The restoration and re-creation of species-rich lowland grassland on land formerly managed for intensive agriculture in the UK

  • Published source details Walker K.J., Stevens P.A., Stevens D.P., Mountford J.O., Manchester S.J. & Pywell R.F. (2004) The restoration and re-creation of species-rich lowland grassland on land formerly managed for intensive agriculture in the UK. Biological Conservation, 119, 1-18.


This study is summarised as evidence for the following.

Action Category

Restore/create species-rich, semi-natural grassland

Action Link
Farmland Conservation
  1. Restore/create species-rich, semi-natural grassland

    A 2004 review of published and unpublished literature from the UK (Walker et al. 2004) found that introducing plant species and removing nutrients are important to effective grassland restoration. The review identified eight studies that tested effects of reinstating cutting and grazing management on grassland, and ceasing fertilizer use and concluded that this could enhance the number of plant species, but it was slow and did not always work. Just one study, in west Wales, found a marked increase in the number of plant species over eight years (Hayes & Sackville Hamilton 2001). Five found a slight or gradual increase, over 4-14 years ((Bullock et al. 1994), Oomes 1990, Olff & Bakker 1991, Hayes et al. 2000, (Smith et al. 2000)). Two studies found no change or a decrease (Oomes 1990, Mountford et al. 1994). Increases in the number of species were modest and slow. Cutting and grazing together were generally more effective than cutting or grazing alone. On existing grassland, the review found nine studies that tested various methods of adding plant species: adding seed (over-sowing), drilling seed (slot-seeding) and planting small plants (plug-planting), with effects monitored over two to eight years. Three studies found that over-sowing was most effective when combined with either cutting and grazing or de-turfing (Hopkins et al. 1999, Jones & Hayes 1999, Smith et al. 2000). Five studies found that slot-seeding was not very effective (Wells et al. 1989, (Hopkins et al. 1999, Coulson et al. 2001)). Of five studies that tested plug-planting, three found it was initially effective, but survival of the introduced plants fell after two to five years (Wells et al. 1989, (Hopkins et al. 1999), Barratt et al. 2000). Two found 60-70% of plants established (over two or five years) (Boyce 1995, (Hopkins et al. 1999)). On ex-arable land, ten studies tested sowing grassland species, monitoring effects for between one and 20 years. All found increased plant species diversity and enhanced similarity to the target plant community, which was either upland, chalk or neutral (mesotrophic) grassland. Similarity to the target community was quantified for six of these studies and fell between 50% and 81%, usually after two to five years (20 years in one case) (McDonald 1992, Wells et al. 1994, (Stevenson et al. 1995), Pywell et al. 2000, (Pywell et al. 2002)). Cultivation, followed by a relatively high seeding rate, seemed the most effective approach. On upland grassland, adding sulphur to acidify the soil prior to seeding led to effective establishment of sown species in two studies.

    Additional references:

    Wells T.C.E., Cox R. & Frost A. (1989) Diversifying grasslands by introducing seed and transplants into existing vegetation. Pages 283-298 in: G.P. Buckley (ed.) Biological Habitat Reconstruction. Belhaven, London.

    Oomes M.J.M. (1990) Changes in dry matter and nutrient yields during the restoration of species-rich grasslands. Journal of Vegetation Science, 1, 333-338.

    Olff H. & Bakker J.P. (1991) Long-term dynamics of standing crop and species composition after the cessation of fertiliser application to mown grassland. Journal of Applied Ecology, 28, 1040-1052.

    McDonald A.W. (1992) Succession in a 3-year-old flood-meadow near Oxford. Aspects of Applied Biology, 29, 345-352.

    Mountford J.O., Tallowin J.R.B., Kirkham F.W. & Lakhani K.H. (1994) Effects of inorganic fertilisers in flower-rich hay-meadows in the Somerset Levels. Pages 74-85 in: R.J. Haggar, S. Peel (eds.) Grassland Management and Nature Conservation. British Grassland Society Occasional Symposium, 28. British Grassland Society, Reading.

    Wells T.C.E., Pywell R.F. & Welch R.C. (1994) Management and restoration of species-rich grassland. Report to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (BD0306), Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, Monks Wood.

    Boyce D.V.M. (1995) Survival and spread of wildflowers planted into ex-agricultural grassland. Journal of Practical Ecology and Conservation, 1, 38-44.

    Barratt D.R., Mountford J.O., Sparks T.H., Walker K.J., Warman E.A. & Garbutt A. (2000) The effects of field elevation and water levels on the establishment of plug-plants in an ex-arable grassland. Aspects of Applied Biology, 58, 425-430.

    Hayes M.J., Sackville Hamilton N.R., Tallowin J.R.B., Buse A. & Davies O. (2000) Methods of enhancing diversity in upland environmentally sensitive area swards. Report to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (BD1424), Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research, Aberystwyth.

    Pywell R.F., Warman L., Walker K.J. & Sparks T.H. (2000) Reversion of intensive arable land to grass heath and Calluna heath: vegetation aspects. Report to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (BD1502), Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, Monks Wood.

    Hayes M.J. & Sackville Hamilton N.R. (2001) The effect of sward management on the restoration of species-rich grassland: a reassessment of IGER’s grassland restoration experiment, Trawsgoed. Countryside Council for Wales Contract Science Report No. 438, Bangor.

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