The National Trust has announced its largest ever wildflower grassland project as part of its efforts to help save this threatened habitat and tackle the nature and climate crises.
In a project which will eventually create pockets of species rich grassland across 70 miles of the north Devon landscape, 86 hectares (213 acres) of land has been sown with 1.3 tonnes of specially selected seed over the past few weeks.
These fields, an area equivalent to 120 football pitches, will become ‘donor’ sites for the remainder of the project over the next eight years.
As part of the conservation charities ambitions to improve habitats for nature which benefit both wildlife and people, the project will be scaled up year-on-year to eventually improve the wildflower diversity of 1,275 hectares (3,151 acres) of grassland, equivalent to 1,786 football pitches.
Joshua Day, Project Co-ordinator at the National Trust in north Devon said: “Ninety-seven per cent of species rich grasslands – the equivalent to 4.5 million acres – have been lost nationally over the last 100 years with only one per cent remaining today.
“This has had a devastating impact on our native wildflowers with once common species such as eyebrights and Cowslips becoming ever rarer, and a disastrous impact on the species that are reliant on these flower rich habitats such as bumble bees and other pollinators.
“However, lowland grassland creation is a very effective and relatively quick way to improve habitats for wildlife and boost biodiversity.
“For the best chance of success it’s vital to sow the right types of plants in the right places.
“This will ensure we grow the right complementary wildflowers for the area which will help wildlife that already lives there, as well as attracting new species.”
The creation of the new grassland habitats will help towards the charities ambitions to create 25,000 hectares of priority habitat by 2025.
Ben McCarthy, Head of Nature Conservation and Restoration Ecology at the National Trust added: “The on-going loss of flower rich grasslands has seen the colour drain from our countryside.
“Flower rich hay meadows and pastures are a hugely important habitat that remain under constant threat from a range of pressures including agricultural intensification and inappropriate management.
“These colourful and species rich habitats are critical to conserving many of our threatened plants as well as the wildlife that rely on them.”
Once the seed starts to grow, sheep will be allowed onto the site to graze to keep the grass short over the winter months.
They’ll then be moved to other grazing sites in the spring and the wildflowers allowed to grow tall and bloom from May to August, before returning after the summer harvest.