Council commits to fund grassland management plan to meet climate change objectives
25th January 2022
A major step forward has been taken by Three Rivers District Council in its climate change objectives by agreeing to fund a new grassland management plan from April onwards.
The council already maintains 54% of its grassland as long grass, and agreed in November to cease regular mowing of up to 50% of the grassland it owns, replacing this with hay meadow management, mowing and lifting the grass at least once a year.
A detailed independent Biodiversity Opportunities Audit report had been commissioned from Countryside Management but its recommendations and Action Plan were not due until mid-March. The objective of the audit was to identify opportunities for biodiversity improvements across the district, including grassland management, and to produce a detailed plan to meet biodiversity opportunities.
Rather than await the outcome of the independent audit, the council has now decided in advance to include funding in its budget for the new financial year to enable the recommendations from the audit to be carried out as from this year rather than risk any delays. The council budget is set to be agreed on 22 February.
Cllr Phil Williams, the council’s Lead Member for Environmental Services, Climate Change and Sustainability said: “We already have many areas of grassland in Three Rivers where we are cutting the grass less frequently in order to increase biodiversity.
“We want to do everything we can to give more opportunity for wildlife to flourish and help support the aims of the district’s Climate Change Emergency and Sustainability Strategy. At the same time we need to continue to ensure we balance the needs of all the users of our parks and open spaces. The recommendations of the independent audit will enable us to have robust plan that helps meet our climate change objectives.”
Deputy Leader of the Council, Cllr Stephen Giles-Medhurst, said: “By committing, as the administration, to fund a new grassland management plan in our Budget to be agreed on 22 February, in advance, we are showing our total commitment to tackle climate change issues in Three Rivers. This is alongside appointing a new Biodiversity Officer, and our plans to fund a Community Parks and Sustainability Officer too."
"We could have delayed waiting for the detailed audit but we wanted to make sure that council and officers have the resources ready to hand for new equipment and the Action Plan right away and this will do just that.”
The council has agreed to public consultation after it has implemented a revised regime to assess its impact rather than delay implementation when the normal cutting season starts in April.
Cllr Wiliams added: “Already large areas of grassland in Three Rivers have become thriving habitats for wild flowers as well as bugs, bees and other pollinating insects thanks to an initiative to cut grass less often through our pilots and the plans that will be agreed from the independent audit along with us funding any new equipment and staff, if required, will further help us achieve our climate change targets.”
The Policy and Resources Committee on 24 January agreed the following recommendation:
Members agree that, subject to the Biodiversity Opportunities Audit report, appropriate budget provision to be made in the forthcoming Council budget for alternative grassland management, acknowledging that there are a variety of options, and that a further report come back to this Committee in March on the options being implemented. A public consultation exercise be undertaken post implementation of the revised regime to assess the impact.
Three Rivers Council budget will be agreed on 22 February.
The Policy & Resources Committee on 14 March will look at the council's independent Biodiversity Opportunities Audit report and Action Plan outlining the new regime.
Existing Three Rivers Cutting Regimes
A successful pilot scheme last summer saw ten further grassland areas allowed to grow long, during which species such as Bee and Pyramid orchids were recorded in Leavesden Country Park, as well as a variety of grasses including Crested Dogs Tail, Meadow Buttercup, Common Cat’s Ear and Self-Heal at Mead Place and Carpenders Park.
Currently, 54% of TRDC grassland is maintained as long grass. This percentage refers only to the percentage of area that requires grass cutting, not a percentage of the entire grassland.
The 54% is broken down as follows:
22% is meadow or conservation cut (including, parts of Chorleywood House Estate, The Aquadrome; South Oxhey Playing Fields; Prestwick Road Meadows; Leavesden Country Park; The Green, Croxley Green; and the Pilot sites)
2% is cut once every three years, on rotation (sections of The Horses’ Field at Leavesden) – this will cease once grazing is introduced to the site.
22% of land is conservation grazed by cattle (including parts of Chorleywood House Estate; Croxley Common Moor; and the Withey Beds) – this percentage will increase by 2% from summer 2022, when grazing is introduced at The Horses’ Field
8% of land, primarily glades and grassland in woodland areas,
The remaining grassland areas are comprised of football pitches, bowling greens, play areas, dog walking areas, picnic areas and areas for informal recreation and leisure. These areas are cut up to 12 times per year, depending on the weather. It should be noted that areas owned by TRDC, but managed by parish councils, are not included in these calculations. Notable areas include: Chorleywood Common, Manor House Grounds and The Green, Sarratt.
Cllr Alex Michaels – Independent Councillors Group Joint Leader