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Techniques to enhance the establishment and persistence of poor-performing species in grassland restoration - BD1459

Description
The extent of species-rich lowland semi-natural grassland in the UK has declined significantly during the 20th Century and restoration of this important habitat type is seen as a means to stem further losses in this key biodiversity resource. However, restoration efforts are regularly affected by constraints on the survival of poor-performing, specialist species for a wide range of UK grassland types, and this project will seek to identify these constraints. Agri-environment options are a key tool for delivering restoration of species rich semi-natural grassland and therefore this project will also seek to develop and test practical management prescriptions to enhance the establishment of these species under agri-environment schemes. These will focus on the provision of microsites to facilitate the establishment and survival of poor-performing habitat specialists. Evidence to inform the enhancement of agri-environment options will contribute to the delivery of biodiversity objectives and conservation targets.

A recent Defra-funded analysis (BD1433) of attempts to restore species-rich grassland on farmland identified a large number of species which either failed to establish or persist in the long-term. These poor performing species are habitat specialists associated with infertile soils and those exhibiting the stress-tolerator life history strategy. As a result, restored grasslands often lack characteristic species which are constant components of the species-rich target communities. Moreover, some of the poor performers are food plants for BAP-listed invertebrate species of conservation importance. Failure to address the issue of poor-performing, specialist species could lead to a uniformity of restored grasslands across Britain, thus harming, or at least diminishing, the potential benefits of habitat restoration for regional and national biodiversity.

Several studies (BD1401-4; BD1431) have concluded that the primary reason for the failure of these poor-performing species to establish and persist under restoration is due to some form of ‘microsite limitation’, meaning that the abiotic and biotic conditions necessary for seedling emergence and/or survival are unsuitable in some way. However, there is very limited information on the specific microsite conditions required to for these poor-performing species. Recent field-scale experiments (BD1425) have identified a range of low-cost, practical techniques to create microsites to establish a range of generalist wildflower species in productive grasslands. Research is therefore urgently required to determine the precise microsite requirements of these poor-performing species and, in light of this, adapt the effective field-scale techniques developed under BD1425 to enhance the establishment of these species under the new Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme.

Objective
The aim of this project is twofold: (i) to identify the constraints on the survival of poor-performing, specialist species for a wide range of UK grassland types, and (ii) to develop and test practical management prescriptions to enhance the establishment of these species under the agri-environment schemes.
Project Documents
• FRP - Final Report : BD1459 final report   (2150k)
• TPS - Two Page Summary : BD1459 2pg sum final   (291k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2007

To: 2012

Cost: £883,098
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Institute of Grassland and Environment Research (IGER)
Keywords
Agricultural Land              
Environmental Protection              
Grasslands              
Land