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Botanical Survey of Lowland Calcareous Grassland in Agri-Environment Schemes - MA01018

Description
Background and Introduction

Lowland Calcareous Grassland (LCG) is a Priority Habitat under the Biodiversity Action Plan. It is valued for its characteristic and diverse flora, which in turn supports a diverse invertebrate assemblage. However, maintenance of the botanical and invertebrate interest of calcareous grassland is dependent on appropriate grazing management. LCG is a major component of the South Downs and South Wessex Downs ESAs and is also found in the Cotswold Hills ESA, as well as in key CSS target areas such as the North Downs and North Wessex/Berkshire Downs.

ESAs have been subject to a programme of monitoring since inception. Environmental baselines were laid down and have been subject to periodic resurvey to allow assessment of the impact of scheme management. The Countryside Stewardship Scheme has also been subject to monitoring, including a module designed to characterise the overall quality of land entered into the scheme and to quantify the extent of Biodiversity Action Plan Priority Habitats. Hence, baselines were established for grassland habitats within both schemes.

The development of an integrated agri-environment scheme monitoring programme has involved a move towards commissioning thematic monitoring projects that cut across the main agri-environment schemes. Projects are framed around the need to report on the impact of the schemes on individual habitats. This process has been given further impetus by the intention to merge the existing schemes into a new Environmental Stewardship (ES) scheme from 2005. This project will assess the impact of agri-environment management to date on the lowland calcareous grassland resource under agreement.

The policy customer for this research is Conservation Management Division (CMD) of Defra.

Requirement

This project will involve a comprehensive survey of the condition of LCG within the ESA and CS Schemes, entailing a programme of targeted resurveys of existing monitoring sites that are still under agreement, and undertaking analyses to quantify and explain any changes observed since the baseline surveys. Evaluation should address changes observed at the individual scheme level (differentiating between different ESAs as well as between ESA and CSS), and providing a thematic assessment of the impact of ESA management on grasslands in the ESAs being surveyed.

The programme of botanical resurvey will address existing LCG monitoring sites in three ESAs and under CSS:
· South Wessex Downs ESA (Approximately 30 Sites)
· Cotswold Hills ESA (Approximately 40 Sites)
· South Downs ESA (Approximately 20 Sites)
· Countryside Survey Module 2 LCG Sample (Approximately 50 Sites)

The contractor will undertake botanical recording in each plot or quadrat specified, using the same methodology that was used for the baseline surveys of the plots:

In addition to resurveying the plots as described, where plots or sites are found to contain BAP priority habitats the stand in which the plot is situated will be mapped (using GPS) and a condition assessment undertaken, using the appropriate JNCC common standards methodology. A soil sample will also be collected from each plot.

The contractor will analyse the data in such a way as to provide a full description of (i) the vegetation community present within each plot, in terms of the National Vegetation Classification (NVC) framework; and (ii) changes in the vegetation within the plots, including community variables, vegetation composition, vegetation structure and, where significant, individual species performance; and will (iii) evaluate and explain changes within and differences between plots. The evaluation will include coverage of changes within and between ESAs and should, where possible, consider findings in the context of existing scheme objectives and performance indicators.

Outputs

The contractor will produce a report presenting the findings in each ESA and CSS separately as well as providing a thematic assessment of the impact of management in similar tiers or habitats across the schemes being evaluated, analysing the findings to assess the impact of such factors as management tier and prescription, length of time under agreement and soil nutrient status.

Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2004

To: 2005

Cost: £111,600
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Just Ecology
Keywords
Agri-Environment              
Biodiversity              
Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS)              
Environmental Protection              
Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESA)              
Grassland              
Habitats              
Land              
Plant              
Soil              
Fields of Study
Environmental Protection - Agriculture