Upland hay meadows are a characteristic component of the Pennine Dales ESA. They have a characteristic vegetation community and are listed as a Priority Habitat in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. Securing appropriate management of the meadows is an important ESA objective.
Under the ESA monitoring programme, samples of upland hay meadows were surveyed in the Pennine Dales at intervals, with the last re-survey of all monitoring fields taking place in 1995. Recently, however, there has been a suggestion that the botanical quality of some meadows has declined. It was therefore decided that a resurvey of a sample of meadows would be undertaken in 2002.
The overall aim of the current study is to re-survey meadows in the Pennine Dales ESA to establish whether significant possible change has occurred and to examine possible reasons.
The specific aims are:
1. To establish whether botanical quality of unimproved meadows is being maintained.
2. To establish whether there has been significant change in botanical quality of better quality semi-improved meadows.
3. To relate changes in botanical quality to environmental conditions and management applied.
4. To identify those factors which contribute to the maintenance of high quality unimproved meadows.
5. To provide baseline data on soil nutrient status for all meadows in the sample.
6. To provide information to inform scheme reviews.
Previous analysis of vegetation change has taken place at the ESA level, which may mask changes at finer scales. The current work aims to look in more detail at what is happening to particular target vegetation types.
The new project will build on the botanical monitoring programme instigated when the ESA was first launched in 1987. The original sample was drawn to reflect a range of grassland types, agreement status and tiers. Five quadrats of 1m2 were placed per field on a diagonal or ‘W’ transect, and marked with buried metal plates. The sample was increased with the significant extension of the ESA in 1992.
For the current activity, preliminary work was done by ADAS in early 2002 to identify, by power testing, an optimal sample size for the re-survey, which would allow analysis of change within certain confidence limits. A report was produced for this stage which recommended a sample of just over 200 meadows, stratified to three NVC end-groups reflecting degrees of botanical quality. It also highlighted that there was little additional benefit from sampling five quadrats per field over three quadrats, if the three quadrats sampled were of the target vegetation type.
On this basis, fieldwork will be undertaken in summer 2002. In addition to the botanical recording a soil sample will be collected from around each quadrat and analysed for key variables including pH and soil nutrient status. In order to provide a context for the analysis of botanical/soil data, management information will also be collected, via a questionnaire designed in a standardised format to facilitate statistical analysis.
A report detailing the preliminary work on sample selection was produced in April 2002
A final report will be produced in March 2003.