Does Environmental Stewardship work ? Species-rich grassland surveys (2014)

I relish the opportunity to get involved with research projects and this one is, I think, particularly important.  We pay farmers a fair bit of money each year via Environmental Stewardship and Higher Level Stewardship and I’d like to know what I’m getting for my money.  Wouldn’t you ?  So, does stewardship actually work ?  Are fields in Higher Level Stewardship more interesting and better ecologically now than they were when they first came into the scheme ?

Hay meadow, DerbyshireNatural England resolved to answer this question, and that’s where I come in.  Back in 2007, Just Ecology surveyed over 100 fields in Higher Level Stewardship to find out which NVC vegetation type was present and undertake grassland condition assessment and soil analysis for each site.  In 2014, I am working with a team of botanists to re-survey as many of the sites as possible and find out what has changed.  We are relocating permanent quadrats, looking for positive indicator species and taking soil samples as well as finding out more about how each site is managed.

So far I have surveyed 20 sites and amassed many, many pictures of quadrats and survey forms covered in scribbles which I hope will be legible to the person doing the data analysis !  I’ve also made some new friends:

Harry the farm dogInquisitive cattle

From what I’ve seen so far, some sites have made great strides towards species-richness, some have stayed about the same and one or two don’t seem to be going in the right direction at all.  I’m really looking forward to reading the final report to find out what the overall trend is.



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