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Species-rich meadows and pastures are hanging by a thread. As we watch governments deciding on detail and picking payment rates for their respective agri-environment schemes – will policy decisions be lifelines for farmers and nature, or money for old rope?   

It is time for us to take a new look at old grasslands.  

Understanding the value of grasslands

Small square hay bailer in field

Permanent, species-rich grassland needs to be properly valued, prioritised and resourced. We are calling on policymakers to help our brilliant farmers protect these special grasslands, which are the product of decisions by generations of farmers.

Today a strategic approach by governments – in England, Scotland and Wales – is needed to ensure the right decisions for future generations, for nature and for grassland.

Why should governments listen?

Our new report ‘Farming Income for Semi-Natural Grasslands’ shines a light on the risks, rewards and potential in farming nature-rich grasslands. It spells out some of the tough questions facing farming and conservation efforts in England, Wales and Scotland – and what governments can do to help.

The report highlights inspiring farmers who are rethinking the value of species-rich grasslands as a way to rebalance inputs, outputs and profit. Many of them are concluding that permanent low-input grasslands can be key to making farm finances more sustainable.

However, other farmers are re-evaluating these grasslands and warning that agri-environment scheme offers aren’t sufficient to secure the future management of species-rich grasslands, the report reveals. Right now, for example, farmers in Wales are being offered drastically reduced payment rates for habitat management and in England farmers are being offered less for managing species-rich grasslands than they would get on the same land for short term herbal leys of minimal conservation value.

WATCH: Plantlife’s Agricultural Advisor, Hywel Morgan talks about the benefits of sustainable farming:

Cows in a field of grass by a gate in Greena Moor

Governments need to prioritise grasslands

Governments across the UK need to have strategic approaches to permanent grasslands, the report concludes. Grasslands need to be recognised for their multifunctionality when it comes to land use, nature and climate.

Strategic plans for grassland should include:

  • long-term agri-environment schemes to provide a compelling basis for farmers to see permanent species-rich grassland as a viable business option;
  • access to high quality advisory and support services for farmers, including peer-to-peer knowledge transfer on managing high nature value grasslands
  • developing grassland data and specialist capacity within government agencies.

Why are grasslands important?

Permanent grasslands in the UK have been persistently undervalued, our previous work [1] with partners has demonstrated. Alongside producing high-quality food, these grasslands deliver habitats for nature, ecological connectivity, carbon and water storage, flood mitigation, and healthy soils. In summary, species-rich grasslands offer a way to combine food production with nature, in ways more complementary than competitive.

The report ‘Farming Income for Semi-Natural Grasslands’ was funded by Airwick Botanica, and researched and compiled by SLR Consulting, on behalf of a partnership of WWF UK, Plantlife and Pasture for Life.  The partner bodies are very grateful to the inspiring farmers who volunteered case studies.

Our work

Fen Orchid Programme

Fen Orchid Programme

A more than 10 years programme of increasing the population of the Fen Orchid in the UK lead by Plantlife.

A big win for grassland, but farmers need more
Cows in a field of grass by a gate in Greena Moor

A big win for grassland, but farmers need more

After a big government announcement, our experts have been delving into the details on the latest funding changes for farmers.

The Importance of Grasslands Globally

The Importance of Grasslands Globally

This WWF & Plantlife document makes the case for the world to recognise the vital role that grasslands and savannahs can play in addressing the climate and biodiversity crises.