The UK’s remaining species-rich grasslands now cover a minute fraction of the area they once covered, even relatively recently in the early 20th Century. There were once natural wildflower meadows in every parish – today only 2% of the meadows that existed in the 1930’s remain. Nearly 7.5 million acres of wildflower meadow have been lost so far and they are still being destroyed. Of those that do survive, around 75% occur in small fragments and remain vulnerable to destruction.
Meadows and species-rich grasslands can support a huge range of wildlife including wildflowers, fungi, bees, flies, beetles, spiders, moths, butterflies, reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, bats and birds. In the UK, more priority species (for conservation attention) are associated with grasslands than with any other habitat type. Only 1% of the UK’s land area now supports species-rich grassland and only 2% of the UK’s grasslands are species-rich. Species-rich grasslands also provide other environmental benefits including carbon storage, water retention to prevent flooding and habitat for crop pollinators, they are also archaeologically important.
Culturally speaking grasslands have a long history of inspiring artists and writers such as Constable and Shakespeare, they are the landscape setting for many of our most important historical battles, village greens have long been the hub of rural community life, and many a common day phrase take their origin from grasslands..."off to pastures new" and "chalk and cheese".
The decline and loss of meadows and species-rich grasslands is without parallel in the history of nature conservation in the UK. What had been a widespread and ubiquitous part of agriculture and people’s daily lives, disappeared altogether in the space of a single generation. Six million acres of grassland was ploughed to grow cereals during the Second World War and this started a process which would see the area of lowland meadows decline by 97% in the following 40 years. Other species-rich grasslands met a similar, albeit marginally less catastrophic, fate.
Save Our Magnificent Meadows has helped to address the lack of public awareness of the importance and plight of meadows and species-rich grasslands.