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The Rural Stewardship Scheme 2005

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The Rural Stewardship Scheme

Prescriptions for Species Rich Areas

6. Management of Species-rich Grassland

Aim: To encourage the growth and spread of flowering plants and other species in natural grassland, which act as a food supply for insects and a seed source to ensure the continuation of the species.

Some BAP species that may benefit: Nightjar, Skylark, Marsh fritillary, Pearl-bordered fritillary and Great yellow bumblebee.

Eligible sites: Species rich unimproved grassland on inbye land or grazed machair.

Management Requirements:

  • The site must not be grazed or mown for a period of at least 3 consecutive months between 15 March and 15 August;
Cowslips

Cowslips in grassland

OR

  • Where the particular conservation interest of the site would not be met by this approach, a livestock management and grazing regime should be set out in a grazing plan to be agreed with Scottish Ministers.

And, for both options:

  • After 15 August, the grass must be grazed down or topped; and
  • The site must not be used for supplementary feeding of stock.
  • Farmyard manure or lime may be applied only with the prior written agreement of Scottish Ministers.

Also...

Where an alternative management regime is proposed, evidence to support its adoption must accompany your application, for example a letter of support from, or a reference to advisory material produced by, a recognised conservation organisation.

Management of Species-Rich Grassland

box 3.6

Northern brown argus butterfly

Northern brown argus butterfly
Photo: Butterfly Conservation

From the upland hay meadows in Perthshire to the lowland grasslands in the crofting areas, species-rich grasslands show considerable variation. These habitats can be home to a wide variety of flowering plants, invertebrates and farmland birds.

Over the last half century, much of this meadowland has been brought into arable cultivation or 'improved' to increase the yield of hay or silage. Nutrient enrichment by application of fertiliser results in a loss of the species characteristic of these grasslands. Only the few aggressive species that thrive on high nutrient levels survive. Species-rich grasslands have become relatively scarce.

The management prescription for species-rich grasslands aims to enhance the wildlife value by reducing nutrient inputs and ensuring that the seasonal needs of its inhabitants are catered for. The skylark is a ground-nesting bird and needs cover in which to conceal its nest. The survival of the flowering plants will be ensured if they are allowed to fruit and set seed. The flowers will be a source of nectar for butterflies and bees.

Unimproved grassland naturally varies according to soil condition and situation - whether acid, neutral or base-rich, dry or poorly-drained, coastal or inland. When fertiliser, lime and phosphate are applied, this diversity is lost and all become very similar in their species content, particularly where they have been re-sown with agricultural cultivars of rye grass and other species.

The Standard of Good Farming Practice requires that livestock are managed to avoid either overgrazing or undergrazing. Both can lead to a decline in species-richness. Overgrazing can prevent plants from flowering and setting seed and may remove the variety in vegetation structure which invertebrates need, while undergrazing can lead to a dense, matted sward with no room for seedlings to establish. Species-rich grassland is best maintained by keeping an open sward from which the annual growth is removed by grazing or by cutting and aftermath grazing.

Northern brown argus butterfly

This butterfly is found on well-drained, often base-rich, grassland. The caterpillars depend upon rockrose plants. In Scotland, it is found primarily on lightly grazed calcareous grasslands and also on well-drained heather habitats. Light grazing will maintain the sward without risking the loss of the plants upon which the adults and larvae feed.

7. Bracken Eradication Programme for species-rich grassland, coastal or lowland heath

Aim: To eradicate bracken from an area of species-rich grassland, coastal or lowland heath and thus allow the species-rich grassland, coastal or lowland heath vegetation to re-establish itself.

Some BAP species that may benefit: Northern brown argus, Juniper, Slender Scotch burnet and Skylark.

Eligible sites: Species-rich grassland, unimproved grassland, coastal or lowland heath of conservation interest, identified in the Environmental Audit as bracken-invaded.

Management Requirements:

Carry out a systematic programme of treatment and follow-up, where necessary using Asulam or other approved herbicide, in accordance with a Bracken Eradication Programme (BEP) laid out in an approved BEP Management Plan:

plan

  • In year 1, prepare a detailed BEP Management Plan that will incorporate a map drawn to a scale of 1:10000 showing the extent of the invasion, the areas of bracken to be cleared over the life-time of the scheme plan, an estimate of the percentage cover and frond density of the bracken within each area at full frond stage (mid/late June on the West Coast to early August in the eastern Borders) and the locations of any sensitive species and habitats with appropriate buffer zones to ensure their conservation. Where cutting rather than the application of herbicide is to be the means of control, the setting of buffer zones is unnecessary, but the map must show any areas with sensitive species and habitats and where birds are known to nest on the ground.

Bracken

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Vigorous bracken growth
Photo: Derek Robeson - FWAG

Bracken is a common plant which is unpalatable to stock and so can come to dominate large areas. In dense stands it out competes and shades other vegetation and produces a thick layer of litter. Species of our native ground flora can die out and other invertebrates and reptiles reliant on bare ground may be lost. Its dense structure can support some insects and spiders but these tend to be common species able to live in many habitats. Some birds such as whinchat or nightjar will select areas of sparse, open bracken as cover in which to nest, particularly at the edge of scrub or wooded habitats.

  • Ferns

    Ferns such as this one will be damaged by herbicide application
    Photo: Derek Robeson - FWAG

  • As soon as the detailed BEP Management Plan has been prepared, complete and submit the appropriate standard multi-agency application (with a copy of the BEP Management Plan scale map showing the area(s) to be treated) to SEPA and send copies to SNH and the Local Authority Environmental Services. The applicant (or contractor) will need to allow the consultees at least 15 working days to consider and respond to the application for consent. Please note however that, where only mechanical control is to be used, the consultations/notifications requirements under the Control of Pesticides Regulations (1986) do not apply.
  • Submit a properly completed claim for the first year's BEP management payment to SEERAD together with: letters of consent and the final version of the BEP Management Plan with SNH-approved map. Such a claim will not be considered valid unless accompanied by the required documentation.
  • In year 2, or in year 1 if all the requirements detailed in the paragraphs above have first been met, carry out primary treatment involving the treatment of bracken either with Asulam (or other approved herbicide) or by cutting twice during the growing season. Cutting will cause greater ground disturbance and could damage, disturb or destroy nests, nestlings or sitting birds if carried out during the nesting season. Therefore, within areas immediately surrounding nest sites, the first cut should be administered by hand to minimise disturbance. It will be the applicant's responsibility to ensure that the required prior notice is given to all statutory consultees in advance of any aerial spraying and that the contractor is provided with a copy of the map to ensure that the treatment is carried out in accordance with the approved BEP management plan.
  • Follow-up action will involve repeated annual treatment to clear any bracken re-growth. Where chemical control is used, such follow-up action normally requires a spot-treatment approach. If cutting is the method adopted, it is essential that the programme of twice-yearly treatments continues for the duration of the BEP. Only by repeated cutting of the bracken fronds will the food reserves in the plant's rhizomes be depleted sufficiently to cause its death.

Is bracken eradication always appropriate?

It is not always appropriate or indeed desirable to clear bracken entirely from a site. Indeed, there are some situations in which bracken is best left alone:

  • in gullies or steep slopes where regeneration of more desirable vegetation will be difficult or impossible to achieve and soil erosion may result
  • over mires, gullies or within woodland where other plant species, e.g. ferns, and plant communities may be damaged
  • close to ponds, lochs or watercourses
  • on long-established dense stands of bracken where no other plant species has survived beneath the canopy and a programme of vegetation recovery is not feasible
  • where a low density of bracken cover can readily be maintained to conserve a valuable habitat for early flowering plants, e.g. bluebell and violet, ground-nesting birds, e.g. twite, and invertebrates, e.g. pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly.

The locations of any such 'sensitive' sites must be marked on the BEP Management Plan map with appropriate buffer zones to ensure their conservation.

What sort of commitment is involved?

Clearing bracken from an area is a long-term project. A bracken eradication programme will involve: the drawing up of a detailed BEP Management Plan in year 1; primary treatment by chemical or mechanical means in year 2 (or in year 1 if all the requirements have first been met) and aftercare spanning the remaining years of the RSS agreement. Such aftercare may involve annual spot-treatment of any bracken re-growth or, if mechanical control is adopted, continued twice-yearly cutting, and also mechanical disturbance or gathering of the litter and stock control where necessary. If the agreement is renewed at the end of 5 years, the participant will be obliged to continue with the follow-up action on the areas addressed under the BEP during the first 5 years.

Bracken eradication should only be contemplated over an area where there is reasonable prospect of achieving the desired result within the timescale. For this reason, rather than attempt to treat too large an area at the outset, you should concentrate your efforts upon a number of small blocks - those where the regeneration of underlying vegetation is paramount. Where the bracken canopy cover exceeds 75% at full frond stage, it should be clearly demonstrated that vegetation of conservation interest would be enhanced through this measure. The optimum size of the area(s) to be tackled under the Bracken Eradication Programme will depend upon such factors as the methods that can be employed given the nature of the terrain and the anticipated availability of labour and equipment at the appropriate times.

What detail is required on the Environmental Audit?

An outline only of the maximum extent of the area(s) to be covered by the Bracken Eradication Programme (BEP) is to be drawn on the Environmental Audit map submitted as part of the application to join the RSS. This will allow SEERAD, when appraising the application, to verify that the bracken infestation exists at that location(s) and that it exists within an area of species-rich grassland, coastal or lowland heath or moorland with conservation interest.

It will be assumed that 15% of this area will not be treated with herbicide in order to protect sensitive species and habitats. Consequently, the figure used to calculate the payment for this prescription will be restricted to 85% of the area outlined on the EA map.

Forward planning

Forward planning is essential. This will involve surveying each area and, based upon the results of the survey, establishing the methods to be employed to carry out both the primary and follow-up treatments and the resources required. The optimum period for mapping bracken frond density and coverage is at full frond stage (mid/late June on the West Coast to early August in the eastern Borders). The locations of any sensitive species and habitats need to be identified and appropriate buffer zones set.