In October 2012 I posted a blog in alarm and consternation when the Grassland Trust went into liquidation. Grassland forms a critical part of the ecology and the economy of the UK. It supports vital natural resources such as bees and other pollinators, but also a wealth of other invertebrates, small mammals, wild flowers and grasses and iconic species such as the barn owl. With the Grassland Trust gone, who would stand up for this vital part of the British countryside?
Last week the Wildlife Trusts launched a campaign to highlight the plight of important grasslands – such as ancient meadows, traditional pastures and road verges – which continue to decline. ‘Save our vanishing grasslands’ lays out a five-point plan for greater protection of environmentally important grasslands:
- Improve existing laws and policies and enforce them
- Support wildlife-rich grasslands on farmland
- Award statutory protection to more grassland sites
- Set up a national grassland inventory
- Restore more wildlife-rich grasslands
Why should the Woodland Trust be worried about grassland? Well, in part because we manage, within and around some of our woods, remnants of grassland habitat. This is often along the sides of woodland rides or in small patches within woods that have escaped agricultural improvement.
Perhaps more significantly though, all habitats contribute to creating a diverse and better connected natural environment. When we lose areas of wildlife rich habitat such as ancient meadows or ancient woodland, the ecological resilience of the landscape is undermined.
Ecological resilience – the capacity of the natural environment to absorb and adapt to change – comes from diverse habitats, connected across landscapes which can support the adaptation and movement of species, particularly in response to climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report published at the end of March painted a desperate picture of the fate of many species unless we put in place measures to support wildlife. Climate change is shifting the suitable climate ranges for many species, meaning they may have to move north or to higher altitudes to accommodate changing conditions.
Many of the measures needed were laid out in the review of nature conservation areas by Sir John Lawton in 2010. The review – ‘Making Space for Nature‘ – called for bigger, better and more connected wildlife sites that would allow wildlife to adapt and to move.
Research shows that these sorts of diverse landscapes are not only beneficial for biodiversity but are also most effective in supporting natural control of crop pests and providing vital pollination services. Diverse landscapes can also provide wider benefits for flood mitigation, water quality, carbon storage and visual beauty. Ancient woodland, ancient meadows, heathland and hedgerows, streams and wetlands, are all vital parts of a diverse landscape. Protecting that which survives and creating greater connectivity between remaining patches is vital, not just to the wildlife they support, but to all of us.
Mike Townsend, Principal Adviser