leading a campaignto strengthen the Regulations.

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Unprotected sitesWhile just over two-thirds of England’s semi-natural grasslands occur inside SSSIs,the fate of those outside SSSIs has not beenso fortunate. These unprotected grasslandsare mostly small and fragmented. They arevulnerable to abandonment, or are affectedby surrounding land use (such as pollutionor drainage). They are mostly registered asLocal Wildlife Sites, which may providelimited protection from development, butlittle or no protection from agriculturalintensification. The one mechanism thatcould be used to protect against this is theEnvironmental Impact Assessment(Agriculture) Regulations, but currently this is too weak to be effective.

In England, there has been only onecomprehensive survey of the status andextent of semi-natural grasslands outsideSSSIs, which happened nearly ten years ago.This found that just a fifth of sites were infavourable condition, while nearly a quarterof the sites surveyed had either lost some orall of their wildlife value. Other local surveysconfirm that this situation continues.

A survey of Dorset Local Wildlife Sitegrasslands in 2007 found that over half weredeclining, which effectively means they hadlost some of their characteristic species sincethey were last surveyed during the 1990s.


Butterflies and grasslandsButterflies and moths are some of thebest indicators of the quality of wildlife-rich grassland and, more generally, thehealth of the environment. Defra usesbutterflies as indicators of environmentalquality because they respond quickly tochanges in the environment and the wayshabitats are managed. According to themost recent JNCC figures (BIYP 2010),butterflies restricted to semi-naturalhabitats have declined by 69% since1976, although declines may haveslowed in the last decade.

A number of butterflies are restricted towildlife-rich grasslands.

■ chalkhill blue

■ adonis blue

■ small blue

■ silver spotted skipper

■ dingy skipper

■ grizzled skipper

■ Lulworth skipper

■ Duke of Burgundy

■ marsh fritillary

Many other butterflies and moths make use of wildlife-rich grassland during their lifecycles.

Chalkhill blue

The chalkhill blue is usually a butterfly oflimestone (often chalk) grassland, wherethe foodplant for its caterpillars, horseshoevetch, occurs. It lives on open, sunny,south-facing slopes that are well grazed,and is widespread across southernEngland. It suffered a 25% contractionfrom the 1950s to 1980s, but hasresponded well to better management ofthe sites where it occurs, and populationshave increased three-fold in recentdecades. Improved management hasoccurred as a result of better funding forthe management of protected sites (SSSIs)and agri-environment scheme funding toachieve better management outsideprotected areas.

Duke of Burgundy

Duke of Burgundy butterflies live in areaswhere a number of different habitats occurin a complex mosaic. The butterfly’sfoodplants, primrose and cowslip, can befound widely, but are used only wherethey occur in long tussocky swards, inlightly grazed or ungrazed scrubbydownland or on woodland grassland inglades and rides. This butterfly isdisappearing fast, having disappeared fromover half its range in England since the1970s, a loss mirrored elsewhere in

1990 1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008











x (1



Specialists (23)

Generalists (23)


Wildlife-rich Proportion ingrassland habitat favourable

condition (%)

Purple moor-grass 35/rush pasture

Lowland calcareous 28grassland

Lowland acid grassland 23

Lowland meadow 18

Upland hay meadow 7

Table 1 Proportion of grassland habitats outsideSSSIs in favourable condition

Figure 4 Trends in butterfly populations forhabitat (grassland) specialists and generalists onfarmland in England, 1990 to 2009

Grassland Good Declininghabitat maintained

Lowland 37% 54% calcareous (no. of sites) (no. of sites)grassland 47% 43%

(by area) (by area)

Lowland 35% 54%meadows (no. of sites) (no. of sites)

45% 43%(by area) (by area)

Table 2 Status of grassland wildlife sites in Dorset

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The Government’s National Indicator 197required local authorities to assess whetherLocal Wildlife Sites were being managed well.Overall, just a third of sites were found to be‘in positive management’, with between athird and a half of grassland sites in that state.

More recent sample surveys of grasslandwildlife sites have taken place in

Oxfordshire, Hampshire, Suffolk andNorfolk. (see Table 3 below). Thesesurveys use different methodologies sothey are not directly comparable.Statistically, these surveys cannot beextrapolated to give national trends.However, they do provide evidence thatwildlife-rich grasslands outside SSSIscontinue to decline in some areas.

Europe. There may now be less than 100colonies left in England. As well ascontracting in range, populations havefallen by nearly half in the last 25 years,and now most are very small. The Duke ofBurgundy also used to occur in coppicedwoodland, but with the decline inwoodland management these colonieshave all but disappeared. Grasslandpopulations have declined partly as aresult of the loss of downland to intensiveagriculture, and partly through neglect toscrub encroachment. With mostpopulations being small and isolated,local extinctions cannot be reversed bynatural re-colonisation. In some cases,populations have been lost throughmisguided conservation management atsites, where grazing has created shortswards for the benefit of limestone plantsat the expense of Duke of Burgundypopulations. A recent study found that asmany sites had lost the butterfly as resultof conservation-grazing as from neglector overgrazing by rabbits. To prevent itsextinction, concerted effort is needed tocreate appropriate conditions at itsremaining sites, while landscape-scaleaction is needed to create new suitablehabitat that it can recolonise from its lastremaining strongholds.

One of the reasons why it is difficult to know whatis happening to our semi-natural grasslands is thatEngland lacks a comprehensive grassland inventory.

County Condition

Oxfordshire (30 sites) Lowland meadows 70% favourableLowland calcareous grasslands 43% favourable

Norfolk (60 sites) 70% poor or declining45% (by area) in excellent, good or improving condition20% interest lost

Suffolk (70 sites) 70% favourable maintained or recovering11% unfavourable

Hampshire Lowland calcareous grasslands in good condition declined from 47% in 1987 to 12% in 200049% of lowland meadows had been partially improved or neglected

Table 3 Grassland surveys

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Semi-improved grasslandsThe resource of semi-improved grassland inEngland is huge, currently amounting toaround a third of all grassland in England,but this is a very poorly understood resource.Nevertheless, it is estimated that it providesvaluable ecosystem services – nearly 300million tonnes of carbon is stored in thesegrasslands’ soils, which are nearly equivalentto the UK’s entire forest carbon store. Thereis very little information about its value forwildlife, though significant areas are likely to be managed sympathetically in agri-environment schemes. Some of the resourcewill certainly be restorable to high qualitysemi-natural grassland, given sufficientfunding and advice for landowners.

The Government’s Countryside Survey(published in 2010) has attempted todistinguish between typical semi-improvedgrassland, with relatively low wildlife value,and other areas that still have some wildlifecharacteristic of semi-natural grasslands.What this survey has found is that the typical grasslands have become slightly more species-rich, while the more valuablegrasslands have lost species. This is a trendthat has been continuing over the past 20years. This research indicates that richerstands are losing wildlife value partly because of a lack of management, and partly because soil fertility is increasing as aresult of background deposition of pollutants,as well as direct applications of manures andfertilisers, giving a competitive edge tocoarser grasses and weeds.

16 Nature’s Tapestry - Chapter Three

Sympathetically managed grasslands provide health and wellbeing benefits.

The resource of semi-improved grassland inEngland is huge, currently amounting to around

a third of all grassland in England, but this isa very poorly understood resource.

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Sympathetic managementGrasslands need management, otherwisethey become replaced by other habitats suchas scrub or woodland. Managing semi-naturalgrasslands sympathetically for wildlife (andecosystem services) means that the incomefrom intensive management for agriculture islost. In some cases, sympathetic managementcan be more expensive in the short term thancontinuing with an intensive approach. Re-introducing sympathetic management canmean reducing stocking density, investing incapital infrastructure, such as fencing, watersupply, traditional breeds of livestock orbespoke agricultural machinery. These can actto discourage those farmers who may want tomanage their grasslands sympathetically, letalone those who are not interested, or areactively antagonistic.

While sympathetic management costsfarmers because they produce less stock,their inputs (such as fertiliser, herbicide andfuels) are also reduced.

The benefits to society fromsympathetic grassland managementare many:

■ sympathetically managed grasslandsstore more carbon (and release fewerother greenhouse gases, such asnitrous oxide);

■ they reduce nitrogen pollution of waterand air, saving lives and money incleaning water;

■ they provide pollination services foragricultural crops;

■ they provide health and well-beingbenefits to visitors and residents;

■ they produce high quality, better tastingand possibly healthier food; and

■ as a by product of these benefits,sympathetically managed grasslands arericher in wildlife, have better landscapevalue, and protect archaeology.

While farmers are not being paid toprovide ecosystem services, they can be subsidised to reduce the intensity ofgrassland management through agri-environment schemes.

Agri-environment schemesAgri-environment schemes, such asCountryside Stewardship, were developedmore than 20 years ago to offset some of thecosts of farming more sympathetically withthe land. The original “Classic” schemes arenow finishing and being replaced byEnvironmental Stewardship. Currentlyaround £400 million per annum is spent onEnvironmental Stewardship Entry Level (ELS)and Higher Level Schemes (HLS). However,this is still only a little over 10% of the entireCommon Agricultural Policy subsidy budgetfor England.

These schemes are providing significantfunds to help farmers manage semi-naturalgrasslands. Around three quarters of agri-environment funding is paid through theEntry Level Scheme (ELS), which pays £30per hectare annually (£50 for organic ELS),and includes options to manage grasslandswith little or no fertilisers or herbicides.

Given that 350,000ha of grassland havebeen entered into these options (andanother 130,000ha in upland ELS grasslandoptions) it is likely that these cover manyimportant grassland sites: Natural Englandestimate 27,000ha of semi-natural grasslandoccur within ELS. However, because ELS isnot targeted and habitats are not properlyrecorded when farms enter ELS, it is difficult

to know how much semi-natural grasslandactually falls within the scheme, or theirlocations. Also, ELS does not provide fundsfor capital infrastructure, such as fencing orwater supply, which are often critical forrestoring neglected grasslands. NaturalEngland have recently introduced ETIP, atraining programme to help farmers find the best ELS options on their farm: this willhopefully lead to better matching of ELSoptions to semi-natural grasslands.

The Higher Level Scheme is a more targeted scheme, with more generouspayments (over £200 per ha per annum),and 160,000ha of grasslands have beenentered into various HLS grassland options,an estimated 60,000ha of which are semi-natural grassland. HLS is undoubtedlyhelping maintain and restore significantamounts of semi-natural grassland inEngland and could do considerably more if extra funds were available.

The previous agri-environment schemesCountryside Stewardship andEnvironmentally Sensitive Areas fundedfarmers to re-create semi-natural grasslandfrom arable or improved grassland. Recentmonitoring by Natural England indicatesthat while few were successful within the 10year life of the schemes, others are startingto develop wildlife value. As these “classic”schemes end, only around half of thefarmers are able to move into HLS. ELSpayments are much lower than under theClassic Schemes, and there is a significantrisk that farmers will be forced to destroy re-created grasslands with developing wildlifevalue, to offset the lost scheme funding.

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The BiodiversityConventionThe Convention on Biological Diversity(1992) has been implemented in Englandsince 2002 through the EnglandBiodiversity Strategy, which included aseries of action plans for priority grasslandhabitats. In the last ten years there hasbeen little progress towards achieving the targets set out in these plans. This isillustrated by the failure to achieve theCountdown 2010 biodiversity target.New targets and principles have beenagreed as a result of the NagoyaConference in November 2010, and anew England Biodiversity Strategy, linkedwith the Natural Environment WhitePaper, have recently been published. Boththe new England Biodiversity Strategy andthe White Paper will influence the futureof England’s semi-natural grasslands. Theextent to which they help reverse thecontinuing decline of England’s grasslandswill be a test of the current Government’scommitment to being the ‘GreenestGovernment Ever’.

Existing conservationactionThere is a significant amount of existingaction to conserve England’s survivingsemi-natural grasslands and their wildlife.Conservation charities play a vital role inthis, both on the ground, developingprojects, influencing policy and co-ordinating the action. There are projectsthat focus on specific types of grassland(e.g. Hay Time, Floodplain MeadowsProject) or on particular areas (e.g. WealdMeadows Initiative, Two Moors). In 2011,a UK Grasslands Forum was established tobring together all the organisationsinterested in grasslands and theirconservation. This Forum aims to providecoherence and co-ordination to the UK’sgrassland conservation activities.

18 Nature’s Tapestry - Chapter Three


Hay TimeThe North Pennines AONBPartnership’s hay meadowrestoration project

Within the UK, species-rich hay meadowsare a rare habitat, having declined by morethan 97% over the past 60 years as a resultof progressive agricultural intensification.The meadows found in the North Penninesare a special type, characteristic of theharsh conditions typical of hilly andmountainous regions across Europe. These‘upland’ or ‘mountain’ hay meadows arenow very rare, with little more than 900hathought to remain in the UK. With 350haof upland hay meadows, the NorthPennines AONB is an important place forthis special habitat.

From a botanical perspective, theimportance of upland hay meadows lies inthe rich diversity of wild plants that grow inthem. The best meadows can support upto 120 different species of flowering plant.Many of these species, such as wood

crane’s-bill, melancholy thistle andglobeflower, are characteristic of northernlatitudes and are found close to theirsouthern boundary in the North Pennines.

Farmers in the North Pennines have beenable to claim financial incentives formanaging their hay meadows non-intensively since the 1980s. However, atthe turn of the 21st century, even wheretraditional management practices had beenrestored to meadows that had lost theirspecial species, there was little evidence oftheir return and many meadows werecontinuing to decline in quality. The limited potential for seeds to migratenaturally from neighbouring fields owing to the rarity and highly dispersed nature of these species-rich meadows is animportant factor.

The process of natural seed migration canbe speeded up significantly by the directaddition of seed that has been harvestedfrom nearby species-rich meadows. Thisapproach has been experimentally andpractically demonstrated, and seedaddition is now a recognised andincreasingly used technique for grasslandrestoration. Experimental work has alsoshown that the seeds of different speciesshould be introduced at different stages ofthe meadow restoration process. At the firststage, species such as yellow-rattle, redclover, sweet vernal-grass and meadowbuttercup should be introduced, as theseplants change the soil microbial conditionsso that they are suitable for morespecialised meadow plants to colonise.Yellow-rattle is a particularly importantplant as it parasitises and weakens grasses,thus creating patches of bare soil whereother species can establish. The secondstage of the restoration process is to

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introduce species associated with classicupland hay meadows, such as wood crane’s-bill, globeflower and lady’s-mantles,although it may take a number of yearsbefore soil conditions change sufficiently to enable a diverse vegetation to flourish.

Since May 2006, the North Pennines AONBPartnership has been working closely withfarmers and colleagues from Natural England,through the Hay Time project, to restoremeadows that have lost their characteristicplant species. In the early summer, betweenMay and July, the team carry out botanicalsurveys of meadows. These surveys help toidentify sites that are suitable for restorationor enhancement, sites from which seed canbe harvested, and sites where we can providehabitat management advice. Between 2006and 2010, we surveyed 930 fields and visitedmore than 230 farms to give hay meadowmanagement advice. Using specialmachinery, we then harvest either the seed-bearing top of the hay crop or the entire cropand spread it as ‘green hay’ on a nearbymeadow. Not only does this approach enablethe effective transfer of seeds, a process thatwould take decades to occur naturally, butalso ensures that the unique genetic integrityof these meadows is maintained. Between2006 and 2010, 140.5ha of hay meadow hasreceived locally harvested seed in this way.

Sadly, some of the most special upland haymeadow plants are now becoming so scarcethat in some areas they are not abundantenough for us to harvest them usingmachinery. For these plants, we have enlistedthe help of volunteers to gather seed by handfrom species-rich banks and roadside verges.This seed is either spread directly ontomeadows or grown-on over one or two yearsuntil the young plants are robust enough tobe planted out.

Effective restoration of natural habitats is aprocess that takes years, and often decades,to achieve. The management and restorationof hay meadows is particularly complicatedbecause it depends on appropriate humanintervention on an on-going basis. Weaddress these issues by working on meadowsthat are subject to ten-year managementagreements under the terms of agri-environment schemes such as the HigherLevel Scheme of Environmental Stewardship.

Are the flowers coming back? To helpanswer this question, Hay Time projectofficers, supported by a band of skilledvolunteers, carry out monitoring surveyseach year to assess the number of wildplants found in the meadows. Over thewinter months, we analyse the datacollected and so are able to assess the realimpact of our work on this precious habitat.

Hay Time – North Pennines is a collaborationbetween the North Pennines AONBPartnership and the Yorkshire DalesMillennium Trust. It is supported by a CountyDurham Environment Trust CDENT PREMIERAward under the Landfill Communities Fund,Natural England via the Countdown 2010Biodiversity Action Fund and the HeritageLottery Fund (HLF).

Rebecca Barrett Project Development Officer,North Pennines AONB Partnership

Both the new England Biodiversity Strategy andthe Natural Environment White Paper willinfluence the future of England’s semi-naturalgrasslands.

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Weald Meadows InitiativeThe Weald Meadows Initiative (WMI) waslaunched in 1996 by the High Weald AONBUnit, the Farming and Wildlife AdvisoryGroup (FWAG) and Agrifactors SouthernLtd. This unique public-private partnershippiloted a project in the Weald for harvestingwild flower and grass seeds, with a part-time advisory service operated throughFWAG. Demand for the advice and seedgrew and a part-time co-ordinator wasappointed in 1997 - fulltime in 1999, withsupport from a range of funders. SinceNovember 2009, the WMI partnership, ledand hosted by the High Weald LandscapeTrust (HWLT) made 2010 a milestone yearfor this pivotal project (SENSE?).

Not only does this local project continue todeliver and record its groundbreaking work,it also supports landowners by giving adviceand assistance other organisations with anational remit. In 2009/10 this advice couldhave made a difference to up to 635ha ofmeadows in the Weald and across the UK.

The WMI continues to support themanagement of ancient meadows throughsustainably harvesting wild grass and flowerseed for the enhancement and creation ofnew diverse meadows. Biodiversity targets ata number of sites have increased annuallythrough the use of Weald Native Origin Seed(WNOS) and the Beech Estates whole-croplandscape-scale method, developed bymanager and HWLT trustee, Keith Datchler.

Partnerships have been the key to thecontinuing success of the WMI, particularlyin the formation of the Weald MeadowsGroup (WMG) in 2008. This group is madeup of the HWLT-WMI, The Royal Botanic

Gardens, Kew, Sussex University – Centre forCommunity Engagement, the National Trustand the Sussex Wetland Landscapes Project.

Early WMG work included the successful‘Vanishing Meadows’ exhibition in 2009,and the group has developed trial andresearch projects, including enhancementplots at Wakehurst Place and on washlandsmeadows in Sussex, which are supported byKew’s Restoration Ecology Team and theMillennium Seed Bank. With kind permissionof many meadow owners in 2010, Kew andthe WMI hand-collected high qualitysamples of wildflower and grass seed fromlocal meadows. The WMG anticipate that,with specialist support from the MillenniumSeed Bank, it can start to unravel the secretsand disseminate key facts for optimumwildflower seed germination from 2011.

In April 2011, a formal and uniquepartnership was secured between The HighWeald Landscape Trust - Weald MeadowsInitiative (HWLT - WMI) and The RoyalBotanic Gardens Kew - called aMemorandum of Collaboration (MoC). For this ground breaking and well managedproject, this accolade provides recognitionfor the 15 years of meadow enhancement,regeneration, data collation and specialistmeadows knowledge making the initiative abest practice leader in its area and throughthe projects experiences, a national exampleworth following.

Dawn Brickwood, High Weald LandscapeTrust

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Semi-natural grasslands, whether inprotected areas or not, are under constantpressure from a number of factors. Theseinclude climate change; the continuingeffects of agricultural intensification andabandonment; pressure to acquire land tobuild houses, infrastructure or for industry;recreational activities; and the fragmentationof the grassland resource.

Climate changeAdaptationClimate change is likely to lead to Englandbecoming warmer, possibly wetter, with anincrease in the frequency of extreme weatherevents, including drought, flood andextremes of temperature. Grassland wildlifewill find that the conditions they prefer haveshifted to a different place in England (orthat there are no places in England wheretheir preferred conditions occur). This isespecially true of wildlife communitiesassociated with cold conditions. Conversely,those species with a toehold in southernEngland may find there are many moreplaces where they can flourish. There will be winners and losers, but the challenge forall wildlife will be the ability to move to thenew places where their preferred conditionsoccur. In the fragmented landscapes ofEngland, the distances between suitablehabitat patches are simply too great toenable wildlife to make those moves.

MitigationGrasslands store a great deal of England’scarbon stock, but they could store much,much more. Intensively managed grasslandsand livestock contribute around 5% ofEngland’s greenhouse gas emissions. Theirmanagement is carbon-hungry, because it is dependent on fossil fuels to provide theenergy to produce artificial fertilisers and

herbicides, or to fuel the transport of proteinfeed, such as soya from South America.Intensively managed grasslands produce twoor three times as many animals as extensivelymanaged semi-natural grasslands, meaningthat overall, far more methane is producedfrom intensive livestock farming thanextensive systems. This is true even thoughindividual animals may produce moremethane when grazing on semi-natural land.

Semi-natural grasslands store much morecarbon than intensively managed grasslands.So there is a great opportunity to increasethe amount of carbon stored in grasslandsoils and vegetation by shifting fromintensive production systems to extensiveones. This is an essential ecosystem serviceprovided by semi-natural grasslands, andone that is currently under-utilised.

BiofuelsThe EU Renewable Energy Directive provideda legal framework to enable EU MemberStates to support the production of biofuelcrops. In the UK these could include wheatand oil-seed rape, while elsewhere in theworld sugar cane and oil palm are the maincrops. The Directive aims to protect carbon-rich habitats from conversion to arable landto produce biofuel crops. Protection isafforded to forest and peatlands, but only‘highly biodiverse grasslands’ are protectedunder the Directive. This poses a risk tograsslands across the world from conversionto biofuel production. While it is less likelythat semi-natural grasslands in England willbe converted to biofuel production, the UKmay be responsible for driving grassland losselsewhere, including in Europe, if biofuelsbecome a significant energy source fortransport, for example. Producing biofuelson arable land also places a pressure on

grasslands to replace that lost foodproduction.

Intensive agriculture As recently recognised in the EU BiodiversityStrategy, intensification of agriculture hasbeen almost entirely responsible for thewholesale loss of semi-natural grasslandsacross Europe and especially in England, as a result of increases in fertiliser application,herbicide use, cultivation, re-seeding withagricultural grasses and drainage. Losses ofhabitat have slowed in recent years,although they continue, especially for smallfragments of grassland. Intensive agriculturehas also driven abandonment of marginalgrasslands, either because there are nolivestock on arable farms, or because thesemi-natural grasslands are irrelevant orinconvenient for intensive livestock systems.Intensive agriculture continues to haveindirect effects on surviving semi-naturalgrasslands, through eutrophication, drainageand water abstraction. Eutrophication is stilla major problem (although nitrogen comesfrom a variety of sources, including airbornedeposition, from industrial and transportemissions). While agri-environment schemeshave provided some respite in recentdecades, their future is uncertain and theycannot be regarded as an effectiveprotection mechanism.

Sustainable intensificationAs the global population increases, foodsecurity will become an increasinglyimportant issue. A recent report to Defra, the Foresight report, identified the steps thatare needed to ensure a stable, secure foodsupply for the world. One approachadvocated was ‘sustainable intensification’.Simply put, this means increasing food

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Chapter FourWhat factors are driving change ongrasslands now?

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production from land currently used toproduce food, while protecting naturalresources elsewhere. One consequence ofthis approach in England could be that thenearly 1.5 million hectares of semi-improvedgrassland would be converted into intensivelymanaged improved grassland, or even thatgrassland could be converted into moreproductive forage maize production (as isalready happening in some dairying areas).

The alternative model is to recognise that, as a small country with a high population,while England can produce more of its ownfood (thereby reducing imported protein for example), England’s agricultural landprovides many different useful functions for society, including the whole range ofecosystem services previously described. It also means that we may have to accepteating less red meat, and that the meat we do eat is produced more sustainably,wherever it is produced.

The Common AgriculturalPolicy (CAP)The current CAP accounts for nearly half ofthe entire EU budget, and 80% of this isspent on direct payments to farmers (theSingle Payment). These paymentstheoretically ensure that farmers maintain‘good agricultural and environmentalcondition’ (GAEC) on their land, includingprotecting semi-natural grasslands (see EIA(Agriculture) text box). However, in practice,the rules governing who receives the SinglePayment, and the GAEC rules, are at bestblind to the fate of England’s semi-naturalgrasslands, and at worst actively working tothreaten their future. There is no linkbetween the Single Payment (which canexceed £200 per ha per annum), and theprovision of public goods and services from

agricultural land. Because Single Payment inEngland is partly based on the farm’s historicentitlements, which were linked toproduction, those farmers who do providesuch goods and services (including healthywildlife populations) generally receive lessSingle Payment than farmers who managetheir land intensively.

Farmers can also be punished by havingtheir Single Payment reduced if they havethick hedges or leave scrubby marginsaround fields, despite these being valuablewildlife habitats. Areas of scrub or field trees,regardless of their wildlife value, also reducethe area eligible for Single Payment and aretherefore at risk of removal. A rule that ismeant to ensure that permanent pasture isprotected from cultivation is renderedmeaningless in England when the definitionof permanent pasture has been stretched toinclude pastures that are re-seeded withagricultural grasses.

Development pressuresThe planning system has historicallycontrolled where development takes placeand the impact of that development.Grasslands have always been vulnerable todevelopment, because they are intrinsicallyeasier to exploit than other habitats, such aswoodlands or wetlands. In the past 20 years,planning guidance has helped local planningauthorities to draw up Local Plans that havereduced the impact of development onsemi-natural grasslands, with varyingsuccess. A new National Planning PolicyFramework (NPPF) is now being prepared,and local authorities now have a duty topromote sustainable development. Whilethis may not have a great impact onprotected grasslands, the future of LocalWildlife Site grasslands depends on the

protection they are afforded in the NPPF.There may also be an opportunity toidentify, in development plans, areas whererestoring or re-creating grasslands should bea priority.

Recreational activitiesRecreational activities can both drive theneed to protect and maintain grasslands(such as local parks and other green spaces –collectively, Green Infrastructure) and affecttheir value for wildlife.

There are thought to be nearly 1.4 millionhorses kept for recreation in the UK. Manysemi-natural grasslands have been damagedby equine use, including the use of fertiliser,re-seeding and overgrazing. Yet horse-grazing can help provide conditions wheregrassland wildlife can thrive.

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The rules governing the Single Payment Scheme are unhelpfulfor semi-natural grasslands and fail to recognise theirenvironmental and heritage value and economic handicaps.

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Community grasslandsCommunities value their local grasslands for a variety of reasons, including for theirwildlife, as places for relaxation (walking the dog) or for events. While dog-walkersundoubtedly value their local grasslands asplaces to exercise (and empty) their dogs,dog-walking can have profound impacts onthe character and wildlife of semi-naturalgrasslands in public spaces. Unleashed dogs disturb ground-nesting birds, whileeutrophication is also a problem where dog-walkers do not pick up their dog’sexcrement. Dogs and livestock often do not mix, making grazing a challenge ongrassland sites used by dog-walkers.

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Grasslands and equinesHorses are often seen as poor grazers ofsemi-natural grasslands, but their selectivitycan be an advantage for conservationgrazing. Horses and species-rich grasslandsgo particularly well together, as the low-fertility, high-fibre forage available fromsuch swards are exactly what a horserequires, rather than the high-sugar, low-fibre fare of intensive ryegrass/cloverpastures, which can be positivelydangerous to them. Properly managed,horses have been shown to be successful in maintaining and even increasing species-richness, and they are particularly good atgrazing wetlands, where they will takecoarser grasses, for example, purple moor-grass, and forbs which other animals avoid.

There are now approaching 1.4 millionhorses in the UK, part of an industry worth£4bn in 2005. The amount of grasslandused by horses has not been definitivelyascertained, but estimates range from 0.8million hectares to 1 million hectares. Thescale of the demand for land is part of theproblem, which leads to the intensive useand overgrazing that in turn creates thebad image. Not only do horse ownersneed to understand that their animals canbenefit from large areas of low-fertilitygrassland, but conservation managers needalso to understand the suitability of horsesas grazers, and in particular as a market forspecies-rich hay. Now that obesity is seenas the biggest welfare issue for horses inthe UK, owners might begin to considerthe benefits of re-seeding their ryegrasspastures with native meadow species, tothe benefit of both horses and wildlife.

Elizabeth O’Beirne-Ranelagh, FWAG


The Grasslands TrustCommunity GrasslandsProjectThe Grasslands Trust is developing theprinciples of Community Grasslands.Local communities that have grasslandsthat they value get involved in theirmanagement, and enjoy and gain a sense of community ownership of thegrassland. The Trust has developed aCommunity Grassland project near itshead office in Eastleigh, Hampshire, andone at its National Nature Reserve atCarmel, Carmarthenshire.

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Hocombe Mead LocalNature Reserve, HampshireThe Hocombe Mead project, whichpromotes the value of a LNR to its localcommunity, was funded by the HeritageLottery Fund. The project, which was ajoint partnership with Eastleigh BoroughCouncil, has enabled a wide range ofindividuals and groups of all ages andbackgrounds to enjoy this beautiful ancientmeadow and woodland.

A strong volunteer group has learnt new andtraditional skills that have been put to goodeffect in making improvements to thereserve’s infrastructure and access, as well as carrying out work on a conservationmanagement plan. These volunteers havenow formed themselves into the ‘Friends of Hocombe’, a constituted, self-fundedcommunity group whose aim is to be thesustainable face of conservation at the reserve.

The local community has also taken to heartthe monthly events organised at the site,including more traditional wildlife walks andtalks, as well as ‘ first time’ events such as aChristmas carol evening and candlelit walk,teddy bears’ picnic and family forest schooldays. An exceptional event saw the reservehost a raptor day, with delighted childrenwatching these charismatic birds fly over the meadow.

Without doubt, this project has broughtlarger numbers to the reserve, learningabout and enjoying this hidden site on theirdoorstep. Many have found a new interest innature or rekindled memories from dayspast; parents are becoming enduringeducators, with the reserve as theirclassroom, also supporting the

Government’s ‘Every Child Matters’, anemphasis on outdoor play and learning,reducing obesity, physical challenge, risktaking and the environment.

The next stage will take the concept of theHocombe project and develop it into aborough-wide educational package of formaland informal learning opportunities toencourage the people of Eastleigh tobecome actively involved in the conservationof their borough’s natural and built heritage.

With a strap line of ‘4 C’s’ – conservation,community involvement, communication andpersonal challenge – the project can becomea bedrock for a wider national approach to‘local grasslands for local people’.

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FragmentationEngland’s semi-natural grasslands are now severely fragmented, although thesefragments are often clustered in areaswhere topography has preventedwholesale conversion to intensiveagriculture. Because of this, semi-naturalgrasslands are more likely to be foundwithin Areas of Outstanding NaturalBeauty, Heritage Coastline and NationalParks. Semi-natural grasslands are alsofound in greater numbers within theDefence Estate (including the largetraining areas such as Salisbury Plain,Breckland, Dartmoor, and the Hampshire and Dorset ranges) and theForestry Commission estate. This isbecause they have escaped the impact of modern agriculture.

A review of the coherence of England’secological networks, ‘Making Space forNature’, was published in 2010. It concludedthat England’s wildlife was continuing todecline, and that fragmentation was a keyreason behind this decline. The reportrecommended a number of ways to reversethis decline, summed up as more semi-natural land, better managed, in biggerfragments, with more connections betweenthe fragments – termed ‘landscape-scaleconservation’. Some semi-natural grasslandhabitats, such as lowland meadows, are nowfound mainly in small isolated fragments:those outside protected areas are desperately vulnerable.

A shift towards landscape-scale conservationmeans reducing fragmentation of semi-natural grasslands by:

■ protecting the remaining resource moreeffectively;

■ enlarging existing small sites throughhabitat restoration and re-creation; and

■ creating new semi-natural grasslands in the best locations to link togethercurrently disconnected and isolatedfragments.

To achieve this will require:

■ careful planning to identify the areaswhere most benefit can be achieved for the resources available;

■ the close involvement of locallandowners and communities, to achievea consensus for action;

■ a re-balancing of current land-uses awayfrom intensive food production towardsproviding a range of ecosystem services;and

■ funding to support this change, in theform of redistribution of CAP payments,payments for ecosystem services, andother sources of funding.

Landscape-scale action for grasslands isalready happening in a few places in England.

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A review of the coherence of England’s ecologicalnetworks, ‘Making Space for Nature’, was publishedin 2010. It concluded that England’s wildlife wascontinuing to decline, and that fragmentation wasa key reason behind this decline.

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What needs to be doneThe wildlife, landscape character andarchaeology of semi-natural grasslands, needaction to prevent them from disappearingcompletely in our life-times. TheGovernment needs to lead many of theseactions: individual land-owners can do theirbit, and the public can also play a role, butthe future of England’s grasslands dependson Government action to regulate, educateand provide incentives for sympatheticmanagement. The following actions are thehighest priority:

■ The Government should implement infull the recommendations in ‘MakingSpace for Nature’.

■ Defra, working with Natural England,should ensure that existing agri-environment schemes, in particular EntryLevel Scheme, are targeted at farmerswith semi-natural grasslands. Farmersentering ELS could be required to entertheir semi-natural grasslands into verylow input options as a condition ofentering the farm into ELS.

■ On renewal, Natural England shouldreview the existing coverage of grasslandoptions in ELS to ensure the very lowinput option is targeted at the mostvaluable grasslands.

■ Defra should develop a system to paygrassland owners to provide theecosystem services supplied to society by sympathetic management of semi-natural grasslands.

■ The Government should recognise andquantify the value of carbon storage ingrasslands and develop policies thatencourage carbon storage andsequestration through support forextensive grassland management.

■ Defra and the Department of Healthworking together needs to engage thepublic to help people understand theconsequences of eating red meatproduced intensively, such that theyconsume less, and more healthy, redmeat produced using extensive grasslandsystems that provide a range of publicgoods and services.

■ Natural England should notify as SSSIs all surviving significant semi-naturalgrasslands.

■ Defra must revise the EIA (Agriculture)Regulations so they become aneffective tool for protecting semi-natural grasslands.

■ Defra should make it a priority to preparea comprehensive Grasslands Inventory,based on Natural England’s LowlandGrassland Inventory; and develop amonitoring system to ensure grasslandsare maintained in good condition.

■ Government policy should ensure thatbiofuels are not produced from areassupporting important grasslands, eitherdomestically or abroad.

■ Government policy should ensure thattree-planting does not occur on existingsemi-natural grasslands, or in areaswhere grassland restoration or re-creation is the higher priority.

CAP reform

Long-term CAP reform must focus onsubsidies paying only for public goods andservices. In the short term:

■ Revise the definition of permanentpasture such that it applies topermanent pastures with high wildlifevalue and provides a range of otherecosystem services.

■ Reform the Single Payment eligibilityrules so that semi-natural grasslands andextensive management systems areeligible for support; and make availablea special Permanent Pasture Premiumfor farmers who commit to maintainthese grasslands.

■ Reform the GAEC rules such thatextensive grassland management isencouraged.

■ Increase the proportion of CAP budgetspent on Agri-Environment schemes.

■ Environmental Stewardship–-

■ make the schemes much simpler,allowing capital works to be paid as part of ELS.

■ target ELS grassland options towardssemi-natural grasslands.

Planning and communities

■ The new planning system needs toprotect existing semi-natural grasslandsfrom development, and supportrestoration and creation of newgrasslands in new developments.

■ The Grasslands Trust will develop anetwork of Community Grasslands whichre-connects people with grasslands.

■ A series of training programmes shouldbe established for Farmers/NaturalEngland/Defra/land agents/localgovernment advisors to recognisesemi-natural grasslands, understandthe value of these grasslands and thevaluable roles they play.

Encouragement, through local branding, of farmers and communities that producefoods that recognises the value ofextensively farmed semi-natural grasslands.

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The Grasslands TrustThe Grasslands Trust is a UK RegisteredCharity (No. 1097893) and CompanyLimited by Guarantee founded in 2002 inorder to reverse the decline of our wildlife-rich grasslands.

Our Vision: is that one day, everyone willlive near a wildlife-rich grassland.

Our Mission: is to reinstate grasslands as asignificant part of our natural heritage for thebenefit of people and wildlife.

Our Aims:

■ To secure the future of grassland sites of beauty, special wildlife, landscape orcultural value.

■ To restore degraded grasslands to theirformer glory.

■ To advise farmers, landowners and thepublic on grassland management andrestoration.

■ To raise awareness of the value andvulnerability of grasslands for wildlife and also for their archaeology, social,historical and landscape value.

The Grasslands Trust is based at

Eastleigh WorksCampbell RoadEastleighHampshireSO50 5AD02380 650093

[email protected]

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For more information about this report includingfurther case studies and references, please visit

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