Habitat spotlight

Heathland

Painted lady by Kate Dent

Even rarer than rainforest, heathland is one of our most threatened habitats.  

Grassland

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Please join your local wildlife trust today

  1. Habitats explorer
  2. Grassland

Grassland - Wild Flowers at Pentwyn Farm - Gwent Wildlife TrustGrassland - Wild Flowers at Pentwyn Farm - Gwent Wildlife Trust

Before the influence of humans, grasslands filled with billowing grasses, colourful wild flowers and the hum of insects were only found in natural clearings in woodlands, above the treeline and at the coast. But once people began clearing woodlands for farming, grasslands flourished and were used for grazing livestock and hay production.

Grasslands aren’t just grass…

There are several different types of grassland, characterised by their soil types. Acid grassland can be found in both upland and lowland areas where fine-leaved grasses like red and sheep’s fescues and common bent grow, alongside wild flowers like sheep’s sorrel, heath bedstraw and pretty blue harebells.

Neutral grassland is associated with clays and silty soils. Green-winged orchids dot the grass with purple, and pepper saxifrage and adder’s-tongue fern flourish here. The unforgettable song of the skylark fills the air and butterflies like the common blue and meadow brown dance from flower to flower.

Chalk grassland develops on shallow, lime-rich soils that are poor in nutrients but rich in calcium. In spring and summer, these special habitats come to life as swathes of wild flowers, such as cowslips, clustered bellflowers and bee orchids attract butterflies like striking Adonis blues and clouds of marbled whites.

Limestone grassland is also 'calcareous' - rich in calcium - but there are subtle differences in vegetation. For instance, plants such as woolly thistle, meadow crane's-bill and meadow clary grow on limestone in greater numbers, while wild liquorice and purple milk-vetch are mostly found on limestone grassland. Midvale Ridge runs through Oxfordshire into Buckinghamshire and is rich in wild flowers and animals. Visit Glyme Valley, Hook Norton Cutting and Sydlings Copse nature reserves.

Grasslands in decline

As agriculture has intensified and grasslands have been developed, the traditional management techniques of ploughing, reseeding, cutting and grazing have declined. Coupled with the increased use of herbicides and fertilisers, our traditional grasslands are now under threat. For instance, it's estimated that we've lost 80% of our chalk grassland over the last 60 years, and only 1,600 hectares of precious floodplain meadows are left in the whole of the UK. 

How we’re helping

Across the UK Wildlife Trusts are working to ensure that traditional management techniques are not lost to the mists of time. Careful grazing with traditional breeds, hay-cutting at the right time and scrub clearance are just some of the ways our fragile grassland habitats are kept in good condition. We are also working closely with farmers and landowners to promote wildlife-friendly practices in these areas.

Fifty acres of wildflower meadows at Chimney Meadows in Oxfordshire are of international importance, and make up one of England's largest remaining areas of unspoilt neutral grassland.

The Buckinghamshire Upper Ray Meadows reserve is made up of rare floodplain meadow and is at the heart of the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust's Upper River Ray Living Landscape

You can help too: volunteer for your local Wildlife Trust and you could be involved in everything from stock-watching to surveying meadow flowers.

Typical grassland wildlife

Heath milkwort, common birdsfoot trefoil, saw-wort, common bent, sheep’s fescue, mat grass, sheep’s sorrel, heath bedstraw, harebell, green-winged orchid, bee orchid, pepper saxifrage, adder’s-tongue fern, woodlark, lapwing, nightjar, merlin, hen harrier, chough, common blue butterfly, orange tip butterfly, chalkhill blue butterfly, meadow brown butterfly, marbled white butterfly, field-cricket, great green bush-cricket.
 

Other Grassland habitats