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Botanical Survey of Rough Grassland in the Exmoor, North Peak and South West Peak ESAs - MA01019

Background and Introduction

The Environmentally Sensitive Areas Scheme was the first Agri-Environment Scheme and was established by MAFF in 1987 with the aim of providing an incentive to land managers to protect land from intensification in defined areas of significant wildlife, landscape and historic interest. Each ESA was subject to a programme of monitoring, with an environmental baseline laid down. As the ESA scheme evolved, objectives and performance indicators were developed for each area, with the monitoring programme designed to allow assessments of performance against these indicators.

Subsequent development work has supported a move towards a common thematic monitoring programme for agri-environment schemes, with sampling based around the need to report on the impact of the schemes on individual priority habitats. This process has been given further impetus by the intention to merge the existing schemes into a new Environmental Stewardship scheme from 2005.

Marginal rough grassland is a widespread habitat within upland ESAs and can be found in both unenclosed and enclosed situations. The habitat can typically have several components, including areas of acid/neutral grassland, bracken and wet flushes. Within most ESAs the broad management approach has been to seek enhanced management by placing restrictions on stocking rates and/or grazing periods. This resurvey will therefore explore the effect of ESA management on characteristic areas of rough grassland.

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


This project will encompass a programme of resurveys of existing rough grassland plots that are still under agreement in three ESAs, undertaking analysis to quantify and explain changes since the baseline surveys in each ESA, and to provide a thematic assessment of the impact of ESA management on rough grassland in the ESAs being surveyed.

The contractor will undertake a programme of botanical resurvey of existing grassland monitoring plots in three ESAs:
· Exmoor ESA
· North Peak ESA
· South West Peak ESA

Two different types of ESA monitoring strategy are included within the current project, although the same field method was used for baseline surveys. The B1 strategy and associated survey activities (Exmoor and North Peak) were aimed at enclosed land and involved locating a single plot per site; the B18 strategy and surveys were designed to reflect large unenclosed grazing units and hence multiple plots were sited within a grazing unit, as shown below:

Exmoor B1: Random selection of 25 sites (fields), from the Exmoor National Park Grassland Inventory. 1 randomly placed plot per site. ESA agreement and non-agreement land.
Exmoor B18: 6 grazing units randomly selected from predominately grass dominated moorland grazing units under ESA agreement. In each 4 permanently marked plots were randomly located (24 plots in all).
North Peak B1: Random sample of 35 sites (30 Tier 1B ESA and 5 plots non-agreement land). The sample is stratified by unimproved and semi-improved grassland type categories. 1 randomly placed ADAS plot per site.
South West Peak B18: Random sample of 28 sites, stratified by agreement status. 1 randomly placed ADAS plot per site.

The contractor will undertake botanical recording in each plot to be sampled, using the same field method that was used previously for the baseline surveys of the plots. However, note that for B1 plots (Exmoor and North Peak), the current survey should adopt the revised methodology suggested by ADAS (1999), i.e. recording in 16 rather than 32 nests of each plot. For B18 plots (Exmoor, SW Peak), all 32 nests should be recorded as previously.

Additionally, for B1 plots only, where any plot falls within a stand that meets the criteria of a Biodiversity Action Plan Priority Habitat, the stand should be mapped and a condition assessment undertaken utilising the appropriate JNCC common standards methodology.

Again, for B1 plots only, a soil sample should be collected from each plot, which will be analysed for Organic Matter content (%) via loss on ignition, Extractable P, K and Mg (mg/l), total N (%) and pH.

The contractor will analyse the data in such a way as to provide full details 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, performance of individual species; and will (iii) evaluate and explain changes within and differences between plots. The evaluation should include coverage of changes within and between ESAs and should, where possible, consider findings in the context of existing scheme objectives and performance indicators.


The contractor will produce a report presenting the findings in each ESA as well as providing a thematic assessment of the impact of ESA management in similar tiers or habitats across the three 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: £81,600
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Just Ecology
Environmental monitoring              
Environmental Protection              
Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESA)              
Hill Farming              
Fields of Study
Environmental Protection - Agriculture