Chesterfield, 19 June 2019
Joanne Makin, Ecological Restoration and Habitat Creation Special Interest Group Committee
The ‘Practical Restoration and Creation: Lowland and Uplands Grasslands’ conference was the first of its kind organised by the Ecological Restoration and Habitat Creation Special Interest Group and was fully booked with 120 delegates and speakers. Focusing on lowland and upland grasslands, this conference was split into three informative sessions covering ‘Planning & Design’, ‘Implementation’ and ‘The Long Term’. The conference was structured to incite discussion and gave opportunities for questions and debate at the end of each session.
The first morning session focused on ‘Planning and Design’ and Professor Richard Pywell opened the conference by sharing a journey of grassland restoration research from Terry Wells’ pioneering work in the early 1970s, right through to the present day. This was followed by an exploration of the Why, What and Where of grassland communities with Penny Anderson. Why? The importance of grassland communities and the ecosystems services they provide. What? Grassland communities must reflect the soil, climate, aspect, hydrology and geography of any given location. The challenge set was to ‘know where you are in the country by what (grassland community) you have grown’. Where? With over 3 million ha of species-rich grassland lost, what is left is mostly small and fragmented. Delegates were encouraged to be ambitious with their restoration and creation projects.
The second session looking at ‘Implementation’ kicked off with the importance of soils in grassland creation and restoration practises. Bruce Lascelles explained the importance of understanding soil forming factors and the soils you have, including the texture, chemistry, hydrology and, importantly, structure. The fact that soil structure can be easily destroyed was discussed. Dr Trevor Dines then shared his experiences and lessons learnt when restoring and creating grasslands for native wildflowers, including the importance of soil fertility and a low phosphorus index, as well as bare earth and yellow rattle in establishment was explained. When looking to create and restore grasslands a decision tree should be followed: Natural regeneration -> Green hay -> tailored seed mixtures -> generic seed mix (most -> least preferential). Before the lunch break, Richard Scott shared his journey and experiences in practical creation of grasslands, emphasising the links between people and nature and that ‘nature still draws a crowd’.
The afternoon session focused on the ‘Long Term’ with speakers sharing a range of experiences, from challenging urban sites and floodplain meadows, to upland hay meadows. Emma Rothero shared insights into floodplain meadow restoration for Natural Capital and Ruth Starr-Keddle shared experiences from upland hay meadow restoration in the North Pennines AONB. Professor Ian Trueman provided a detailed account of ‘getting and keeping the flora’ and the transferability and persistence of different species when establishing new grasslands. Phil Sterling from the Butterfly Conservation Trust stressed that ‘grasslands do not have to be old to be interesting’ and by controlling the factors that make grass grow – namely getting the sub-soil and top-soil right – we can create good habitat for invertebrates. The take home message was ‘no more topsoil’ in urban environments, such as highway verges, to generate diverse grasslands. Graham Jones told the story of the RSPB Dee Estuary Reserve, another good example of how grassland creation can benefit a range of wildlife, in this case wet grassland creation benefits wading birds.
Following an interesting debate, the conference was summed up by Nick Coppin with his closing thoughts: know your site and your soils, soil fertility is not the only factor to consider, and lastly patience – don’t rush, restoration and creation of grasslands takes time! Thanks to all the speakers, delegates and attendees, as well as the Special Interest Group for a fantastic conference.
You can find PDFs of the conference presentations over in the Resources Hub.