What is unimproved limestone grassland?
The almost magical beauty of the Cotswolds in spring and summer defies the term “unimproved grassland”. Growing on soil that is based on limestone, these grasslands can be brim-full of wildflowers, butterflies, bees and many more creatures. They are lost when they are “improved” for farming by reseeding and fertilising. Created long ago when humans cleared the forests, this is a fragile haven for species that could not survive without it.
Why is this habitat at risk?
In the 1930s, limestone grassland covered 40% of the Cotswolds area. Now it covers just 1.5% – which is over half of the UK’s total area of this habitat. Limestone grasslands must be appropriately managed to maintain their special wildlife. They need the right livestock grazing to prevent them becoming overwhelmed by scrub and young woodland, and the fertility of the soil must remain low if the special plants are not to be out-competed and lost.
How we have helped the species of Cotswolds limestone grassland
This Back from the Brink project, led by Butterfly Conservation, has worked with landowners and local partners to restore and manage a network of limestone grassland sites in the Cotswolds. We have provided specialist advice to landowners and trained up volunteers to help us survey for and monitor the impacts of management on a host of species, including the Red-shanked Carder Bee, the Duke of Burgundy and Marsh Fritillary butterflies, Fly Orchid, Basil Thyme and Greater Horseshoe Bat.
Species highlights include the discovery of Rugged Oil Beetles at 12 new sites in the Cotswolds, taking the total from 8 known sites to 20. The Rock-rose Pot Beetle was rediscovered at a site after 35 years and the Ruderal Bumblebee was discovered at 2 new sites. There is also evidence of Marsh Fritillary breeding at a second site.
We have carried out extensive habitat management across 31 different sites and provided habitat management advice to 49 sites benefiting over 700ha of land. In total 414 volunteers from local communities have given over 3 years’ worth of time to the project. By connecting people with this precious wild heritage we hope that we have created a lasting legacy and enabled communities in the area to understand and appreciate these wonderful grasslands.
If you would like to find out more about the work that we did then check out our project report.
TARGET SPECIES FACTSHEETS
Habitat and survey work in Limestone’s Living Legacies has been targeted at a range of species that will benefit directly from the careful management and restoration of unimproved limestone grassland. These factsheets have been compiled by project staff and colleagues to provide information on their identification, life cycle, status and habitat requirements.
Back from the Brink Innovations Conference Presentation
Species Recovery and Management - Farmland and Bareground