vanishing meadows – less than 5000ha left in England
Natural England come in for a great deal of stick from other conservationists – Walshaw Moor is a good recent example.
But I’d like to praise them for some brave SSSI notifications over the past year or so, and for their particular focus on unimproved grasslands.
There are less than 6000ha (probably quite a lot less) of unimproved neutral grasslands left in England – and only about half of them are protected as SSSIs. As there is so little unimproved neutral grassland left in England (and under 10,000ha in the UK) Natural England has a duty to notify all of it that remains, as long as it is over 0.5ha and floristically rich (or supporting other rare species); or over 5ha of one particular NVC type, or over 10ha of a mixture.
I like to think that the work that The Grasslands Trust did in raising the profile of unimproved grasslands, gave Natural England a reminder that there was still much to be done. And, talking to a NE Exec Director on tuesday, he confirmed to me that we did have an impact. Natural England have notified or are notifying quite a few new SSSIs or extending existing ones with unimproved grassland as key interest features – including a number that are controversial:
Chattenden Woods and Lodge Hill is one I have blogged about a number of times now.
Benty Grange in the Peak District was quite a high profile EIA (Agriculture) case which went on to be a controversial SSSI notification, as the CLA objected to the farmer’s Human Rights being infringed. I hadn’t come across the “right to destroy nature for economic benefit” before myself.
Rampisham Down in Dorset (ok it’s acid grassland) was notified to protect it from a Solar Farm development. It’s a massive 72ha.
Clifton Ings and Rawcliffe Meadows in Yorkshire is an extremely rare Lowland Floodplain meadow – there are just 1000ha of these left in the UK. This one is big at 56ha. It also supports the very rare Tansy Beetle.
Crich Chase sounds like a wonderful place, a 118ha mosaic of ancient woodland, scrub unimproved neutral and acid grassland with rare grassland fungi in the Amber Valley Derbyshire.
Waterfall meadows again in Derbyshire is a large area of unimproved meadow – well, large by today’s standards – 8.5ha.
Holly Rock Fields in Leicestershire – a smaller site (4ha) with unimproved neutral and acid grassland.
in 2012 The Blackmore Vale Commons and Moors SSSI brought together a number of smaller sites into a new site covering 300ha, with many unimproved neutral grassland and fen meadows fields included.
I’m a little disappointed that the wonderful site The Birches has not been notified yet. I visited the site in 2007 when it appeared to be under threat of improvement by the owner – it was amazing. Although the Hereford Nature Trust took out a loan to purchase it, if they cannot raise the purchase price it will go back on the open market. SSSI notification would ensure that even if it did have to be sold again, it would be protected from agricultural improvement.
Natural England in protecting these sites are prepared to stand up to the neocons and neoliberals in the government – those that would de-regulate everything and let anyone do anything anywhere.
Natural England may not have such powers for much longer. The Government consulted earlier this year on making Natural England have a Statutory Duty to have regard to Economic Growth. This would enable any landowner who did not want an SSSI on their land to object on the grounds that it would prevent them from contributing to economic growth.
This would mean the end of any new SSSIs.