The condition of lowland BAP priority grasslands: results from a sample survey of non-statutory stands in England.
This paper provides baseline data on the current extent and condition of a sample of nonstatutory UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) grasslands in the lowlands of England. Approximately 500 non-statutory grassland sites were randomly selected from English Nature's Grassland Inventory. The sample was stratified on the basis of the five lowland BAP priority grassland types: Purple Moor Grass Rush Pastures (PMGRP); Lowland Dry Acid Grassland (LDAG); Lowland Calcareous Grassland (LCG); Lowland Meadows (LM); and Upland Hay Meadows (UHM). Each grassland stand accepted into the sample was mapped and then assessed using a modified version of English Nature's SSSI condition assessment methodology. Survey was split into two components; a stand assessment and a structured walk. A total of 470 sites were included in the final sample, covering 483 separate grassland stands and 22 National Vegetation Classification communities. UHM and LM were in the poorest condition of the priority grassland types, with only 7% and 18% of grassland in these categories in favourable condition respectively, when non-statutory condition assessment targets and thresholds were applied. PMGRP stands did comparatively well, with a relatively high proportion (35%) in favourable condition. When grassland stands no longer conforming to priority grassland types were removed from the sample, and only those stands still fitting to priority grasslands were examined, the overall stand pass rate rose to 27%. The results of this survey provide worrying evidence on the poor state of the lowland grassland resource outside the statutory sites series in England, with meadows faring particularly badly.