Noleham Brook meadow
There’s so much more to the Heart of England Forest than just trees – it is a mosaic of different habitats, and grassland is an important part of the jigsaw.
Providing a home for a myriad of species, it covers the most significant area of Forest habitat after woodland, with over 25% of our woodland creation land, some 800 acres, grassland. Add to that the large swathes that we farm as organic pasture and it’s easy to see why we take our grassland very seriously!
Regular health checks
In recognition of the importance of grassland, this year we have started to monitor certain areas to identify changes that will inevitably happen in the wooded areas, and also help us improve grassland where needed. For example, with the help of the Warwick Natural History Society, we have recently been surveying the Noleham Brook meadows near Long Marston. In the past, some of these fields were arable land, but they have now been converted to grassland and trees planted. It is hoped that this will become a neutral species-rich grassland habitat like the pasture fields north of the brook that have been managed organically and where you can see evidence of old ridge and furrow.
Providing a happy home
Meanwhile, at our recently acquired Sheriffs Lench land, there is evidence of calcareous grassland – an increasingly rare habitat. Over recent decades, agricultural improvement and development has led to a reduction in the amount of this grassland which typically thrives on chalky calcium or lime-rich soil.
Although requiring careful management through grazing, cutting or a combination of both, this type of grassland can provide a home to a vast array of wildflowers, grasses and herbs, from vetches, orchids and knapweeds to ox eye daisies and trefoils – to name but a few! We aim to significantly increase the area of grassland here and manage it through grazing.
Grassland at Sheriffs Lench
Over the years we have also created ponds, with wet grassland areas around them to encourage wetland birds like snipe and lapwing or migrating wildfowl including various species of geese, egrets and little ringed plover.
We can’t, of course, forget our birds of prey, from buzzards to owls, who hunt for small mammals in the hundreds of acres of long grass we intentionally leave for wildlife.
Managing the grassland
Modern farming methods can mean that because many types of grassland are managed for the production of grass, wildflowers are often an associated casualty. Aware of their crucial role in supporting wildlife, at the Heart of England Forest we are dedicated to managing our meadows and pastures to ensure they thrive as an important part of the Forest mosaic. It is important to ensure that wild flowers do not become swamped by coarse grasses and that we encourage a species-rich environment.
Here at the Heart of England Forest we are always seeking the best possible ways to manage our grasslands so that they work in harmony with the woodland and contribute to the diversity of the ecosystem. In our eyes, farming and forestry are interlinked and for us, dependent on each other. So, it will be no surprise that we are investigating the possibility of grazing some of our older plantings with traditional breeds such as our longhorn cattle. Recently, we played host to forestry and grazing expert Dr Keith Kirby, who gave us ideas for planning the next steps.
Over the coming years you can expect to see a variety of grassland management techniques from mowing or grazing through to just leaving it to do its thing, but one thing is for certain – it won’t just be grass!