The Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty contains a nationally significant proportion (over 50%) of the UK’s total Jurassic unimproved limestone grassland. These grasslands are fragmented and vulnerable, and in urgent need of intervention to maintain, restore, and most importantly, to expand and connect them by creating new wildflower-rich grassland.
Jurassic limestone grassland in the Cotswolds AONB is home to a large number of rare and declining plants including many species of orchid and other flowers including Pasque Flower and Cotswold Pennycress. Cotswold grassland also supports nationally rare butterflies such as the Chalkhill Blue and the Duke of Burgundy.
Wildflower grassland was created by human activity and has developed since early farmers cleared forested areas to make grazing land for their livestock. In the 1930s 40% of the Cotswolds was covered in Jurassic limestone grassland, today that has fallen to less than 1.5%.
Limestone grassland must be managed to be maintained. Without sensitive grazing grassland areas revert to invasive scrub. A wide range of organisations within the Cotswolds from Natural England to The National Trust, the Wildlife Trusts, local authorities and the Cotswolds Conservation Board work together to try and ensure that the remaining grassland sites in the AONB are properly conserved and enhanced.
The Cotswolds AONB was one of 11 organisations involved with ‘Save our Magnificent Meadows‘, a national project led by Plantlife and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The 3-year project worked with local communities to conserve and restore our wildflower-rich meadows and grasslands.
In late 2018, the Cotswolds Conservation Board was awarded a grant of over £200,000 from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation for Glorious Cotswolds Grasslands – a project which will conserve, restore and create wildflower-rich limestone grasslands across the Cotswolds. The project aims to create the largest network of wildflower rich Jurassic limestone grassland in the country – around 100 hectares in total, over three years.
Building on the legacy of Save our Magnificent Meadows, the aim is to secure the long term management of these precious grasslands through farming and community engagement, alongside practical and educational activity.
The central aims of the project are to:
- Collect seed from existing wildflower rich grasslands, and sow them on sites to restore or create new grasslands
- Provide advice and guidance on managing grasslands to maximise their benefit – for wildlife and people
- Provide practical assistance such as managing scrub and invasive species
- Work with communities and highway authorities to improve road verges to create a network of flower-rich corridors
- Establish a sustainable service to deliver advice, equipment, and advocacy beyond the life of the project.