Despite its future being subject to serious debate, I was delighted to hear that Natural England was able to focus on their core business today: helping to protect our finest wildlife sites.

The Natural England Board has agreed to confirm the notification of a grassland SSSI at  Benty Grange in the Peak District.  You can find out more about this case here.

We’re delighted.  We publicly supported the notification as we believe that this will help protect one of the largest remnants of this species-rich neutral grassland in Derbyshire.  This type of grassland is considered to be of principal importance to the conservation for biodiversity in England (Section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006), and is a priority habitat under the England Biodiversity Strategy 2020.

This decision is particularly pleasing given the horrendous loss of environmentally valuable grasslands that has occurred across England but especially in Derbyshire.  I am also delighted that Natural England stood firm in the face of real pressure from the landowning community who opposed notification. 

This case comes just a week on from a report, commissioned by the RSPB, which outlined the significance of appropriate grazing to support biodiversity in the uplands. 

But it also reminds me of some work that I was involved in during my days at Plantlife.  At the time, we worked with The Wildlife Trusts to document the ongoing loss of grasslands since the 1980s.  While the historic loss was well known, we were shocked by how much had been lost in recent years.  Derbyshire alone had lost 91% of grasslands which had been surviving in 1983 by 1999 due to fertiliser use on unimproved grassland, reseeding and ploughing. Today’s decision will help protect a significant remnant of the Derbyshire wildlife-rich grasslands that remain.

Threats from inappropriate grazing and neglect obviously remain.  So it is good news for nature conservation that Natural England has stepped in to help protect part of our natural heritage.

  • Miles,if you are talking about lowland grassland then Benty Grange would find it very hard to be described like that as that area would in my opinion and all farmers as upland hill land.

    Of course lots of natural grassland lost during war years and after as the alternative in lots of cases was starvation,Any grassland in Derbyshire that was altered in general terms was done before 1983 and those figures of 91% decline between 83 and 99 are absolutely wrong it is just impossible.

  • Sooty - your comment is worth exploring a bit.

    The report produced by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust is summarised in the excellent Green Unpleasant Land (ok I wrote it)

    19000ha of unimproved lowland graslsand was surveyed by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust in 1983. re-survey in 1999 found a 91% decline meaning there is now just 1700ha left. This is still substantially more than many other lowland England counties. Why should we be surprised? There was a wave of agricultural intensification particularly of grasslands fuelled by generous CAP subsidies. Here in Dorset much unimproved grassland was lost in the 80s and a bit more in the 90s. What's left continues to decline in condition, especially outside agri-environment schemes, nature reserves and SSSIs.

    Between 1940 and 1980 97% of lowland meadows and pastures were lost across England. Of course many were ploughed during the war and were never to be seen again.

    You mention moorland, but this is not lowland grassland and definitely not lowland unimproved grassland. Unfortunately most people would have no clue what a lowland unimproved grassland looks like these days partly because the names are totally unhelpful but mainly because they have all disappeared. These grasslands are full of wildlife - birds, insects, flowers. They are full of history and archaeology too. They are also very beautiful but not agriculturally productive and are easily replaced by modern intensive grassland or arable. And that is exactly what has happened in Derbyshire and every other lowland county in the UK. Which is why its so important to protect the few remaining examples such as Benty Grange.

  • Of course there is no evidence that the farmer had any intention of changing this grassland to modern grass mixtures as presumably if he had he would have already done so,maybe he was  keeping it in its old natural state deliberately and perhaps was happy conservationist without SSI.Let me tell you as a retired farmer if he wanted to change that grassland SSI would be useless to stop him,there are more than one way of killing a cat.In fact if he was happy before the SSI may even provoke him.

    Of course the grass at Benty Grange cannot in any sense be calledhigh quality grassland in the agricultural sense as that applies to Ryegrass.

  • Thanks for this Martin. The NE document makes for fascinating reading. When I was at The Grasslands Trust I was following this as an EIA (Agriculture) case. The fact that NE had to go down the SSSI notification route, to prevent the site from being destroyed by intensification, confirms that the EIA Regulations supposedly protecting high quality grassland (and other farmland semi-natural habitats) are totally useless and need a complete overhaul.

    What does concern me is the vociferous counterattack from NFU CLA etc against this notification. I can imagine this case being held up to Secretary of State Paterson as a great example of why NE needs to have its powers removed and its duty to the environment balanced against a duty to encourage/further economic growth. H

  • Travel to Derbyshire a lot and that figure of losing 91%of grassland for those reasons given between 1983 and 1999 is just about the biggest load of rubbish ever put out.

    Of course quite a bit perhaps 20% was lost from 1940 to 1980 but do you seriously think whoever put that 91% figure out actually looked at anything except a map and made the outrageous claim.After you have written it just sit and think about it for no more than 5 seconds needed to conclude that figure is absolutely impossible especially considering the large acreage of moorland in Derbyshire.

    Just a outrageous claim to get more SSIs or something.