This report assesses the significance of British Lowland Grasslands, occurring below the line of enclosure or moorland wall, within a wider European frame. There are five such priority habitats in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and these are used as the framework for the report: Lowland Calcareous Grassland, Lowland Dry Acid Grassland, Lowland Meadows, Upland Hay Meadows and Purple Moorgrass/Rush-pasture. The report also includes Metallophyte Vegetation for which there is, as yet, no BAP equivalent.
The report describes the character and occurrence of the constituent plant communities of these habitats in terms of the National Vegetation Classification, with a separate section reviewing the situation for Northern Ireland. Using a phytosociological approach, it then outlines the wider occurrence of related vegetation types elsewhere in Europe, emphasising similarities and contrasts to the UK and indicating the various factors - climatic, edaphic, cultural or historical - that underlie these patterns. The study focuses on the 25 European Union states but, where relevant information is available for countries bordering on the EU, this has been included.
All the Lowland Grasslands include priority Habitats Directive habitats and the report describes how these have been defined in the countries where equivalents of the Lowland Grasslands occur and how well the habitats are covered within Natura 2000.
The report identifies gaps in coverage within the UK BAP, highlighting the need for further survey of open ephemeral-rich vegetation of Lowland Acid Grasslands and wetter Lowland Meadows. There is also an inadequate understanding of the full range of Metallophyte Vegetation and Serpentine swards. Within Natura 2000, the UK definitions of which Lowland Grasslands are included are somewhat narrower than in other EU member states, particularly for the Lowland Acid Grasslands and drier Lowland Meadows.
Important threats to Lowland Grasslands include continuing eutrophication from agricultural improvement and atmospheric deposition but neglect of management and abandonment are becoming increasingly important. Failure to manage at landscape-scale and in ways which accommodate dynamic ecological processes also threaten the sustainability of these habitats. The report also identifies some possible impacts of climate change. Conservation initiatives in Lowland Grasslands are diverse but unevenly spread across the full range of habitats and their approaches and achievements are inadequately disseminated. However, novel partnerships, community involvement and a local focus are striking features of some projects. Research is needed on the underlying environmental factors that influence the distribution and occurrence of lowland grasslands, relationships between biodiversity and productivity, the impacts of grazing, species recruitment and assembly rules and dynamic processes operating at landscape scale.
A European perspective will be vital to understanding and sustaining these habitats and the report outlines ways in which the UK could contribute to developing scientific networks and partnerships for software development.
The report includes a full bibliography, including all web sites referred to in the text. Appendices summarise the sources and quality of distribution data for UK Lowland Grasslands and list the Habitats Directive Interpretation Manuals used in the report.
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