I think there is a lack of appreciation in the UK for its native grasslands despite them being a semi-natural habitat like woodland. Unlike woodland, grasslands are perceived to be unnatural areas created and maintained by people for agricultural interests. However, more and more evidence shows that our woodlands are not as wild as was previously thought as they lack the ‘keystone’ species that would have created a variety of habitats more open than had been suggested.
Today I visited one of the best meadows in the vale of Taunton at Ash Priors common. Where there are areas of semi-natural grassland maintained by cutting next to the marshy areas of woodland. There was plenty of different species in flower, including birds-foot trefoil, yellow rattle, meadow buttercups, common spotted orchids and red clover. It was especially interesting to see how yellow rattle seemed to prevent the rapid growth of grass and encourage other wildflowers. It seemed as wherever rattle grew there were a few orchids amongst it.
As could be expected, the common was relatively quiet although there was the odd car or cyclist on the roads that run through the meadows and woods. I would imagine the nature reserve has been very useful to the locals especially during the pandemic. It seems a shame that many areas, including my local village once supported common land that has really just faded away over time with land enclosure even though it was quite extensive. It is believed common land were some of the last places in Europe that hadn’t been significantly modified by people, a kind of wilderness.
This makes our grassland habitats in places such as Ash common even more valuable. They provide a link to the past and also a natural resource for the future. A relic from a time when species-rich hay meadows were common across the country and place for people to see and experience. Dismissed as farmland but now distinctive from the surrounding countryside, grassland needs to be protected, enhanced and expanded in the UK.