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Tuesday, 07 July 2015

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Cumbria grasslands suffering ‘catastrophic decline’

A DRAMATIC decline in Cumbria’s wildlife-rich grasslands has prompted wildlife campaigners to urge the government to save what is left.

Grasslands are vital habitat for pollinating insects, birds and other wildlife, as well as helping to prevent erosion and storing carbon.

Research gathered from around the country reveals that many locally important grassland sites are vanishing under pressure from development, agricultural practices or neglect.

In Cumbria, surveys of upland hay meadow Local Wildlife Sites between 2008-2011 led to the deselection of 35 out of 128 sites. At 15 of the sites surveyed, the traditional hay meadows which had previously been present had completely disappeared.

The grasslands have mainly been lost from valleys in the Lake District, with most losses in the eastern fells.

The Wildlife Trusts are pressing for more to be done to protect this valuable natural resource. The Trusts are calling for greater protection of grasslands under existing rules, and for more species-rich sites to get statutory protection.

They also want farmers to be rewarded for managing important areas and for stronger requirements to protect grasslands under the system for paying agricultural subsidies.

Stephen Trotter, director of the Wildlife Trusts, England, says there needs to be a national inventory of important grasslands, with monitoring of sites, and for more work to restore wildlife-rich grasslands.

He said: “Wildlife-rich grasslands have been in trouble for decades but our newly collated information shows that the remaining hay meadows and flower-rich pastures are still at risk. We’re seeing an insidious yet catastrophic decline. The pressures are enormous.

“The government is making decisions on how it will implement the greening measures of the Common Agricultural Policy and how it will target grants to farmers.

“We are calling on ministers to take full account of the value of our remaining wildlife-rich grasslands and the threats they face as they make these decisions.”

The Trusts say information gathered from around the country showed many examples of grasslands being lost or no longer meeting the criteria for selection as Local Wildlife Sites because the habitats and species that made them special have vanished.

Local Wildlife Sites are only protected via the planning system, as their designation is not statutory, but they are an important wildlife resource in many parts of the country.

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