Arable Land including Field Margins

1. Habitat Definition

Arable land under this definition includes all of the farmed area under the plough as well as the field margin. This HAP therefore covers all cultivated land, including arable crops, grass leys (when they are part of the rotation and less than 5 years old), vegetables, and non-food crops (such as flax) as well as the field margin.

In the UK Arable Land Biodiversity Action Plan, the field margin is considered to be the priority habitat and is defined as:

“Strips of land lying between cereal crops and the field boundary and extending for a limited distance into the crop which are deliberately managed to create conditions which benefit key farmland species.”

In this case the field margin includes pre-existing boundary features such as ditches (but not hedges – see Hedgerow HAP) and the surrounding boundary strip. This may be composed of: a permanent grass strip, grass and wildflower strip, uncropped wildlife strip, set aside margin (including sown wildlife mixtures) or a combination of the above.

The arable area is taken to be any area under the plough including conservation headlands and also covers permanent features such as grass margins and beetle banks.

Field margins Cropped area Beetle bank


Wet or dry


Grass, grass and wildflowers or uncropped wildlife strip

Conservation headland

Selectively sprayed

Main crop area

Autumn / spring cropping, set aside, overwinter stubbles

Tussocky grass on bank

2. Current Status and Distribution [top]

Although there have been few systematic surveys to assess the current state of the habitat and its associated species, there is a great deal of observational and anecdotal evidence to indicate that the habitat has suffered a severe decline in terms of its associated biodiversity (see Trends and Threats). Arable weed species are now restricted to a few locations, usually in the less-well cultivated margins of fields on the South Downs. Farmland birds are widely distributed across the farmed landscape, but their population levels are lower now than 20 years ago. The skylark, which has suffered major reductions in much of Britain, is still present on the Downs in reasonable numbers, but the stone curlew became locally extinct in the 1980’s.

The current state of habitats and species associated with the farmed environment will be strongly influenced by the proportions and distribution of major agricultural land uses in Sussex. Approximately 60% of Sussex is farmed, the MAFF 87 – 97 census breaks this down into the following proportions of agricultural land uses:
1997 (%)
Grassland 44.5
Rough Grazing 3.9
Crops and Fallow 37.7
Set-aside 3.3
Other land 3.2
Farm woodland 7.4
Total 100

As can be seen above arable and horticultural crops including set-aside, occupy over 40% of the area of agricultural land. The great majority is dedicated to the production of combinable crops such as wheat, with small areas of winter and spring barley and break crops including oilseed rape, field beans and peas. Linseed is another important crop, which varies in the amount produced from year to year. There is a small area of potatoes and hops.

This 37.7% area of crops and fallow represents 87,184ha of land within Sussex. From MAFF 87 – 97 agricultural census data this area is composed of:

AREA (ha)
Wheat 37,532
Winter barley 10,168
Spring barley 3,975
Other cereals 5,011
Potatoes 989
Hops 149
Horticultural crops 3,006
Field beans and dry peas 5,804
Oilseed rape 6,887
Linseed 4,917
Other crops and fallow (including maize) 8,746
TOTAL 30,498

These figures vary greatly from year to year dependent on world markets and the influence of subsidies from CAP (Common Agricultural Policy).

Variation across Sussex

There is a range of different geology, soil types and landscape across Sussex from the chalk downs through the Low Weald clays to the High Weald clays and sandstones, and loams of the W Sussex coast plain. These varying conditions favour differing farming practices and support widely differing plant and animal communities. The varying landscape characters of Sussex are described in the English Nature natural area profiles.

Chalk downs, (including flood-plain grazing marsh, fens and reedbeds along river valleys).

This is a high profile landscape, which dominates the Sussex countryside, despite its relative narrowness. Soils are chalk or calcareous loams with occasional clay caps and often contain flints. The landscape is very open in the east with little woodland and very few hedgerows, though the woodland component increases in the western Downs. Farm sizes are often in excess of 500 acres. Arable farming dominates but any farms are mixed with sheep, cattle and occasional dairy. Permanent pasture usually occurs on the steeper banks and wetter river valley grasslands.

High Weald

The land is made up of heavy clays and sandstone soils in a generally steeply rolling landscape with a high degree of woodland cover (over 30% of the land is covered in woodland in some areas) and most of this ancient semi-natural. The landscape also has many interlocking old species-rich hedgerows. Some of the largest areas of heathland in Sussex are found in the High Weald (Ashdown Forest) and the area is particularly important for its old hay meadows.

Holdings are typically less than 100 acres. Sheep and beef are widespread with dairy and arable still significant but localised. All these enterprises are declining due to modern economic pressures, which encourage the sale of farmland for amenity and other non-commercial use. Now less than 25% of the of the holdings are managed as commercial farms and this number is still declining.

Low Weald

Similar soils to the High Weald but a more gently rolling landscape with several large areas of river valley and drained marshland. Woodland and hedgerow are typical on the higher ground but not to the extent of the High Weald.

Holding sizes average at about 250 acres. Mixed livestock and arable farms are common, with cattle and sheep numbers significant. This land is much more suited to modern farming and has managed to cope better with commercial pressures until recently.

Coastal Plain

This area lies to the south of the Downs, projecting into the English Channel as far as Selsey Bill. The land is some of the best in the south of England typified by grade 1 and grade 2 soils, supporting a diverse range of predominantly vegetable, horticultural and arable farming. A few mixed beef and dairy farms are still present with grazing predominantly taking place on the waterside and coastal grassland.

The landscape is very open and flat dissected by wide ditches and rifes, which support a diverse range of wildlife. Although open there are still areas of remnant ancient woodland, hedgerows and ponds.

3. Importance of Habitat [top]

Well managed arable land can have very high ecological value particularly when located within a mixed farm landscape. This is the case for some bird species, such as tree sparrow, (Robinson, et al, 2001), however, there is much variation and good arable plant sites can be found in areas with a long history of arable cropping. An important number of rare and declining plant and animal species depend on arable habitats for their survival. This value may be the cropped area itself or the features contained around or within the crop including; beetle banks, conservation headlands and grass and wildflower margins.

Cultivated features

The value of the cropped area to wildlife varies greatly depending on the crop grown and the management practises employed. A mixed (cropping) farm system is extremely important as it provides a variety of feeding opportunities and cover through the year which many farmland species such as brown hare require. The timing of operations can be particularly important to biodiversity. Over-wintering stubbles are essential feeding areas (spilt grain, weeds and invertebrates) for many types of resident bird such as linnet, skylark, reed bunting, chaffinch and yellow hammer. Over wintering stubbles can also be important for flowering plants and in particular for bryophytes, when upward of 20 species may occur in a single field. These include certain rare bryophytes such as the field hornwort (Anthoceros agrestis) and the least crystalwort (Riccia sublifurca), as well as some of the ephemeral mosses. Leaving some stubbles uncultivated for as long as possible is critical to the survival of these species.

The subsequent late ploughing (January/February) provides time for pre-ploughing emergence of a wealth of invertebrates, and the following spring crop provides a short open sward ideal for ground nesting birds such as skylark and lapwing to utilise.

Some of Britains rarest plants are found within the edges of arable fields. These once common species such as pheasant’s eye, cornflower, spreading hedge-parsley and shepherds needle are now rarely found due to agricultural improvements in crop yield and pesticides. Conservation headlands at the edge of the crop have a restricted spraying regime to encourage broad-leaved plants and invertebrates.

Crops under-sown with grass have many benefits to biodiversity even though the subsequent grass may be temporary in nature. Under sowing provides ideal conditions for invertebrates such as sawfly larvae that utilise the crop and grass as cover. The lack of spring ploughing in this system means that the ground is not disturbed and the invertebrates are not desiccated. These larvae are an important source of food for many farmland birds but particularly important for the grey partridge.

Permanent features (including grass margins and beetle banks)

Grass margins

The value of grass margins for agriculture and biodiversity is becoming increasingly recognised. The creation of at least some tussocky grass margins is one of the simplest yet most worthwhile projects that can be undertaken by an arable farmer. Arable margins can be of any width but the bigger the better. They can be sown or where suitable allowed to naturally regenerate. They have many benefits for biodiversity including:

– Grass margins are essential as nesting sites for game birds, notably grey partridges, and are also important for nesting and solitary wasps, bees and bumblebees.

– If there is a wildflower element within the margins they will provide pollen and nectar for a number of invertebrates including bumblebee species.

– The high number of invertebrates provides food for farmland birds as well as for mammals such as the pipistrelle bat.

– As well as some having botanical interest themselves, field margins act as important buffer strips between farm operations and sensitive habitats such as hedges and watercourses.

-Wider margins in good condition will encourage small mammals and consequently may attract barn owls, which prey on them

Benefits for the farm system include:

– The thick sward encourages high numbers of over-wintering beneficial insects, which migrate into the crop during spring and summer to attack aphids. The effect of these beneficial insects has been proven to be commercially significant through research by Southampton University, the Game Conservancy Trust, and Long Ashton Research stations.

– The lower crop yield on the outer 1 or 2 metres of headland can be uneconomic when weighed against the cost of inputs.

– Field margins that contain a thick grass sward will prevent the repeated encroachment of arable weeds such as cleavers and sterile brome, which only thrive on bare ground.

– Wider margins prevent cultivation damage to the roots of trees and grass margins can allow farm machinery on later in the year, allowing hedges to be trimmed later.

Beetle banks

Beetle banks were developed by the Game Conservancy Trust. They create mid field margins with many of the same benefits as a normal field margin, around the edge of a field. Beetle banks are rough grass refuges (usually across the centre of the field) where predatory insects can over-winter and act as a sink for predatory insects to migrate in the crop in the spring. Beetle banks are most valuable in fields over 20 hectares along with a good network of rough grass field margins. They can easily be positioned to have minimal impact on normal cultivations.

Beetle banks are earth banks approximately 0.4m high and 2m wide created by ploughing in opposite directions. They are not connected at either end to allow normal farm operations to continue. This island effect also means that they tend to be hunted along by predators to a lesser extent. Beetle banks are sown with tussocky grass species such as cocksfoot and Yorkshire fog.

Experiments have proved that savings can be made through the use of predatory insects and reduction in use of pesticides and manpower.

As well as providing a refuge for predatory insects the rough grass attracts game birds such as grey partridge and mammals such as harvest mouse. They are often inhabited by solitary wasp and bee species.

4. Importance for People, Local Community and Cultural Significance [top]

A mixed farming landscape within which there is a strong arable element can deliver the following general benefits:

– Landscape interest and diversity in the countryside and a backdrop for informal recreation.

– A variation in cropping provides the ‘patchwork quilt’ effect that is thought typical of the best of English landscape. Seasonal changes in colour and activity on the land acting as a reminder of the passing of the seasons and connection with traditional events such as harvest festival.

– With appropriate management, it can deliver a greater diversity of wildlife, the arable element supporting species groups that are not as abundant in other parts of a farming system.

– It can favour local products resulting in a relationship between the consumer and their food, particularly in respect to farm shops and Pick Your Own.

The mixed farming landscape, unlike many other wildlife habitats, is used for commercial production and has a major economic significance providing:

– Sources of employment – on the farm, in the supply, manufacturing and retailing industries, and in administration and policy sectors (and increasingly tourism).

– Sources of food for both human and animal consumption

– Potential source of biofuel, such as rape oil for vehicle fuel, short rotation coppice for power stations

– Source of raw materials for non-food products such as flax, linseed oil, straw for bedding, and thatching

– Sporting interests, particularly game birds

Standing Fresh Water HAP

5. Trends and Threats [top]

Surveys carried out by a number of organisations have shown a serious decline in the populations and ranges of birds, mammals, insects and plants associated with arable land.

Declines in farmland birds have been identified from surveys undertaken in 1980 – 1990 for a number of bird species characteristic of arable and mixed farmland (Fuller, 1995). These birds feed on seeds, invertebrates or both at different times of the year. Significant declines in the brown hare have also been recorded (Tapper and Barnes, 1986), associated with changes in the availability of high quality food at certain times of the year. Poaching and hare coursing has furthered their decline. The decline in pipistrelle bats is in part due to the lower abundance of insect prey on farmland. As a county Sussex is a stronghold for a number of rare arable flowers such as pheasant’s eye and shepherds needle, however over recent years these have declined both nationally and within the county.

Changes in arable farming practices have been identified as important factors in these declines. These changes, which are in the main caused by worldwide economic trends and the CAP include:

– Concentration on winter cereals, with a subsequent loss in over wintered stubbles and spring crops

– Increasing use of fertilisers and pesticides since the late 1950’s

– Lack of management of surviving semi-natural habitat such as hedges.

– Loss of semi-natural habitat including hedges, field margins and ditches as field sizes increased and boundary features removed

– Simplification of crop rotation cycle, including a decline in root crops in stock rearing areas

– Arable reversion on land where the existing arable system had wildlife benefits (this could cause the loss, for example of arable weed species, by reverting an arable area to grassland).

– Changes in the timing of cultivation

– Year by year fluctuations in crop type caused by subsidies, market prices and the weather.

The decline in spring cropping, along with a small reduction in the total arable area can be seen clearly in the Agricultural Census Data for East and West Sussex 1987 – 1997:
1987 1992 1997 % change 87-92 % change 87 –97

Spring barley
Total crops and fallow

But not all-recent changes are having a negative effect on wildlife. The positive trend in agri -environment schemes (particularly with arable options offered under the South Downs ESA scheme), and the increased uptake of the ICM (Integrated Crop Management) approach are all having a positive effect on wildlife. For example the area of over-wintering stubbles has recently increased in response to new agri-environment schemes. The total take up of this option under the South Downs ESA scheme up to the end of the year 2000 was approximately 4000 ha.

The introduction of sympathetically managed set aside has also had a very positive impact on wildlife in some cases. For example, within certain parts of the Game Conservancy Sussex study area where under-sowing, rotations and creation of field margins have been maintained the number of corn buntings and grey partridge have remained stable, whereas elsewhere numbers are declining.

Standing Fresh Water HAP

6. Potential [top]

Over wintered stubbles
– Provides over winter food supplies for farmland birds in the form of wildflower seeds, spilt grain and invertebrates.
– Stubble provides important shelter for wildlife throughout winter.
– Provides habitat for uncommon bryophyte communities.
– Helps to alleviate runoff and soil erosion.
– Ideal conditions for autumn germinating wildflowers.
Usually in conjunction with spring cropping on lighter soils.
Pheasants eye



Corn bunting

Tree sparrow

Brown hare

Field hornwort
Conservation headlands
– Helps to conserve rare arable flowers.
– Encourages broad-leaved weeds, which encourage insects that in turn act as food for chicks.
– Increased pollen sources provide habitat for hoverflies, butterflies and other pollinators.
For more detailed management prescriptions consult the Game Conservancy Trust Ltd.
Bumble bee spp.

Pheasants eye

Shepherds needle

Spreading hedge parsley

Grey partridge

Corn bunting
Spring sowing
– Ploughing in December-January provides a further source of seed and invertebrates at a time when food supplies are low.
– Provides open habitat for ground nesting birds and brown hares.
– Spring sown crops are usually harvested later, lessening the risk to late broods of ground nesting birds.
This shorter vegetation is particularly important when found within a relatively open landscape.

When used in conjunction with over wintered stubbles maximum wildlife benefits are gained in the form of maximum shelter and food.

Corn bunting

Brown hare
– Usually lower amounts of pesticides are used on undersown crops, encouraging plants and associated insects, in turn providing a source of food for wildlife.
– Provides cover for ground nesting birds and mammals.
– Reduces erosion and leaching risks.
– Provides ideal conditions for spring germinating rare arable flowers.
Sawfly, which research has shown diminish after ploughing are an essential food item for grey partridge chicks.

Grey partridge




Pheasants eye

Brown hare
Crops with reduced or no artificial inputs
– Improves soil invertebrate colonies.
– Provides increased numbers of broad-leaved plants associated invertebrates, which in turn provide an important food source for wildlife.
– May encourage rare arable flowers.
– Reduced residues in the aquifer.
Organic farming.

Species present will be dependant on management of crop – some management such as mechanical weeding may be harmful to some species.
Tree sparrow

Grey partridge

Pheasants eye

Cereals with reduced or no herbicides and insecticides
– Provides increased numbers of broad-leaved plants and associated insects, which in turn provide an important food source for wildlife.
– Encourages rare arable flowers.
– Soil invertebrates.
– Reduced residues in the aquifer.
This can be a vital part of ICM (Integrated Crop Management), where applications are carefully targeted to avoid damaging non-target species.
Pheasants eye

Shepherd needle

Grey partridge

Corn buntings


Tussocky Grass Margins
– Provide overwintering habitat for beneficial insects (which feed on aphids within the crop).
– Provides nesting and feeding habitat for certain ground nesting birds.
– Ideal conditions are created for small mammals and hence excellent hunting areas for birds of prey.
– Can buffer sensitive features such as species rich hedgerows and watercourses from farm operations.
– Reduces the ingress of annual weeds.
– Can enhance potential of boundary as wildlife corridor to neighbouring semi-natural habitats. Margins are usually sown where there is a perceived weed problem, but can naturally regenerate. Ideally a survey should be carried out before locating permanent margins on particularly lighter soils to determine the presence of rare arable flowers. Can help farmers conform to LERAPs (Local Environment Risk Assessments for Pesticides).
Barn owl

Grey partridge

Grass margins with wildflowers
– Will provide all of the above.
– The addition of a wildflower element will provide a pollen and nectar source for hoverflies, butterflies and pollinators, as well as increased seeds and insects for birds. Presence of species such as red clover, birds foot trefoil and knapweed is particularly important for bumblebees.
Usually best results with lighter soils and minimal perceived weed problems. Ideally local provenance wildflower seed should be used where possible.
Bumble bee species

Grey partridge

Barn owl

Cultivated margin
– Provides annual conditions for rare arable flowers.
Timing of cultivation is important for rare arable flowers – e.g. autumn cultivation for autumn germinating species.
Pheasants eye

Shepherds needle
Rotational set aside
– The stubble from the previous crop and the following natural regeneration provides cover, food sources (spilt grain, weed seeds and insects), and some nesting opportunities.
– The cover prevents winter erosion and leaching.
– Provides ideal conditions for spring germinating rare arable flowers.
A green cover must be present between January 15th and May 1st. this green cover can be sown or naturally regenerated.

Corn bunting


Grey partridge

Tree sparrow

Brown hare

Pheasants eye

Non rotational set aside
– Has the same benefits as rotational set aside in year one.
– Can be used to buffer sensitive areas such as watercourses, hedgerows and designated sites (e.g. SSSIs) from farm operations.
Same as rotational set aside.

This can include set aside strips of no less than 20m.

Wildlife interest may deteriorate over time.

Corn bunting


Grey partridge

Brown hare
Wildbird cover
– Provides cover and an excellent food source in the form of seeds and insects for a range of bird species.
Can be used on rotational or non-rotational set aside, as long as at least two crop groups are used.

Although predominantly created for game birds, other birds, mammals and insects also benefit.
Grey partridge


Corn bunting

Brown hare
Biomass – short rotation
– Many benefits if managed sympathetically e.g. undersowing for wildlife.


[These are available under set-aside, but Countryside Stewardship funding within set-aside is unlikely except for the stone curlew and rare arable plants. For example, stone curlew plots are funded on set-aside land in the North Wessex Downs, the stone curlew population is increasing, but the range is not. It is unlikely that plots in the South DOwns wil be funded, at least in the next few years].
– To encourage lapwings.

– To encourage stone curlews.

– To encourage over-wintering wildfowl and geese.

– To encourage rare arable flowers.
A bare fallow can be created by discing in early spring, providing similar conditions to a newly sown ley or spring crop.

A South Downs target has been mentioned by English Nature and RSPB.

Set aside can be managed as pasture for these birds. Land should be sensibly located to minimise damage to crops.

Provides annual conditions for rare arable flowers if found or to be encouraged by light discing at the appropriate time of year.


Pheasants eye



Stone curlew

Pheasants eye

Shepherds needle

Surveys carried out by a number of organisations have shown a serious decline in the populations and ranges of birds, mammals, insects and plants associated with arable land.

7. Current Action [top]

7.1 Policy

Arable farming and hence actions relating to biodiversity enhancement is driven by the CAP, worldwide economics and market demands.

The AAPS (Arable Area Payments Scheme), has a direct effect on the crops chosen by farmers by offering varying subsidies for growing different crop types, hence altering their relative profitability. Higher subsidies for certain crops, means that more of that crop is grown. In recent years this has resulted in an increase in the area of spring crops, e.g. linseed, which has been very beneficial for wildlife generally and farmland birds in particular. However the future appears to be offering farmers an equal subsidy payment for all crops, which may reduce the total area of spring cropping leading to an increased area of winter crops and decreased habitat diversity

Set aside was introduced as part of the AAPS in order to reduce over-production, by farmers being paid by area payments to maintain an annually fixed percentage area of their land as fallow. This following some modifications to the original scheme has now been proved to have a positive impact on wildlife with large areas of seeds and weeds being provided for over-wintering birds as well as undisturbed nesting sites. At present and for the next few years this percentage area is set at a minimum of 10%. But the future of set aside is unknown with the possibility in the medium term that the obligatory area rate will be reduced to 0% in the next round of CAP reform.

7.2 Information Exchange

A great deal of research has been undertaken into the wildlife benefits of arable land and associated margin habitat by Game Conservancy Trust, RSPB, Long Ashton Research Station, Universities, MAFF, British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and the private sector. The results have become freely available and well publicised. They provide the basis of advice to farmers that is given by such organisations as Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG), Agricultural Development and Advisory Service (ADAS), Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), Game Conservancy Trust (GCT), Farming and Rural Conservation Agency (FRCA), Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF), Local Authorities etc.

7.3 Public Awareness

Many publications and articles have been well publicised and freely distributed by many organisations as above. Farm walks, talks, other events and also press, television and radio, highlight many of the issues.

8. Existing Agri-Environment Schemes [top]

There are 3 existing agri-environment schemes, which may help to achieve the aims of the HAP.

Countryside Stewardship

This discretionary scheme offers farmers payments for undertaking:

– 2 metre uncropped grass margins and beetle banks – £15/100m/year

– 6 metre uncropped grass margins – in conjunction with a conservation headland – £35/100m/year

The scheme is competitive, with funding prioritised towards those applications offering the greatest environmental benefits. Applications are strengthened if they have a whole farm approach, which tends to be more beneficial to wildlife and if they fall within target areas, where the opportunity and need for conservation may be greatest.

Where arable grass margins have been used the results have been very successful, particularly when in conjunction with boundary management / restoration. Due to local soil conditions and weed burdens, particularly in the High Weald, conservation headlands in conjunction with the 6 metre arable margins are rarely undertaken. The scheme requires a commitment to follow best agricultural practice and management of features throughout the farm, providing added benefits to wildlife generally.

Changes in arable farming practices have been identified as a key factor in the decline of certain farmland birds, mammals, insects and plants. These changes include an increase in winter cereal production and subsequent decline in over-wintered stubbles with a following spring crop. Over-wintering stubbles are essential feeding areas (spilt grain, weeds and invertebrates) for many types of resident bird such as linnet, skylark, reed bunting, chaffinch and yellow hammer. The subsequent late ploughing in January/February releases a wealth of invertebrates. The following spring crop provides a short open sward ideal for ground nesting birds such as skylark and lapwing. Some of Britains rarest plants are found within the edges of arable fields. These once common species such as pheasants eye and shepherds needle are now rarely found due to agricultural improvements in crop yield and pesticides.

Following the success of the Arable Stewardship scheme pilots in East Anglia and the West Midlands, DEFRA decided to role out a number of the options to the wider farming community via the Countryside Stewardship Scheme.

In order to address these declines in Biodiversity, and using data collected from the review of the Arable Stewardship trial, a number of simplified options are to be made available within the established Countryside Stewardship Scheme from 2002. These options are:

Over-wintered stubble followed by a spring crop.
– Stubble must be kept down until the 14th February.
– Straw from previous crop should be immediately removed or chopped and spread.
– A cover crop is not sown, regenerating vegetation is cut or grazed
– Agro – chemicals may not be applied.
– Applications of fertilisers are not allowed.
Over-wintered stubble followed by a low input spring cereal
As above, plus:

– A spring cereal is sown between 14th Feb and 20th April (this may be undersown with a grass / legume mix).
– Glyphosate may be permitted before seedbed preparation.
– Spring crop sown at no more than 100kg / ha.
– A maximum of 50kg / ha of nitrogen may be applied from organic or inorganic sources.
– Weeds such as blackgrass or wild oats may be controlled (see handbook for allowable active ingredients).
– The spring cereal must not be harvested before 31st July.
Over-wintered stubble followed by a spring / summer fallow
As above, plus:

– Stubble must be kept until March.
– A false seedbed should be prepared between 1st and 20th March to a depth of 75 – 100mm.
– Where there is a severe weed infestation glyphosate may be permitted before cultivation.
– Fallow must be kept until at least 31st July.
– Regenerating vegetation is not cut or grazed.
– Agro-chemicals or fertilisers are not applied.
Conservation headlands with restricted use of insecticides and herbicides
A conservation headland is a selectively managed part of the crop, and can be 6 – 24 m’s wide depending on tramlines.

– Insecticides are not applied between 15th March and harvest.
– Infestations of black grass and wild oats may be controlled (see handbook for allowable active ingredients).
– Broad-leaved weeds may only be controlled using amidosulfuron up to March 31st.

No restrictions on fungicides, growth regulators or fertilisers.
Conservation headland, no fertiliser, restricted use of insecticides and herbicides
As above, plus:

No applications of organic or inorganic fertilisers or liming materials between establishment and harvest.
Wild bird seed mixture
A mixture of seed bearing crops established in areas managed to provide a succession of food sources for wild birds.

– Sown in margins at least 6m wide or in locks of no more than 1ha within arable fields.
This should be composed of:

Cereal 80%

Kale 10%

Quinoa 10%

And sown at a rate of 35 –50kg / ha.

– Re-establishment should take place every other year to maintain supply of food.
– Re-establishment should not take place before the 15th March. Glyphosate may be applied immediately before spring re–sowing.
– Fertiliser should only be applied where its absence will jeopardise establishment and seed yield.
– Herbicide use should be restricted to weed wipers or spot sprays.
Pollen and nectar mixture
A mixture of nectar and pollen rich plants and non competitive grasses are established in areas managed to maximise value for foraging insects and birds.

– Sown in margins at least 6m wide or in locks of no more than 1ha within arable fields.
– In the first year a mixture of at least 4 nectar rich plants (to include 20% legume) and 4 non-competitive grasses is established.
– Glyphosate may be applied as an overall spray immediately before sowing, otherwise weed control must be limited to weedwipe or spot spraying of problem weeds or cutting can be used in the first year.
– The same half of the area is cut each year before the end of June (to stimulate late flowering), and the whole area after 15th September. A sward height of 10 – 15 cm should be left, with the cuttings ideally removed.
– Application of organic and inorganic fertilisers as well as liming products are prohibited.

E.S.A – Environmentally Sensitive Area

This is only available within the South Downs, and offers for arable farmers;

– Over-winter stubbles

– Over-winter stubbles with undersowing

– Conservation headlands

– Arable reversion to grassland

There is no element of competition for funds providing scheme criteria are met, meaning most applications are successful.

Organic Farming Scheme

Offers staggered payments for conversion to organic production. Within the scheme are elements of best practice, whereby boundary features such as hedges, ditches and field margins must be managed sensitively. Indeed arable margins, and rotations are a vital part of organic management, with predatory insects a vital part of pest control within organic arable crops.

At a National level, current agri-environment could be improved by increased funding to allow more farmers and landowners to partake and by removing any funding conflicts that occur between different agri–environment schemes. Targeting would also ensure best use of resources for wildlife, landscape and historical features. Allowing permanent set aside to be less than 20m wide would alleviate a strain on the Stewardship Scheme, allowing payments to be used for other options.

At a local level, improvements may be obtained by increasing the funding for Countryside Stewardship within Sussex. Detail changes might include the removal of the tie between 6m margins and conservation headlands, allowing a separate option for conservation headlands where conditions are suitable and the removal of minimum area of conservation headlands under the South Downs ESA. It is also important that land use history and the current species composition of arable land is investigated before inclusion into arable reversion tier of South Downs ESA is agreed.

Standing Fresh Water HAP

9. Objectives [top]

a. Seek to establish a farmed environment that produces sufficient supplies of safe healthy food and supports working rural communities and wildlife.

b. Encourage a viable mixed farming system in Sussex.

c. Ensure that arable areas of high ecological quality continue to be cropped whilst allowing re-creation of other habitats elsewhere.

d. Encourage Sussex farmers to protect and enhance biodiversity and landscape.

e. Halt the decline in biodiversity associated with farmed land, particularly farmland birds, arable flowers, certain farmland mammals, and certain farmland invertebrates.

f. Identify and enhance the populations of species associated with farmed land, particularly farmland birds, arable flowers, certain farmland mammals and certain farmland invertebrates.

10. Targets [top]
To meet objective
1. Halt the reduction, and deliver a year on year increase in priority species including: brown hare, arable plants, farmland birds and bats. e,f
2. Double the area of cropped land with reduced fertiliser and pesticide input (Arable Stewardship criteria) by 2005. b,d,e
3. Double the extent of conservation headlands, cultivated field margins and arable weed margins by 2012. e,f
4. Year on year increase in the use of winter stubbles, spring cropping and under-sowing. e,f
5. Double the provision of conservation advice to farmers by 2005. a, b, c, d, e, f
6. Ensure all farmers, and farm business advisors, are aware of the biodiversity benefits of mixed farms systems by 2012. a, b, c, d, e, f
7. Year on year increase in the uptake of biodiversity principles in farming business plans. d,e,f
8. 5% of farmed land to be managed organically or undergoing organic conversion by 2007 and 10% by 2012. b,d,e,f
9. Year on year increase in the uptake of agri-environment schemes such as Countryside Stewardship, Environmentally Sensitive Areas and Arable Stewardship. a, b, c, d, e, f
10. Year on year increase in land entered within the High Weald Land Management Initiative, specifically the uptake of Integrated Farm Appraisals. a, b, c, d, e, f
11. Establish a new Land Management Initiative-type scheme in Sussex by 2007. a, b, c, d, e, f
12. Ensure that at least 50% of set-aside land is managed to achieve targets set out in the rest of this document by 2010. a, c, d, e, f
13. Ensure an annual increase in the use of beetle banks aiming for a doubling in their use every five years. aim to double the use of beetle banks or ensure a 25% increase in their use on new farms whichever figure is the higher within five years. d,e,f

11. Costed Actions

Due to the nature of arable land and its management it is very difficult to put a price on the actions required to increase its benefits for Biodiversity. Some of the factors affecting the costs of these actions include world prices, machinery prices and availability of skilled labour. However the current Government agri-environment schemes do offer us some examples of the costs involved in undertaking certain options on arable farms under the Countryside Stewardship and Arable Stewardship Schemes:

Field Margins – 6m – £35/100m/year

2m – £15/100m/year

Over winter stubbles – £40/ha/year – £540/ha/year

Conservation headlands – £90/ha/year – £270/ha/year

Beetle banks – £15/100m/year

Wildlife seed mixtures – £510/ha/year

12. Proposed Actions with Lead Agencies

If this plan is to come into fruition the support of landowners and all leads and partners will be vital. the Sussex Biodiversity Partnership hopes that the proposals will be taken forward, and will work with its partners to achieve this.

Please see Action Table

13. Monitoring/Review [top]

Plan to be reviewed every 5 years, unless a major change occurs in CAP or world-wide economics.

14. References [top]

Andrews, J and Rebane, M. (1994) Farming and Wildlife. RSPB

Fuller, RJ (1995) Bird Life of Woodland and Forest. Cambridge University Press

FRCA (1987-1997)West and East Sussex – Extracts from and analysis of MAFF agricultural census data. FRCA

Game Conservancy Trust Guidelines for the management of field margins GCT

Game Conservancy Trust (2000) Game, Set aside and Match. GCT

Marshall, E J P (1998) IACR – Guidelines for the siting, establishment and management of stubbles and undersown spring cereals: Arable Management for Biodiversity. Long Ashton Research Station

Marshall, E J P (1998) IACR – Guidelines for the siting, establishment and management of arable field margins, beetle banks, cereal conservation headlands and wildlife seed mixtures. Long Ashton Research Station

Robinson, R A, Wilson, J D and Crick, H Q P (2001) The importance of arable habitat for farmland birds in grassland landscapes. Journal of Applied Ecology 38, pp 1059-1069

RSPB (2001) Farmland birds and habitat management sheets. RSPB

RSPB Managing set aside for birds RSPB

Terry, J and Ward, E (1999) Set aside – Its siting and management for farming and wildlife. FWAG, internal report

15. Consultation [top]

Initial consultation committee was composed of representatives from;

Country Landowners Association (CLA)

Farming and Rural Conservation Agency (FRCA)

Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG)

Game Conservancy Trust (GCT)

National Farmers Union (NFU)

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)

Local farmers

Wider consultees:

RA Ashby – Newhouse Farm

JF Austen – Scrag Oak Farm

Booth Museum

British Trust for Conservation Volunteers

East Sussex County Council – County Ecologist

Mike Edwards – Bees and Wasps

Environment Agency

English Nature

Farming and Rural Conservation Agency

Marian Harding – Court Lodge Farm

Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food

National Trust

Chris Passmore – Applesham Farm

Sussex Amphibian and Reptile Society

Sussex Badger Society

Sussex Bat Group

Sussex Botanical Recording Society

Sussex Mammal Group

Sussex Moth Group

Sussex Ornithological Society

C Tebbutt – Boat House Farm

West Sussex County Council – County Ecologist

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Chalk Grassland

1. Definition

Chalk grassland is one of the richest habitats of Western Europe, containing a great diversity of plants and animals. However, it is now very rare and fragmented, and is of international conservation concern.

The National Habitat Action Plan provides the following definition:

Lowland calcareous grasslands (including chalk grassland) are developed on shallow lime-rich soils generally overlying limestone rocks, including chalk.

Calcareous soils overlying rocks such as limestone occur all over the World. However, chalk only occurs in northwestern Europe, so the surviving chalk grassland is exceptionally rare. (Appendix 1 lists the vegetation types that make up “chalk grassland” as used in this Sussex Chalk Grassland Habitat Action Plan.)

On the South Downs (Winchester to Eastbourne) chalk grassland is now a tiny relic of a once extensive, open landscape, created thousands of years ago. It is characterised by a mixture of grasses and wildflowers, in particular herbs, with few shrubs or trees. It only occurs where soils are thin, well drained and nutrient-poor, overlaying the porous chalk bedrock.

The compact, springy sward and its rich flora and fauna is dependent on appropriate grazing by livestock It is vulnerable to fertilisers and pesticides that reduce the variety of plants and animals. When grazing is absent, chalk grassland is rapidly taken over by coarse grasses and shrubs leading to a loss of the characteristic low-growing flowering plants and associated animals.

Chalk geology is rare in the World, confined to northwest Europe; thus it is of global importance. Orchid-rich chalk grassland is identified as a priority in the European Habitats Directive. Key aims must be to conserve and enhance what is left and embark on a programme of chalk grassland landscape restoration.Chalk

2. Current Status and Distribution [top]

Current estimates put the amount of lowland calcareous grassland left in the United Kingdom at 33,000 to 41,000 ha with the bulk of the resource being found on chalk (25,000 to 32,000 ha). The South Downs forms one of the major areas of chalk grassland in the UK, the extent of the habitat being some 4,000 ha (around 1,500 in Hampshire; 2,500 in Sussex).

Chalk grassland, once widespread on the South Downs, now covers only an estimated 3% of the area. A massive decline in sheep grazing this century, and corresponding conversion to arable farming, are the main factors leading to the disappearance of the habitat. The once extensive grasslands of the south-facing dip slope have mostly been ploughed up. Chalk grassland is now largely confined to the steeper slopes, such as along valley sides and notably the steep north-facing escarpment. To the east, the escarpment is typically open and contains a high proportion of chalk grassland, but further west the escarpment becomes progressively more wooded.

3. Biodiversity of Chalk Grassland [top]

Chalk grasslands are mentioned under the Priority Habitat Action Plans (HAPs), for which the UK has international obligations (UK Biodiversity Group 1998). The chalk grasslands which are so characteristic of the South Downs developed and remain as a direct result of grazing by wild and domesticated animals over thousands of years. Their long association with man should not be under-estimated. Today they are among the most species-rich plant communities in Western Europe, supporting diverse communities of plants and animals, many of which are nationally or internationally rare or endangered.

a) Flora

Chalk grassland may support over 50 species of flowering plant per square metre. The varied landscape and habitats on the South Downs add to the rich biodiversity.

Chalk grasslands of the UK show great variation in response to climatic differences. In the south-east, they harbour warmth-loving species that are absent from the north and west of the UK, including round-headed rampion (found mainly on the South Downs in the UK), musk orchid and dwarf thistle. Many of these southern species thrive best on the south-facing slopes of the Downs where they receive the maximum amount of warmth. These sites provide the northernmost outposts of some European species including the rare early spider orchid. With the north-slope bryophytes (in a cooler and damper habitat) and the less warmth-demanding species, these communities give the chalk grasslands of the South Downs their unique ecological character.

b) Fauna

There is a rich diversity of insect and other small animal life on the South Downs, with scarce butterfly species such as the Adonis blue, silver-spotted skipper and Duke of Burgundy, as well as the wart-biter cricket. Some of the richest and most important sites for snails are the south-facing grasslands. Several sites support significant populations of the nationally rare Carthusian snail.

Chalk grassland provides feeding or breeding habitat for a number of threatened birds, including the skylark and corn bunting. Stone curlew and wheatear no longer breed on the South Downs. Habitat restoration may be possible, to promote their re-colonisation.

c) Associated Habitats

In the South Downs, chalk grassland makes up part of a mosaic of different habitats including chalk heath, juniper and mixed scrub, woodland, neutral and improved grassland, hedgerows, arable farmland and also dew ponds, which are important wildlife oases. Together, they form the wider landscape of the South Downs, reflecting its history and culture.

The decline in grazing and a resultant spread of scrub has destroyed many areas of chalk grassland. Scrub continues to encroach onto existing areas of chalk grassland. It has always been part of the downland ecosystem and its presence is important in diversifying the downland landscape, providing habitat for many downland species, but a balance needs to be achieved. The scrub-grassland edge exhibits particularly high species diversity, especially where there is a varied structure, and can support species such as the Duke of Burgundy butterfly, reptiles and small mammals. Some shrub species are themselves sufficiently rare to merit special attention. For example, on the South Downs, juniper is now confined to a few sites in West Sussex and neighbouring Hampshire.

Chalk heath is a unique combination of plants commonly found on chalk grassland (including species such as dropwort and salad burnet) alongside plants commonly found on acid heathland (such as heather, tormentil and heath bedstraw). Chalk heath is a nationally rare habitat that has always been restricted to south and southeast England. At the beginning of this century chalk heath was fairly common along the top of the Downs, but today it is very limited in extent, with a total area of less than 100 ha.

4. Cultural Significance/Benefits to the Community [top]

The cultural significance of chalk grassland has its roots in land-use, dating back over 6000 years. Many comprehensive texts have been written about the history and archaeology of the South Downs. (See References for more details.)

The South Downs was the first area of Sussex to be colonised in Neolithic times. At that time large scale woodland clearance was started. It was this clearance, in conjunction with the later introduction of livestock farming, particularly sheep, which created the open chalk grassland landscape.

Much evidence of human association with the Downs has been preserved in the chalk grassland. The area is rich in archaeological sites, many of which are Scheduled Ancient Monuments. Important sites include Bronze and Iron Age barrows, Iron Age hill forts and Roman artefacts such as temples, roads and settlements. Medieval field patterns can still be seen, although most are now in arable fields. In more recent times artists, musicians and writers, such as Rudyard Kipling and Hillaire Belloc, have been inspired by the downland landscape.

Today, chalk grassland and its rich wildlife give benefit to the wider community as a valuable informal recreational resource. In places, there is good access into pleasant surroundings, with panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. People are passionate about the Downs and many are engaged in volunteering to help conserve the habitat. The special qualities of this habitat, with its wildlife, historic and landscape value, is also a tremendous educational resource. These three qualities set the objectives of the South Downs Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) scheme.

5. Benefits to Local Business [top]

Traditionally, the South Downs provided important winter sheep grazing from spring/summer grazed lowlands. Livestock still remains the key to the conservation of chalk grassland; however, this is dependent on a viable industry. This is not easy with the low productivity of chalk grassland and decline in the livestock market. Ways of enhancing the value of grazing by both cattle and sheep need to be fully explored. Apart from the management support through the ESA scheme, the marketing of local produce to stimulate demand would be a great help. There is a timely opportunity to promote the link between a sympathetically managed countryside, with animal welfare, environmental benefits and a quality product to the huge local markets along the coastal conurbations, up to London and across the Channel to neighbouring France.

Complementary “green tourism” helps boost the value and raise the cultural profile of the extensive farming methods of the Downs, thereby supporting both the local farming economy and community. Small businesses can benefit from this natural resource, for example through trade to local retailers.

6. Trends and Threats [top]

The sheep grazing that helped maintain the chalk grassland was probably at its peak in the late 17th century. In the early parts of the nineteenth century, downland grass covered more than 50% of the South Downs. The Napoleonic and First World Wars saw an increase in arable farming as food demands rose. Grassland returned in the 1920s and 30s, but the agricultural depression meant that many farmers abandoned sheep farming. In some areas rabbits were the only grazers, until the introduction of myxomatosis in 1954. This reduced grazing pressure allowed the development of coarse grasses and scrub encroachment, leading to secondary woodland.

Large-scale losses of chalk grassland occurred after the Second World War, with the push for increased food production. Modern intensive farming, devoted to arable crops and grass leys, largely replaced the extensive grazing management. About a fifth of the country s chalk grassland was lost in only fourteen years between 1966 and 1980. Today, on the South Downs, it covers only 3% of the area. The remaining resource is largely confined to slopes too steep to plough, such as the north-facing escarpment. Hence the rarity of species on the few remaining south-facing slopes.

Other losses have been through commercial tree plantations, notably Ftiston, Charlton and Singleton Forests. Other areas have been lost to housing and road construction. Mineral extraction has had a localised impact, but some former quarries, such as that at Heyshott Down, are now important chalk grassland sites.

Today, chalk grassland is still under threat. Scrub encroachment continues to reduce the chalk grassland resource, despite clearance and management in some areas. Rabbits have little or no effect on controlling establishing scrub vegetation. Increasing disease resistance and a reduction in control measures means that rabbit numbers have risen dramatically, causing erosion through enlarged warrens and localised overgrazing.

The combination of the decline in grazing and the deposition of atmospheric nitrogen (through, for example, industrial or vehicle emissions) are thought to be responsible for the current spread of tor grass. This is invading over some areas of chalk grassland on the eastern Downs, commonly dominating the sward and excluding rarer species.

Chalk grassland is highly sensitive to chemical inputs. In an effort to improve yields many farmers have applied fertilisers and selective herbicides to their old downland pastures. As with reduced grazing, the more vigorous species have benefited, leading to a loss of biodiversity Neglect or ploughing for game cover or crops has resulted in other sites being lost.

For a number of the above reasons, much of the chalk grassland has become reduced in area and fragmented. This fragmentation causes isolation and makes populations less viable and ultimately vulnerable to localised extinction from events such as fire, disease, unusual weather and predation. Another threat is from localised recreational pressures and abuse, such as four-wheel-drive, motorbike scrambling, rave parties and fly-tipping. Fragmentation often makes management less economically viable. Penning sheep into these areas can lead to nutrient enrichment through dunging (traditionally, sheep were folded onto arable land off the hill pastures).

The designation of the South Downs as an ESA in 1987 has brought back neglected areas of chalk grassland into sympathetic management. It has also supported the continued maintenance of chalk grassland. In addition, nearly 6,000 ha of arable land has been reverted back to grassland under the scheme, with about 10% sown with a chalk grassland seed mix. However, reversion back to species-rich chalk grassland is a slow process and results are variable depending on the seed mixture, topography, aspect, proximity to seed sources, soil type and depth, and historical land-use.

Changes have been made to the ESA scheme over the years to take account of chalk grassland management issues; for example, payments for scrub clearance, fencing and water supplies. However, the area payments for managing chalk grassland have to compete with Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) production subsidies, limiting take-up of the scheme. Farmers also have the option to withdraw from their ten-year voluntary agreements after five years if they feel the scheme no longer suits their requirements. It is to be hoped that agricultural policy reform will improve the prospects for long-term commitment to agri-environment schemes and provide an opportunity to link farming economics with social and environmental imperatives.

Sympathetic land ownership and management have also benefited chalk grassland. For example, Eastbourne Borough Council has reverted 400 ha of its land to downland pasture. The National Trust owns around 4,000 ha of land within the South Downs, much purchased through their South Downs Appeal; about 20% is grazed chalk grassland. The Sussex Wildlife Trust manages three downland reserves: Levin Down, Ditchling Beacon and Malling Down. English Nature manages four National Nature Reserves (NNRs), three of which include candidate Special Areas of Conservation and has agreements with owners of several Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) which encourage sympathetic management of chalk grassland. Some sites are designated as Sites of Nature Conservation Importance (SNCIs) by local authorities, with some managed under ESA agreement. The Sussex Downs Conservation Board helps raise awareness of downland issues, supports chalk grassland projects and manages the 300 ha Seven Sisters Country Park.

Chalk Grassland HAP

7. Potential [top]

The potential to expand and enhance the chalk grassland resource is considerable. A variety of schemes exist for sympathetic management and restoration of chalk grassland as well as for arable reversion. More details of these schemes are given in Section 9. The Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) process should focus organisations policies and practices on exploiting the opportunities to improve downland conservation. This could include:

” Policy initiatives from the European level (e.g. Habitats Directives) to national government (such as through the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or Countryside Agency); also regionally (e.g. South East Economic Development Agency) and locally (through county and district councils);

” European partners, particularly those associated with INTERREG projects sources of information sharing or exchange, linked to European funds for allied projects;

” Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food – ESA scheme, grassland and scrub management plans, farmer awareness;

” Country Landowners Association/National Farmers Union – promoting environmentally sympathetic management practices and endorsement of biodiversity action;

” Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group – helping implement BAPs

” Local authorities – Local Nature Reserves, land ownership, tenancy agreements, SNCIs, road verge management, development control, farmers markets;

” Environment Agency/Water companies – aquifer protection, management of land holdings;

” Sussex Wildlife Trust and other conservation trusts – nature reserve management and environmental education;

” National Trust – acquisitions (South Downs Appeal), management of downland;

” English Nature – NNRs, grant schemes and Site Management Statements, SSSIs, European sites, development control;

” Sussex Downs Conservation Board and successor Authority – advice, grants and practical management (such as scrub clearance and “non-profit” grazing), local marketing initiatives and development control;

” Major funding initiatives such as Heritage Lottery Funding, Landfill Tax, European funding,

” Specialist groups such as the Society of Sussex Downsmen, British Butterfly Conservation Society British Herpetological Society – provision of information and support;

” Local communities and their involvement;

” Commoners and the management of Common Land;

” English Heritage / archaelogical societies – improved conservation of archaeological sites.

” Soil Association / organic farming organisations – liason over common goals in organic farming and chalk grassland conservation in particular.

8. Current Action [top]

i) Site Protection

Landscape and wildlife designated areas are identified in County Structure Plans and District Local Plans and are thus given some protection from adverse forms of development. European sites such as Special Areas of Conservation will be further protected as new legislation, for example the Habitat Regulations, is developed. Government advice, such .as planning policy guidance, supplements any legislation. There are 24 SSSIs in Sussex, which have a chalk grassland component and therefore receive some protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

ii) Site Management

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food provides incentives through its agri-environment schemes. The most significant for the South Downs is the ESA scheme (see Section 9).

English Nature gives grant-aid through Management Agreements and the Reserves Enhancement Scheme; most SSSIs are being managed under these or ESA agreements. The Sussex Downs Conservation Board undertakes practical chalk grassland management, including advice and financial help in certain situations.

All of the above serve to support the extremely important role played by landowners and tenants, particularly farmers, in conserving chalk grassland.

European schemes may also provide support for the conservation of chalk grassland. For example, INTERREG provides funds for the exchange of information and expertise under a variety of themes, including nature conservation, between East Sussex and neighbouring French regions.

Recognised conservation bodies such as English Nature, the National Trust and the Sussex Wildlife Trust own and manage areas specifically for nature conservation. Other bodies, including the Forestry Commission, local authorities and water companies also own and manage land with nature conservation as a key objective.

iii) Information Exchange

There are many and diverse organisations and methods operating in this area. For chalk grassland generally:

” The Downland Practitioners Network provides a national mechanism for the exchange of ideas and information.

” The Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre gathers and disseminates biological information.

” Links with those organisations in France aiming to conserve and enhance chalk grassland provide information and support for future efforts in the South Downs.

” Actions and co-operative efforts such as these at the local level inform the process of CAP reform at a national and European level  inevitably of vital importance in the development of future agricultural policies and their effects on the chalk grassland resource.

” Chalk grassland issues are occasionally highlighted in the national and local media, but more could be done to raise the profile.

Specific to the South Downs:

” The South Downs ESA Liaison Group helps influence and directs the work of the ESA scheme and encourages information exchange between the relevant parties.

” Geographical Information Systems (GIS) have been developed for the South Downs as both research and practical management tools. The Universities of Brighton and Nottingham in particular, working with other partners, have brought together information relating to land-use, conservation status, chalk grassland potential, etc.

” The Sussex Chalk Grassland Biodiversity Working Group acts as a local information exchange and will seek implementation of the HAP through unified action.

” Information to the public is provided by many organisations. For example:

the Sussex Wildlife Trust have nature reserve boards and leaflets; internet access is being developed by the Sussex Downs Conservation Board; guided walks are led by many organisations such as English Nature, the National Trust and local authorities.

9. Existing Incentive Schemes [top]

ESA scheme

Set up under the 1986 Agriculture Act, to benefit landscape, wildlife and archaeology, farmers can enter land into a ten-year management agreement, with an optional break clause after five years. The scheme has various tiers, with farmers receiving annual payments, which vary according to the land management practices required. Grant-aid is also available for capital works that meet the aims of the scheme. Payments are based on income foregone (ie from not following more intensive management) and are reviewed every two years. There is a comprehensive review of the scheme every five years. Appendix 2 summarises take-up to date. It should be noted that some land comes out after five or ten years, other land is newly entered. The tiers specific to chalk grassland are:

Tier 1- Permanent Grassland on the Chalk

Payments are made for managing permanent grassland by grazing with sheep and/or cattle at appropriate levels. Cultivation and the use of fertilisers are not permitted; nor are pesticides, except for spot treatment of weeds.

Tier 3A – Reversion of Arable Land to Chalk Grassland

Payments are made to revert arable land to grassland using a diverse seed mixture, which must then be managed according to Tier 1 management prescriptions. Successful reversion of arable to species-rich chalk grassland is a long-term process and initial results have been variable. The ESA Project Officer is encouraging the development of a local seed harvesting initiative.

Tier 3B – Reversion to Permanent Grassland

Payments are made to revert arable land to grassland using a seed mixture of the farmer’s choice; this usually consists of rye grass and white clover. Although this tier is primarily aimed at enhancing the landscape and protecting archaeological remains, where land adjoins existing chalk grassland it can help create viable grazing regimes and has the potential to buffer such areas from damaging agricultural inputs.

Conservation Plans

Additional grants are available for a range of capital works, either at a fixed rate or at a fixed percentage of costs depending on the operation in question. Eligible items that benefit chalk grassland management include stock fencing, scrub clearance, purchase of Tier 3A seed mixture and measures to enhance the botanical diversity of Tier 3B swards.

Grassland and Scrub Management Plans

All new Tier 1 and Tier 3A agreements are now subject to site-specific grassland and scrub management plans. These are designed to encourage sward diversity and scrub control, which should benefit downland wildlife.

Other Schemes

Although the Countryside Stewardship scheme includes downland landscapes, it is not really relevant as the ESA scheme covers most issues. There are a few Stewardship agreements for open access, as the ESA scheme only pays for linear access.

Of growing interest is organic food; this is promoted through the Organic Farming Scheme. This could help in the marketing of produce from the South Downs. In many instances the management requirements of the ESA and organic schemes are compatible, allowing farmers to benefit from both. However, it should be noted that in some circumstances organic management could prove detrimental to the conservation of chalk grassland (for example, a requirement to cut early silage, or to maintain clover-rich swards by regular re-seeding).

English Nature provides grants under its Reserves Enhancement Scheme. It also has SSSI management agreements, which encourage the conservation of chalk grassland. Proposed legislation aims to switch from compensatory payments (ie to stop a landowner damaging the wildlife interest) to payments for positive management.

10. Aim and Objectives [top]


To re-create the broad landscape qualities of chalk grassland.

The National Habitat Action Plan sets the following objectives for lowland calcareous grassland, which provide the context for the Sussex HAP:

Arrest the depletion of lowland calcareous grassland throughout the UK.

Within SSSIs, initiate rehabilitation management for all significant unimproved lowland calcareous grassland in unfavourable conservation condition by 2005, with the aim of achieving favourable status wherever feasible by 2010.

At other localities, secure favourable condition over 30% of the resource by 2005, and as near to 100% as is practicable by 2015.

Attempt to re-establish 1,000 ha of lowland calcareous grassland of wildlife value at carefully targeted sites by 2010.

Sussex Objectives

(lowland calcareous grassland = chalk grassland)

Maintain the integrity of all existing chalk grassland by preventing further loss and damage.
Ensure that all existing chalk grassland is maintained and enhanced by appropriate management.
Maintain and expand the area of chalk grassland by carefully targeted scrub management, where possible linking existing sites together.
Identify and restore all areas suitable for reversion to chalk grassland. Ideally these should buffer and/or link together existing sites.
Raise awareness of the importance of chalk grassland to the public, professionals and practitioners.
Ensure better co-ordination and co-operation of bodies that have an influence over chalk grassland, at the local, national and international level.

11. Targets [top]

All existing chalk grassland sites to be given appropriate international, national or local status by 2005.
All chalk grassland sites to be managed under an appropriate scheme by2005.
Increase by 10% the area of chalk grassland by the management of invasive species at suitable sites by 2005.
Increase the area of chalk grassland by reverting 750 ha of amble land and re-introducing appropriate management at suitable sites by 2005.
Increase the effectiveness of agri-environment schemes in achieving the HAP objectives (on-going timescale).
Use the GIS to develop a database and map of past and present chalk grassland sites by 2000, and further develop a GIS to analyse land-use and landscape features as a tool to inform future management and targeting effort.
Develop and implement a monitoring system for the status of chalk grassland by 2005 – progress on targets and status of chalk grassland.
Build links between the Sussex Chalk Grassland Working Group, the ESA liason group, and potential South Downs Authority (combining Sussex Downs & East Hampshire AONBs). Establish a South Downs Chalk Grassland Forum by 2000 to ensure the implementation of the HAP and associated Species Action Plans.
Develop European exchanges of information and action relating to chalk grasslands (on-going timescale).
Ensure that all relevant land-use policies support the objectives of the HAP in their next review (on-going timescale).

12. Costs [top]

The financial implications of managing and restoring chalk grassland will vary from site to site, depending on such factors as topography, access, farming system, current management and neighbouring land-use. Under the South Downs ESA scheme, payments are made for the management of existing chalk grassland and for reverting arable land to grassland. Payments are based on the income foregone when managing land extensively as opposed to intensively. 2000 figures are as follows:

Grazing of permanent grassland 60/hectare
Reversion to “chalk grassland” with appropriate seed mix 330/hectare

Some examples of the capital costs associated with bringing land back into grazing management, based on ESA capital payments, are as follows:

Sheep fencing 3-4/metre
Sheep fencing with rabbit netting 4-6/metre
Barbed wire fencing 2-3/metre
Clearance of dense scrub by hand on steep slopes 2000/hectare
(very variable, indicative cost only)
Mechanical clearance of scrub (50% density) 250/hectare
Provision of water supply (including trough) 150-200/100 metres

N.B. Any farmer considering applying to join the ESA scheme would weigh up the area-based payments, land and capital costs, etc before reaching any decision. An important factor in the success or otherwise of chalk grassland conservation is the prevailing production subsidies.

13. Actions

14. Monitoring and Review [top]

The Chalk Grassland Biodiversity Working Group shall monitor this Habitat Action Plan annually and report to the Sussex Biodiversity Steering Group. Monitoring will include an assessment of the actions carried out against the targets set and reviewing whether the objectives remain appropriate as circumstances change or in the light of new information. A full review and updating of the plan will be carried out at five-yearly intervals.

Chalk Grassland HAP
15. Consultation [top]

Appendix 5 gives the full list of those organisations and individuals consulted on the draft plan. A total of 32 replies came in responding to the final draft.

Appendices [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]

Appendix 1 [top]

The following National Vegetation Classification (NVC) Chalk Grassland types will be included, as they occur, either individually in association, or as part of a matrix with mixed chalk scrub, juniper scrub and chalk heath together. Throughout this document the term ‘chalk grassland’ includes the following NVC types.

NVC Chalk Grassland Communities recorded in Sussex

CG1: Festuca ovina-Carlina vulgaris grassland

All stands recorded in Sussex are of the CG1e sub-community. It is difficult to distinguish from CG2a but characteristically has a short sward with frequent patches of bare soil and scattered fragments of chalk Festuca ovina usually has high cover and other grasses are infrequent. This community is rare in Sussex.

CG2: Festuca ovina-Avenula pratensis grassland

Chalk grassland with species-rich dosed sward in which Festuca ovina is the most abundant grass and bulky grasses such as Brachypodium pinnatum, Avenula pubescens and Bromopsis erecta are absent or at low cover. CG2a is often referred to as the typical downland sward.

CG3: Bromopsis erecta grassland

This community includes all swards with a high cover (10% or more) of Bromopsis erecta and where other tail grasses, especially Brachypodium pinnatum and Arrhenatherum elatius are absent or have low cover.

CG4: Brachypodium pinnatum grassland

All swards with a high cover (10% or more) of Brachypodium pinnatum.

CG5: Bromopsis erecta-Brachipodium pinnatun grassland

Swards with roughly equal proportions of Bromopsis erecta and Brachypodium pinnatum. This community is generally associated with harder limestones. In Sussex it is a possible transitional stage between CG3 and CG4.transitional stage between CG3 and CG4.

Appendix 2 [top]

South Downs Environmentally Sensitive Area

Take-up by Farmers (FRCA statistics as at March 2000)

Tier 1: Management of chalk grassland 5,210 ha

Tier 3A Reversion of arable land using a “chalk grassland” seed mix 856 ha

Tier 3B: Reversion of arable land with seed mix selected by farmer 5,290 ha

Appendix 3 [top]

Key Species

Habitat Action Plans, both national and local, are the key to the National Biodiversity Action Plan as they aim to ensure the survival of whole naturally occurring assemblages of plant and animal species. At the same time, certain species merit special attention in the process, for a variety of reasons. They may be so rare or threatened (as in Table 1 below) to justify their own Action Plans to ensure their survival. Such Species Action Plans must complement the Action Plans for the habitats in which the species occur. In practice, however there will be sufficient detail in the Habitat Action Plans to ensure the well-being of most species.

Table 1 Short and Middle list species for chalk grassland in Sussex taken from the National Biodiversity Action Plan

Only the species whose names are in bold type are largely restricted to chalk grassland. Columns2-8 illustrate other degrees of protection or measures of rarity for the species

Appendix 4 [top]

References for Further Reading and Research

ADAS (1996) Environmental Monitoring in the South Downs 1987 – 1995

Armstrong J. R. (1961) A History of Sussex Phillimore

Blackstock T. H., Rimes C. A., Stevens D. P, Jefferson R. G., Robertson H. J., Mackintosh

J. and Hopkins J. J. (1999) The extent of semi-natural grassland communities in lowland

England and Wales: a review of conservation surveys 1987-96. Grass and Forage Science 54,

1-18 Blackwell Science Ltd.

Brandon P. (1974) The Sussex Landscape Hodder and Stoughton

Brandon P. (1998) The South Downs Phillimore

Brandon P. Short B. (1990) The South-east from AD 1000 Longman

Brighton Downs Consortium (1995) Brighton’s Downhnd A Vision for a People’s Countryside

Burwood C. (1999) Surrey Chalk Grassland Habitat Action Plan (draft)

Drewett P. Rudling D., Gardiner M. (1988) The South-east to AD 1000 Longman

English Nature (1999 2nd edition) Lowland Grassland Management Handbook English Nature

English Nature (1999) Lowland Grassland National Habitat Action Plan English Nature

English Nature (1997) South Downs Natural Area Profile English Nature

Department of the Environment (1994) Biodiversity The UK Action Plan HMSO

Gibson C.WD. & Brown V.K. (1991) The nature and rate of development of calcareous

grassland in Southern Britain. Biological Conservation, 58, 297- 316

MAFF (1997) South Downs ESA Guidelines for Farmers MAFF

Rorison I.H. (1990) Soils, Mineral Nutrition and Climate. In: Hillier S.H., Walton D.WH.

& Wells D.A. (eds) Calcareous Grasslands: ecology and management Bluntisham Books

Rose E (1993) Report on the Bryophytes and Lichens in Chalk Grassland in West Sussex

Sussex Downs Conservation Board and West Sussex County Council

Rose F. (1995) The Habitats and Vegetation of Sussex The Booth Museum of Natural History

Shimwell D.W (1973) An introduction to the geography and ecology of chalk grassland. In:

Jeremy and Stott Chalk Grassland Kent Trust for Nature Conservation

Smith C. J. (1980) Ecology of the English Chalk Academic Press

Smith J. (1996 reprinted 1970) Chalkland Ecology Heinemann

Stevens G. (1992) A Botanical Survey of Unimproved Grassland on the South Downs in

West Sussex English Nature

Stevens G., Muggeridge N. (1992) A Botanical Survey of Unimproved Grassland on the

South Downs in East Sussex English Nature

Sussex Downs Conservation Board (1996) A Management Strategy for the Sussex Downs

Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Sussex Downs Conservation Board

Sussex Downs Conservation Board (1996) The Landscape of the Sussex Downs Area of

Outstanding Natural Beauty Countryside Commission and Sussex Downs Conservation Board

Sussex Wildlife Trust (1996) Vision for the Wildlife of Sussex Sussex Wildlife Trust

UK Biodiversity Group (1998) Tranche 2 Action Plans Vol II – Terrestrial and Freshwater

Habitats English Nature

University of Sussex, Geography Editorial Committee (1983) Sussex: Environment,

Landscape and Society Alan Sutton Publishing Limited

Williams R. (ed.) (1993) A Vision for the South Downs Sussex Wildlife Trust

Willing M. (1993) Report on the Molluscs of the West Sussex Chalk Downs Sussex Downs

Conservation Board and West Sussex County Council

Appendix 5 [top]

Partnership and Consultation

The following list gives organisations and contact names for all those consulted on the draft Chalk Grassland Habitat Action Plan:

English Nature Claire Kerr Malcolm Emery *

Environment Agency Mark Elliott

DEFRA Gill Swash * Rosie Davis

Adur District Council Ashley Serpis

Arun District Council Daphne Fisher

Brighton & Hove Council Matthew Thomas *

Chichester District Council Diana Brown/David Nowell

Eastbourne Borough Council Dave Pearce

East Sussex County Council AlexTait*

Horsham District Council Yvonne McDermott

Lewes District Council Steve Brigdon

Mid Sussex District Council Sharon Brown

Wealden District Council David Phillips

West Sussex County Council Ann Griffiths *

Worthing Borough Council Hayley Young

East Hampshire AONB Project Alison Tingley

Sussex Downs Conservation Board Phil Belden *

Angmering Park Estate Trust D. J. Pennell

Applesham Farm Chris Passmore

Duke of Norfolk Estate Peter Knight

Edward James Foundation Simon Ward

Goodwood Estate Nigel Draffan

Wiston Estate Harry Goring

Murray Downland Trust Shirley Wright

National Trust (E.Sussex) Sarah Mann

National Trust (WSussex) Glynn Jones

National Trust (national office) Matthew Oates

South East Water Emma Goddard

Hall Waste

UK Waste

Country Landowners Association John Biron

Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group Paul Ling *

National Farmers Union William White

British Trust for Conservation Volunteers Libby Hodd

Council for the Protection of Rural England Peter Brandon

Keep Our Downs Public Dave Bangs

Game Conservancy Trust Mike Swan

Booth Museum of Natural History John Cooper

University of Brighton Naill Burnside *

University of Sussex David Streeter

University of Hertfordshire Catherine Larman

Bees & Wasps Mike Edwards

British Butterfly Conservation Society Joyce Gay

British Dragonfly Society Phil Belden

Conchological Society of GB Martin Willing

Flora Francis Rose John Shaughnessy

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Steve Gilbert

Sussex Amphibian & Reptile Group Mark Elliott

Sussex Bat Group M. Love

Sussex Botanical Recording Society Rod Stern

Sussex Mammal Recording Group Neil Mitchell

Sussex Ornithological Society Alan Perry

Sussex Moth Group Simon Curson

Sussex Wildlife Trust Tony Whitbread *

* Members of the Sussex Chalk Grassland Biodiversity Working Group who put together the Habitat Action Plan and who are responsible for the monitoring of the Action Plan.

Chalk Grassland HAP Lead and Working Group

Members of the Sussex Chalk Grassland Habitat Action Plan Working Group who put together the Habitat Action Plan and who are responsible for the monitoring of the Action Plan.

Lead Phil Beldon

Sussex Downs Conservation Board


Tel: 01903 741234

Naill Burnside

Brighton University

Malcom Emery

English Nature

Ann Griffiths

West Sussex County Council

Paul Ling

Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group

Dr Alex Tait

East Sussex County Council

Matthew Thomas

Brighton and Hove Council

Tony Whitbread

Sussex Wildlife Trust

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