Today at Wiston House in Sussex, a conference organised by Plantlife, the Rare Breeds Survival Trust and The Wildlife Trusts will call for radical new action to reverse the loss of the UK’s meadow heritage. Attended by policy makers - including a key note speech from Lord de Mauley, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at Defra - academics and practitioners from conservation, food and farming and rural development, this working event will identify the steps needed to save our vanishing meadows, wildlife and the native breeds that graze them.
HRH The Prince of Wales, as patron of the three charities and supporter of the Coronation Meadows project, will also attend. His Royal Highness will share his own vision for a thriving and diverse future for meadows and will host a lunchtime reception.
Many people under 50 say they have never seen a meadow
Grasslands make up approximately 40% of the farmed environment. But the natural biodiversity and farming heritage associated with this green and pleasant land is fast disappearing. Wildflowers and wildlife that have been locally present for centuries, such as green-winged orchid, yellow wagtail and shrill carder bee, native livestock like Dairy Shorthorn cattle, and the landscape itself (95% of flower-rich meadows have been lost since the Second World War) are vanishing, to the extent that many people under 50 say they have never seen a meadow.
Meadows and other flower-rich grasslands are a key part of British identity - our romantic ruralism is defined by our pastoral land. For many, it is our flower-rich meadows and grazing animals that epitomise the beauty and diversity of our countryside but changes in land use and land management have led to its continuing decline.
Plantlife, the Rare Breeds Survival Trust and The Wildlife Trusts have been working with landowners to save these special places, but because of the extent of the challenge and the continued threats to these habitats, the three organisations are now calling for more to be done. One year on from the launch of Coronation Meadows, the conference will hear from experts on the latest research and from those in the UK and overseas who are successfully integrating management of biodiversity into thriving food, farm and tourism businesses.
Plantlife, the Rare Breeds Survival Trust and the Wildlife Trusts
Marian Spain, Chief Executive of Plantlife, says.
‘Meadows play a huge part in our wildflower heritage. They also provide us with the “ecosystem services” that we need today such as places for pollinators, a means of storing carbon and a way of slowing down flood water. But they are the Cinderella of the conservation world.
We want this event to kick start a new approach to making meadows part of modern farms and to involve communities in managing and enjoying them. This is not a nostalgic, backward-looking step to a previous way of life but a vision for a new holistic and sustainable approach where we all play a part in a coordinated plan of action. The conference will produce a framework for action for grasslands across the UK, which we hope will be adopted by governments and others as part of the national strategies for biodiversity.’
Tom Beeston, Chief Executive of RBST, adds
“Our native breeds were bred to utilise flower rich grasslands. Habitats such as flower-rich meadows are dependent on grazing to create the varied sward structure essential to some of our rarest plants and ground nesting birds such as lapwing and snipe. Horseshoe bats for example depend on grazed pasture and meadows in which to forage for insects. Many conservation organisations now use native breed livestock for grazing on wildlife sites, thus not only maintaining wildlife biodiversity but also that of farm animals.”
Stephanie Hilborne OBE, The Wildlife Trusts’ Chief Executive, said:
“At a time when we ought to be putting all our effort into restoring our ecosystems and expanding the area of meadows, it is tragic that the few remaining sites we depend on to allow us to do this are so under threat. Contact with nature is key to our quality of life and we have a responsibility to future generations to reverse this trend.”
Amongst those attending the conference is Simon Nash, Chief Executive of Somerset Wildlife Trust and Head of Conservation Policy and Strategy Michele Bowe. Somerset Wildlife Trust has an extensive programme of meadow restoration and recreation centred around the Mendip Hills. Alongside charities like Plantlife we are working with farmers and landowners to care for these special places with partnership projects like Save Our Magnificent Meadows and Coronation Meadows.
Photo credit Steve Bond