Nature Recovery – the journey starts here
An introduction to grasslands
Grasslands cover much of the British countryside and include a wide range of uses, for example: recreation, grazing livestock, producing hay or providing a refuge for wildlife. Meadows are a type of grassland with a rich variety of wild flower species where the grasses are left to grow taller. Species such as Cow Parsley, Cowslip, Oxeye Daisy and Knapweed not only fill the meadow with colour but provide plenty of opportunity for pollination creating a vital food source to the insects and birds that visit.
Although there may be plenty of grasslands in the UK, biodiverse grasslands, including wildflower meadows, are under threat and have been for a while. Wildflower meadows saw a dramatic decline in the second half of the 20th century due to intensified agriculture and urban development.
Following the Climate Emergency, declared by Three Rivers in 2019, the Climate Change and Sustainability Strategy was created to assist the district in achieving its targets to become net zero and grasslands may be able to help. In addition to their value to wildlife these wildflower meadows hold the ability to store 500% more carbon than fields of grass alone.
How do we manage our grasslands?
There is already an abundance of biodiversity within the district which the council seeks to protect and enhance using the appropriate management technique for each site. The way we manage our grass has been reviewed, developed and improved for the benefit of our local wildlife and the community.
In order to achieve this, the council have adopted the following techniques to continue to improve the district’s green space, which it is responsible for maintaining:
- The Conservation Cut will take place once per year in September or October, following it’s cut the grass is collected and disposed of to prevent the soil from accumulating nutrients which will benefit the dominant grass species and not the beautiful wildflower species. This technique is best utilised on smaller sites and under trees in open spaces or for sites which are more difficult to access with larger machinery.
- The Hay Meadow Cut takes place twice per year, the first in July or August and then the second in September of October. Again, once it has been cut the grass is collected and disposed of. Larger sites benefit the most from this technique and give the opportunity for a wide array of wildflowers to bloom.
- Ride Management is the annual cutting of grass, bramble and small scrub along woodland paths and edges. This habitat management takes place after the bird breeding season to prevent disturbance to any nesting birds, in late Autumn or Winter. It prevents scrub from expanding into open grassland, keeps woodland paths clear but does not remove the scrub habitat entirely.
- Enhanced Amenity Cutting involves cutting the grass less often and raising the height of the mower. This enables low growing wildflowers to flourish where they would not previously have had the opportunity. This technique will be utilised on roadside verges for example, to ensure visibility is not impacted and biodiversity is still benefited.
- Conservation Grazing uses livestock, normally cattle, to manage the grass without the need to use machinery. The small herd of cattle graze the grassland in Summer and Autumn and is only used on sites which are appropriate.
Not all sites are suitable for different techniques, for example, Croxley Common Moor is a site which has been conservation grazed for many years, while mechanical options are used on the moor for other jobs. If the site changed to a hay meadow cutting regime it is likely that the site would be severely damaged due to its uneven nature and the plants which are suited to grazing.
The conservation grazing taking place throughout the district is carefully monitored to prevent over grazing, under grazing, poaching of the ground and to protect more sensitive plants where necessary. However, on other relatively flat, open sites such as Prestwick Road Meadows, Hay Meadow Cutting is the best option and conservation grazing would not be as beneficial or appropriate.
You may have noticed red painted lines in open spaces across the district. These are there to indicate where alternative grassland management will be implemented i.e. where grass will be kept longer for biodiversity purposes as outlined above.
Council officers will monitor progress across the district to see what naturally evolves as a
result of the Grassland Management techniques outlined above and let nature guide the way forward.
Your feedback and photos are always welcome and consultation opportunities will be made available in the near future.
Click here to see a map of the different grassland management regimes across the district, for land owned and maintained by Three Rivers District Council.