To protect, enhance, restore and connect the mosaic of grassland habitats of the Churnet Valley Living Landscape area, and to ensure the continuation of sustainable land management practices, so that the species that depend on them can increase in population size and range.
14 UKBAP habitat types throughout the valley will be brought into accepted management practices by providing advice and support to land managers on a strategic basis.
Fit to existing strategies and objectives
The European Union’s (EU) ‘Halting the loss of biodiversity by 2010 and beyond’ identifies action for threatened species as a key pillar of its approach. This project will provide benefit to the following bird species of European Concern breed in the area:
- Northern lapwing - Vanellus vanellus
- Eurasian curlew - Numenius arquata
- Eurasian green woodpecker - Picus viridis
- Common redstart - Phoenicurus phoenicurus
- Eurasian linnet - Carduelis cannabina
- Corn bunting - Milaria calandra
UK BAP mammals within the project area that will benefit from the grassland conservation project include:
- West European Hedgehog - Erinaceus europaeus
- Brown Hare - Lepus europaeus
- Harvest Mouse - Micromys minutus
Butterflies of at least UK concern (UK BAP listed) occurring in the area:
- Northern Brown Argus - Aricia artaxerxes
- Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary - Boloria selene
- Small Heath - Coenonympha pamphilus
- Small Blue - Cupido minimus
- Dingy Skipper - Erynnis tages
- Wall - Lasiommata megera
- White-letter Hairstreak - Satyrium w-album
Of these, small pearl-bordered fritillary, small blue, dingy skipper and wall are species that are rapidly declining in the UK, due to habitat losses, habitat fragmentation and poor habitat management, so would be particularly benefited by the project.
Halting the Loss of Biodiversity by 2011 and beyond identifies and recognises the link between biodiversity and ecosystem services and promotes a shift towards a new balance between conservation and development; this project addresses objectives:
(2) To conserve and restore biodiversity and ecosystem services in the wider countryside
(5) To substantially reduce the impact of invasive alien species and alien genotypes
(9) To support biodiversity adaptation to climate change
(10) To substantially strengthen the knowledge base for conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, in the EU and globally.
The European Commission’s ambitious new strategy “Halting the loss of biodiversity by 2020” identifies three main targets which will all be addressed in ademonstrative way within this project:
(2) Better protection of ecosystems, and more use of green infrastructure
(3) More sustainable agriculture and forestry
(4) Tighter control on invasive species.
Comprehensive description of the project
The 2004 Grassland Restoration Feasibility Study by Wolverhampton University and
subsequent Staffordshire Wildlife Trust Local Wildlife Site surveys between 2005 and 2011 have given guidance on areas that might provide suitable green hay and seed sources, and target sites for the restoration of grassland habitats.
This information has supported the research survey project carried out during 2010-11 under the CVLLP development phase. This work has given us a strong presence in the area with many landowner contacts, which will assist with moving into the delivery phase, where our Staffordshire Wildlife Trust Grassland Advisor will work with the Staffordshire Rural Hub to engage new landowners.
Importance of semi-natural grassland in CVLLP
The semi-natural grasslands of the Churnet Valley area are critically important as a biodiversity resource for the West Midlands. They include acidic, neutral and calcareous types of grassland, often in close association with woodlands or heathlands and / or containing small flushed areas of fen or other wetland vegetation. These intimate combinations mean that many fields are extremely rich in plant diversity. Many of these grasslands are managed using low nitrogen and other chemical inputs and are in smaller fields (average 2.5 hectares, range 0.7 to 3.2ha) than in the rest of the county (average 4.3 hectares, range 0.7 to 19.6ha). They are also permanent; meaning that they are not ploughed and re-seeded every few years like intensively managed grasslands. These small parcels of land are extremely attractive in the landscape, but are currently uneconomic to manage, as farm machinery sizes are now so large. This means that there has been a move to losing traditional field boundaries, hedges and drystone walls (ref CVLLP 4), throughout the project area, which also reduces habitat connectivity.
Grasslands in the area produce good quality beef, lamb and dairy products. Low inputs of nitrogen and other fertilisers, and low inputs of pesticides, mean that water run-off is of good quality, which helps to protect water resources in rivers, lakes, reservoirs and ground water. These permanent grasslands also store more carbon and protect the soils better than crop fields and short-term grasslands. These small, traditional fields are also
aesthetically attractive which is recognised within the Landscape Character Assessment (LCA) as making the landscape beautiful, which benefits many residents and visitors to the area.
Threats to Grassland
Throughout Europe, and well demonstrated within the Churnet Valley, species rich grasslands are under threat from:
- intensification of management: ploughing and reseeding, drainage, application of herbicides, pesticides and artificial fertilisers
- neglect of grasslands leading to increased coarse grasses and scrub invasion. Overgrazing causing the loss of unimproved and semi-improved grassland types
- low market prices for finished beef animals and falling milk prices coupled with higher land prices and input costs
Provide advice on habitat management, encouraging land managers todevelop appropriate skills, and helping gain financial support through agri-environmentschemes.
We will make the most of our existing contacts, the Staffordshire Rural Hub and Natural England, to create a “Land Manager Database” which will be used by the project adviser to coordinate and undertake visits to land managers in priority areas,
Starting June 2012, and continuing throughout the project period our grassland habitat adviser will be responsible for:
- landowner visits, whole landholdings will be discussed and current land management practices reviewed
- advice will on how damaging practices need to change for optimum habitat management
- condition assessment of habitats and required management to be determined according to Natural England’s ‘Farm Environment Plan Manual’ and Higher Level Stewardship management options
- encouraging land managers will to understand the context of their land holdings in the wider landscape
- assisting landowners will be assisted to access resources through agri-environment schemes, while levels of assistance will be tailored according to individual needs
- recording information on site using standard Natural England templates adapted for this purpose
- we will provide for each individual site a list of management actions for each field, which will be discussed during the visit, and then sent to the land manager for agreement
Farm Environment Plans will be accompanied by guidance on implementation, informed by the needs identified at the site interview and survey.
Who will benefit?
Landowner / Managers
Landowners and managers will benefit from the additional financial income derived from delivering the objectives and aspirations of the project via inclusion in Natural England’s Environmental Stewardship scheme. In addition, the landowning community will have the opportunity to utilise site-specific management advice from the Project Officer, in conjunction with Natural England’s Land Management Team.
Local contractors and businesses
Local contractors and business are integral to the success of the project. The suite of habitat restoration techniques required to be undertaken as part of the work towards the goals of the project can only be sustainably delivered, both financially and environmentally, by the use of contracting businesses in the project area. To use contractors from outside the project area would not prove to be cost-effective and undermines the objective of setting in place a group of contractors that are familiar with the desired techniques which can be used beyond the term of the project.
CVLLP Partnership: The Accredited Training Package (CVLLP 22) will benefit from access to a professional grassland management expert. Internal support will be expected in the region of four working days per year toward assisting with ATP.
The wider community
Whilst securing an environmentally sustainable ecosystem which is more resistant to the effects of climatic change is an overriding objective of the project, an additional aim is to encourage landowners to provide access, wherever possible, to the local community to witness and enjoy a range of semi-natural grassland habitats.
Outputs and outcomes
At least 50 land managers currently undertaking unsustainable management that damages habitats will change their practices, resulting in:
- 2,000 hectare increase in semi-natural habitats in positive management by end of project 200 hectares of restored or created habitats in project area
- 1km of connecting habitats created
- 30 hectare increase in land with soil protection
This action will change current practices, leading to improved habitat condition and new habitats during the project period and leaving land managers with the resources, commitment and enthusiasm to continue adequate management beyond the project period.
50 land managers with an improved attitude and commitment to nature conservation and an identifiable change in land management practices to that end. Of these at least 20 land managers with demonstrable non-grant based financial benefit from grassland management
Grasslands are an integral part of what makes the Churnet Valley special; in order to help identify the value the agricultural community add to the valley through their activity, we will ensure that at least 5,000 people gain an improved understanding of the needs of nature conservation and land management from our project.
The grassland conservation project will bring 2,000ha of pasture and meadow into conservation management. A good part of how we achieve this will be by assisting landowners and woodland managers into agri-environment schemes, which will require confirmation of tenure and contractual commitments over time. However, there are no direct tenure implications for us within this project.
What happens when the project is finished?
The project will provide co-operative farming opportunities to raise commodity values through the creation of sought-after products, making farming more attractive to next generations and incomers to reverse the current trend to an ageing labour force. The creation of grassland habitats using seeds from the project area elsewhere in Staffordshire will bring in additional income and assure farmers that traditional habitats are valued. The on-going success of our grassland conservation project will be evaluated through the independent monitoring and evaluation programme.
Risks and constraints
Risk: Key staff retention; technical skills and relationships with land managers need to be built up over time staff recruitment and retention is therefore important.
Contingency planning: Project is over a reasonable timescale compared to many other projects this should attract committed staff.
Risk: Long term staff absence could affect the success of the project because it has ambitious targets for the project timescale.
Contingency planning: Contingency budget to pay for cover for staff if necessary.
Project delivery risk
Risk: Insufficient take-up of habitat management and creation by land managers meaning project targets may not be achieved.
Contingency planning: Staffordshire Wildlife Trust already has a good reputation with land managers in the area for this type of work. Our targeting of the Higher Level scheme for agri-support will act to attract participation and the involvement of partners Staffordshire Rural Hub and Natural England should reinforce the benefits to landowners. Project timetable allows for contacting sufficient land managers to produce enough schemes - according to our previous experience at least fifty percent of land managers that we deal with change their management to improve habitats or species.
Risk: unfavourable weather affecting habitat creation.
Contingency planning: Poor weather will not affect most work. In wet summers, seeds will be harvested whenever the weather allows and stored for use in grassland creation the following year.
Risk: Reduction in agri-environment scheme aid to land managers, meaning that habitat improvements cannot be made.
Contingency planning: Relatively long timescale of project will enable land manager consents to be organised and additional bids for funding to be made if this becomes a problem during the project timescale. We will also seek to ensure that the area remains a priority for targeting of agri-environment schemes, and its current inclusion in one of 12 pilot Nature Improvement Areas (NIAs), recognised by DEFRA, will ensure that the area is recognised as important.
Constraints, licences, permits etc.
We are not expecting to undertake projects which will require planning permission, licences or permissions.
Climate change has the potential to affect all habitats and species in the project area. Improving habitat condition and increasing the size of habitat patches will help protect habitats against the effects of climate change by making them more resilient. Together with improved connectivity this will mean that species are better able to migrate from one area to another ensuring that they will be able to adapt to the effects of climate change.
Our Grassland Conservation Officer will work with landowners / managers to bring landholdings into good ecological condition, including helping create management plans and actions to remove and eradicate invasive species where possible. In addition, our Officer will work with the Participation Team to involve as many people as possible in the Himalayan balsam pulling project.
Our Grassland Conservation Officer will maintain high levels of biosecurity during visits and whilst undertaking projects. He/she will also work with others to raise the awareness of biosecurity issues within the valley.
Reduce travel: The Grassland Officer will be based at the CVLLP office in the project area to reduce travel to a minimum and meetings will all be held in the project area. Where possible site management equipment will be stored in the project area so we don’t need to bring it in from distance.
Efficient travel: Vehicles provided for the project staff will be low carbon emissions vehicles.
Discipline: Project Staff will be expected to comply with the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust Environmental Policy