Restoring Species Rich Grassland
Dudmaston National Trust Property, Quat, Bridgnorth, Shropshire, WV15 6QW
‘I manage the grounds of Dudmaston Hall near Bridgnorth which has an area of old parkland which no longer has historic grassland species present. Part of it was converted to arable and the remainder has become ‘improved’ through fertilizing and grazing by a dairy herd. I wanted to investigate which species would have been present within this grassland, making this as local as possible in order to keep regional identity.’
I knew that Bridgnorth Cemetery has a good range of species within the grassland so I wondered whether burial site grassland would give me information as to what the Dudmaston parkland would have been like prior to ploughing and fertilizing. I asked Caring for God’s Acre if they could survey the cemetery and other burial grounds near to Dudmaston in order to get a full picture.
John Handley, a local botanist, carried out botanical surveys of 7 burial grounds near to Dudmaston. The red dots on the map indicate the 7 sites.
John completed a DAFOR assessment which gives an indication of how abundant different plants are within a site. DAFOR stands for Dominant, Abundant, Frequent, Occasional and Rare and is a commonly used survey method.
John then separated out woodland plants and the garden escapes to give a list of grassland species. This allowed him to assign the grasslands to a National Vegetation Classification (NVC) category, which in this case is MG5c Cynosurus cristatus-Centaurea nigra grassland, Danthonia decumbens sub-community. This gives really useful information for restoring the Dudmaston grassland.
The National Trust will use the report to plan a species mix for the parkland. We will use a variety of ways to propagate the plants; plug planting, seed planting on molehills and strewing species rich hay are all likely.
Costs and Income
In this instance a professional botanist carried out surveys of the seven burial grounds and included technical analysis and assessment. This cost £300. Whilst this is really useful and informative, it would also have been helpful to have had a much simpler report, perhaps done by a volunteer. The Burial Ground Botanical Companion contains a simple grassland survey of this type.
Results and Benefits
John’s surveys found:
- 297 species across the 7 sites with Bridgnorth cemetery topping the list with 163 plants (this is also the largest site). Tuckhill churchyard, which had the least, still had an impressive 87 plants
- Of these 297 species, 44 are ‘woodland’ plants and 54 are ‘garden’ plants, either intentionally planted within flowerbeds and on graves, or else escapes from neighbouring gardens. This leaves 199 native grassland
Of these 199, there are 27 naturally occurring ‘axiophytes’. Axiophytes are plants which tell us that here is an interesting and important habitat; in this case ‘species-rich grassland’; another name for old, undisturbed meadow.
Habitat creation and restoration is not easy and there is a risk of either introducing plants which are not suited to local conditions or of using generic ‘wildflower mixes’ which do not reflect local differences and diversity. Grassland habitats are now so fragmented that there is no guarantee that wild plants will colonise without human intervention and so having a clear idea of what ‘should’ be there is really helpful.
Issues and Lessons Learnt
This survey showed how variable the condition of burial grassland can be. Having seven sites gives a better overview than one would have given.
Conclusions and Next Steps
Peter Carty: ‘I had not thought to consider burial grounds when looking for local grasslands. Normally I would search for Sites of Special Scientific Interest, nature reserves or other designated sites in order to get data on local conditions. This survey will be invaluable, not least because the sites are so close to Dudmaston and have the same geology and soils’
Caring for God’s Acre Action Pack Sheets:
Section A sheet 2 Caring for Grassland
Section A sheet 3 Cutting Long Grass and Dealing with Grass Cuttings
Section B sheet 10 Surveying for Plants and Animals