Weald Meadows Initiative
Working to conserve ecosystem productivity through meadow preservation: an ecosystem approach...
Wild-flower meadows have, for thousands of years, formed part of the British Landscape. These meadows are traditionally managed through the process of hay-making and/or grazing as opposed to more recent intensive farming practices. These meadows are unimproved pasture and contain a diverse mix of native wildflowers and grasses which are vital for supporting bumblebees and other pollinating insects. In addition to their role in pollination and providing heritage and aesthetic values, these habitats offer a wide range of other ecosystem services including food and water provision, genetic resources, water flow regulation, erosion regulation and pest control by supporting herbivorous crop pests.
In Sussex, wild-flower meadows have undergone a dramatic decline and work conducted by the Weald Initiative in 2007 found evidence of a further 50% decline in this habitat around Heathland in the past decade.
The Weald Meadows Partnership has been working for the past 16 years to conserve and, where possible, restore meadows across the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The High Weald contains a number of important pollinators including Bumblebees and moths. This project is raising awareness of the importance of meadow habitats through working with the public and landowners and demonstrating what can be achieved through reversing the decline of this habitat.
Ecosystem Service Benefits:
Pollination & Food Production:
The economic value of pollinators to wildflowers is thought to be significant; whereas the role pollinators’ play in food production is vital. As such the protection and restoration of species rich grassland will generate more diverse and resilient pollinator communities, allowing a greater diversity of food crops to be produced and ensure that the decline of one pollinator species does not have a direct knock on effect to the supply of food products.
Species rich grassland can support large numbers of pest predators that affect the productivity of agricultural yields. As such maintaining and increasing the extent of species rich meadows will help to increase crop yields and reduce the need for pesticides.
Water flow regulation and water provision:
Increasing the extent of species rich unimproved grassland will help to reduce the rate of water run off and as such help to reduce flood risk. Studies have found that grasslands can reduce water runoff by 20% in comparison to cropland and by 50% in comparison to urban areas. Unimproved meadow will additionally help to reduce the nitrate content of groundwater supplies and as such reduce the need to high energy purification of drinking water and help to reduce pollution levels in are river systems.
Species rich meadows are important contributors to biodiversity and genetic materials and support and facilitate movement of invertebrate populations. As such their conservation will help to maintain gene flow and fitness of many of Sussex rare and specialist insects.
A number of studies indicate that a diverse and visible assemblage of wildflowers make important contributions to landscape aesthetics and their associated human health benefits.
Useful links and further information:
The Grassland Trust (no longer in existence)
The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) (Grassland ESS)