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6. Current Action[top]
Land is usually privately owned although statutory requirements and guidelines exist to encourage sensitive land management. SSSIs have special statutory provisions attached to their designation, which encourage correct management practice to maintain or enhance the ecological value of the site. SNCI designation does not impose any legal obligations upon landowners, but informs the planning process in order that sites may be better protected from development damage. A number of sites receive protective ownership from local authorities and conservation bodies for nature conservation and amenity purposes.
The approximate designation status figures are as follows: in East Sussex nine neutral grasslands have SSSI status and 57 SNCI. In West Sussex four neutral grassland sites are SSSIs and 71 SNCIs. In East Sussex ten acid grassland sites are designated SNCI and in West Sussex 16 sites are SNCI. Three mixed neutral-acid grasslands have SSSI status. Additional sites may possess nature reserve status, be included in Management Agreements or fall under AONBs considerations.
ii) The High Weald Unit seeks to raise awareness of the plight and importance of unimproved grasslands. The Unit's Weald Meadows Initiative employs a part-time Meadows Officer to provide advice and information to landowners wishing to manage their unimproved grasslands. By marketing local provenance wild flower and grass seed, herb-rich hay and plant plugs, the Unit is working to increase their availability and augment farm incomes. It holds a site information database with inputs from all relevant organisations and takes a lead in many grassland initiatives in the Weald. The accurate recording of all harvesting, creation and enhancement activities is also undertaken by the Unit.
iii) The Grazing Animals Project (GAP) national network established in 1997 seeks to bring together people and expertise in the grazing management of wildlife sites and the marketing of products from such sites.
iv) More recently a new magazine called 'Eco-Ads' has been launched in which landowners and managers, contractors and suppliers etc. can offer or request services and products on a regional basis (e.g. grazing, mowing, hay, seed etc.).
v) The Sussex Biodiversity Records Centre (at SWT) holds a number of grassland survey documents and runs the Environmental Survey Directory (ESD) which is a register of surveys carried out by other organisations and individual recorders. The SWT also operates the Rare Species Inventory (RSI) which holds information on rare and protected species in Sussex, and organises the annual Sussex recorders' seminar which acts as a forum for information exchange between different specialist recorders.
A number of national agri-environment schemes operate in different parts of Sussex. These are run by MAFF and offer a range of payments towards the conservation management of unimproved grassland usually as part of a broader package of measures. In addition a number of other grants and initiatives operate in Sussex either in conjunction with agri-environment schemes or in areas that are not otherwise covered by agri-environment schemes. All operate on the voluntary principle. Further background information is provided in the main introduction section 3. at the front of the 'biodiversity Action Plan for Sussex' folder:
b) The South Downs Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) is targeted primarily at chalk grassland Sussex but also includes river valleys where neutral grassland is present. Annual and capital payments are offered to landowners entering land for maintaining the nature conservation interest of river valley grassland and its associated habitats.
c) The Organic Aid Scheme makes annual payments to facilitate conversion to organic production, and the retention and appropriate management of important wildlife habitats and features. By reducing fertiliser and pesticide application the diversity of some grasslands can be expected to improve, especially where managed in conjunction with CSS.
d) The Habitat Scheme allowed farmers to enter established five-year set-aside land and thus naturally regenerating grassland, into a 20 year agreement and receive annual payments for on-going traditional management. Entry into the scheme was only available up to the termination of the five-year set-aside scheme in 1996.
f) Management Agreements between county councils and landowners are possible under certain circumstances with payments towards the traditional management of important sites. In addition certain conservation organisations and district/parish councils may operate small grant aid budgets for conservation projects, usually targeted at SNCI sites/local biodiversity objectives, and with an element of visibility from public routes. All are designed to complement rather than duplicate or replace larger grant programmes.
Due to the variety of modern land-use demands, returning to previous extents of neutral and dry acid grassland is unfeasible. The international importance of the remaining existing habitats does justify the need for a combination of effective protection measures, practical management incentives, and the development of a structured programme of expansion.
The conservation of the last remaining unimproved resource remains the highest priority for action since by definition unimproved grasslands are ancient and unrecreatable*. They also constitute the resource upon which actions to extend and increase the area of habitat in Sussex will be built. Such actions may be divided into enhancement of existing grasslands and creation of new grasslands from scratch. The opportunities for increase range from small-scale development sites to large farmland blocks, with the highest priority to extend and enlarge existing unimproved grasslands.
The greatest conservation potential on new sites is thought to be where they can be located alongside, and effectively enlarge, existing unimproved grassland sites. This is because larger habitat blocks can support more species, species occurring on the existing grassland are better able to colonise adjacent new habitat, the economics of managing a larger block can be more viable, and the existing unimproved grassland may be buffered (i.e. protected) from the possible effects of other nearby farming operations. Also spreading hay, containing seed from the donor site can be a more practical technique for sites in close proximity. Site selection for enhancement and creation should therefore, wherever possible, be targeted towards the enlarging to existing sites, the creation of grassland corridors and the linking of habitat fragments. There are, however, many other human, economic, practical, and ecological factors that can influence the choice of site and hence the potential success of any project, and any realistic opportunity should be examined on its own merits on a site by site basis.
the recreation of ancient "unimproved" grasslands with their
undisturbed soil fauna and flora, long continuity of uninterrupted management,
and "full" species complement is not possible. Hence the need
to afford the highest conservation priority to securing the long-term
management of the remaining resource. What is possible is the creation
from scratch of flower-rich grasslands that are both attractive to people,
valuable for a wide range of wildlife species, and important in the recovery
of populations of once common species. in the medium term at least the
range of plant and invertebrate species may be expected to remain smaller
than the "genuine" unimproved version. In the longer term with
secure traditional management and on-going enhancement it may be possible
to re-establish even some of the rare grasslands plant species on appropriate
9. Objectives [top]
full extent and quality of existing unimproved neutral and dry acid grassland
· Continue to encourage higher levels of funding for long-term species-rich grassland management, creation and enhancement
· All remaining important sites to be documented and monitored, and owners provided with site-specific management advice, by the year 2005
· Secure appropriate long-term management of known existing habitat resource
· Prevent further habitat decline through loss, neglect or damage
· Creation of 100 ha as habitat buffers, corridors and blocks prioritising areas adjacent to existing grassland or which reduce individual site fragmentation by connecting or supporting sites.
· Expand range of grassland species
· Restoration of neglected and damaged sites by re-establishing the traditional management regime
· Secure all known sites in long term scheme with adequate funding, advisory and monitoring/ research facets
· Creation of 500 ha of grassland managed for species diversity
· Expand range of selected (previously rare or local) species (MG5) (U1, U2)
· Minimum of 10 habitat blocks of 5 ha in size
11. Costed Actions [top]
Example: The Countryside Stewardship Scheme (see also section 7.a) is currently the most appropriate scheme for meeting the costs of management, enhancement and creation of these neutral and dry acid grasslands at the farm scale throughout most of Sussex.
Existing old grasslands qualify as lowland hay meadow and grazed pasture and receive annual management payments of £85/ha/year with an additional £30/ha/year for small fields under 3ha. An additional supplement of £40/ha is available for up to 5 years for controlling invasive species such as creeping thistle (or on enhancement sites for introducing appropriate flowers and grasses from species-rich grassland).
The creation of diverse sward grasslands on previously cultivated land (arable reversion) by encouraging natural regeneration and/or seeding with a native grass and wildflower mix and following up with appropriate management receives payments of £280/ha/year together with a recently introduced single payment of £250/ha towards the costs of native grass and wildflower seed (of local origin where available e.g. from the Weald Meadows Initiative). The £40/ha/year supplement can be used towards promoting species colonisation or to raise water levels, and fencing/drinking water supply capital payments are available for the management of introduced livestock.
Creating uncropped and grassland margins inside arable field boundaries or alongside watercourses can provide further opportunities for introducing wild flowers and fine-leaved or tussocky grasses characteristic of meadows and pastures. Six metre margins are awarded £35/100m/year and two metre margins £15/100m/year. Scheme inclusion is discretionary to land managers who best meet its requirements. Costs in reality vary according to local site conditions and the nature of work required, but tend to be substantially higher than the payments received.
It has been calculated for example that wildflower grassland creation costs on heavy clay sites can range from £800 to over £950 + VAT per ha (based on figures from Nix) where the cost of native local origin Weald seed may represent between 50% and 70% of the total cost. Seedbed preparations, repeated weed control, sowing, and intensive early aftercare operations (mowing) and/or fencing account for the remainder. Contractors charges can put the figures higher still on small isolated sites (and contractors can often be reluctant to take on such sites). Farmers with their own machinery may be best placed to carry out the required operations on farmland. The spreading of seed-bearing hay from nearby unimproved sites is an alternative technique to the use of seed that can also substantially reduce seed costs.
sites grassland creation costs would represent only a very small proportion
of total costs, whilst on small sites such as on school grounds, much
of the necessary work may be carried out by hand using volunteers etc.
so that the only cost may be the seed. Payments available through other
grant schemes in Sussex tend to reflect the levels available under the
Countryside Stewardship Scheme outlined above.
12. Monitoring/Review [top]
This Habitat Action Plan will be monitored by the Sussex Biodiversity Partnership in conjunction with the Weald Meadows Group and Weald Meadows Initiative on an annual basis. This will include the monitoring of the fulfillment of the actions carried out against the targets set. A full review and updating of the plan will be carried out at five-yearly intervals.
Grassland Inventory West Sussex. English Nature (1).
This plan was prepared in consultation with the members and organisations of the Weald Meadows Group and the Sussex Biodiversity Partnership.
15. Appendix [top]
1. KEY SPECIES
SPECIES INDICATORS RETRIEVABLES