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Further reading


Grassland management

A joint initiative between The Wildlife Trusts, Natural England, the Countryside Council for Wales and Scottish Natural Heritage, the Lowland Grassland Management Handbook covers grazing, mowing and cutting, scrub management, grassland creation, weed control and management for specific species. 

Scrub invasion

Controlling scrub is crucial in the restoration of many old grassland sites. Natural England have produced the Scrub Management Handbook as a useful guide.

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Managing meadows

GrasslandGrassland

Hertfordshire’s wildflower grasslands have, over the last century, become few and far between. Our increased need for food production has led to many lowland hay meadows being lost.

The remaining meadows and pastures, whether large or small, are vitally important for wildlife. They provide a haven for wildflowers, insects, birds and mammals, as well as a number of scarce species.

What happens if a grassland is left unmanaged?

Without regular management, grasslands that were once alive with colourful wildflowers and buzzing insects can become colonised by fast-growing grasses and ‘weeds’ that outcompete more delicate plants. Eventually the grassland can become completely 'scrubbed over' and the benefits to wildlife will be lost.

Well managed grasslands can form part of a sustainable farming system though, as they can provide grazing and hay for livestock.


Steps to take

  1. A botanical survey should be carried out to determine what species are already there. It will also flag up any rare species that need particular consideration.
  2. Based on the survey results, an appropriate management regime can be put in place. It is important to cut or graze the grassland annually, to allow a diversity of grasses and wildflowers to flourish year on year.

Grazing

The best option for grassland management is grazing. This produces the most diverse grassland habitats. An effective grazing regime must take into account several factors:

  • Timing – time of year to graze and frequency of grazing
  • Intensity – stocking rates
  • Targeting – which areas to graze
  • Stock – type of livestock used 

Find out more about how we use traditional grazing stock on our nature reserves to get the best results for wildlife.

Cutting

Cutting (always with the cuttings removed) is best for grasslands where grazing is not an option, or where the objective is to take a hay crop. For a hay crop, cutting should be delayed until after mid-July when most of the wildflowers have set seed. If the hay is not to be used however (and particularly if important species in the meadow do not set seed until later), delay cutting until August or September. If the site is quite fertile and dominated by grasses it may also need an earlier cut in late March or early April.

Ideally, the cuttings should be allowed to lie for a couple of days to allow any remaining seed to fall, but it is important to ensure that they are then raked off and removed. This helps reduce the nutrient levels in the soil and prevents wildflowers being smothered by a thick layer of decaying hay. If you have no use for the hay, composting it is the environmentally friendly option.

Get bespoke advice

The above is intended as a general guide only - different sites will have different needs. Contact us for bespoke advice:

Local Wildlife Sites advice: Carol Lodge, Local Wildlife Sites Programme Manager
Wider habitat management advice: Tim Hill, Conservation Manager