Large scale losses across the UK have occurred due to the economic reality of agricultural intensification. World War II provided the momentum to take as much land as possible into cultivation and this pressure has continued as the population increases and more and more people need to be fed. As a result, many habitats that were once common have dwindled into sad remnants of their former glory. The few remaining wildflower grasslands, might have survived because it is too uneconomic to manage them intensively, usually because of inhospitable terrain (e.g. slopes), or poor fertility. This has meant that nationally, over the last 60 years, intensification of agricultural grassland management has led to over 97% of all grassland being ‘agriculturally improved’ in the UK. This leaves less than 3% of our wildflower grasslands remaining.
Nowadays, the few remaining wildflower grasslands are still being lost as a result of:
- Arable conversion
- Use of inorganic fertilisers, slurry, herbicides or excessive lime
- Ploughing and re-seeding with high yielding grass mixes (e.g. perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne) pastures)
- Silage making replacing the traditional hay cut
- Undergrazing or overgrazing
- Lack of or inappropriate management. Abandonment of management leads to rank over-growth, and scrub encroachment
- Planting trees
- Atmospheric pollution and climate change, the influence of which is not fully assessed
All is not totally lost
A few farmers/landowners still manage a part or all of their land in more traditional ways and on these, hay meadows and grazing pastures will still be found, in all their glory.
Furthermore Environmental Stewardship (ES) schemes and other funding schemes, which encourage landowners to manage areas in more environmentally sensitive ways in return for payment benefits, are becoming widespread. It is also possible to recreate or restore wildflower grasslands, where they once existed, or on new areas.
If you would like to visit any of the Wildlife Trust’s wildflower grassland reserves please click here