When we wander about the countryside surely the thing we encounter most often is grass in its various guises, but had you realised just how many guises there are and just how valuable that grass is for our wildlife?
Meadows for example can have a rich variety of flora associated with them and with these delightful flowers come wonderful insects, bees and butterflies being the most obvious, but there are many others that are all equal parts in the food chain, part of the rich biodiversity. Thoughtfully, organisations like the Yorkshire Dales National Park and Nidderdale AONB recognise this critically important habitat and strive to protect and enhance it, and many farmers are wonderful supporters of these initiatives.
Sadly, however, more and more fields are being sown with rye grass. Perennial rye grass is an important pasture and forage plant, and is used in many pasture seed mixes. In fertile soil it produces a high grass yield. Sadly, it also out-competes rarer species of grasses and plants. You can usually tell it’s there because there are no flowers in it, simple. Paradoxically, our agri-environment schemes give funding to species-rich grasslands that do not have an abundance of rye grasslands.
This isn’t a scientific paper, just an observation, but this rye grass is used to feed animals, often kept in vast sheds and infrequently let out, these vast sheds produce equally vast amounts of cow muck, and what do we do with the cow muck, we spread it on to the fields where it soaks into water courses, pollutes our rivers and of course helps more grass to grow whilst subduing wild flowers.
Other types of grassland which we see less and less of include chalk or limestone grasslands (calcareous) which support huge butterfly and moth species, as well as being home to a number of rare orchids, and acid grassland which occurs on areas of infertile soil unsuitable for growing crops and was traditionally used as common grazing land. These grasslands are characterised by clumps of vegetation interspersed with areas of open ground. Species found here include heathers, mosses and lichens. Marshy grasslands, also known as purple moor grass and rush pasture, are characterised by tussocks of purple moor-grass and rushes, and these grasslands provide an important habitat for a number of species, including ground nesting birds and insects. In Scotland in particular there is a wonderful species of rich machair with its impressive variety of flowers. It is also home to plenty of invertebrates, particularly bees, as well as a number of breeding birds.
These grasslands are each much more pleasant to walk through, each far better for the environment and associated biodiversity and each needing protection. So when you walk through the countryside wondering where the butterflies have gone, why the skylarks aren’t as prolific as you once remember, even lamenting the lovely orchids you once enjoyed here but no longer flower, just bear in mind that not all custodians of the countryside (beware of countryside myths) are protectors of our natural heritage. Yet they all get payments from our purse, our taxes keep their tractors in red diesel, surely in return we can expect a properly policed system which enhances our biodiversity – not endless fields of rye grass, that’s not too much to ask, it’s just give and take.
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