Lowland Calcareous Grassland

Lowland Calcareous Grassland - John Miller - Explore Kent

Current Status

Lowland calcareous grassland is characterised by a rich community of grassland plants adapted to shallow lime-rich soils most often derived from chalk and limestone rocks. As well as supporting a wide range of widespread plants such as bird’s foot trefoil, common rock rose, common knapweed, field scabious and dwarf thistle, calcareous grasslands also contain an exceptional diversity of rare plants. Kent’s grasslands support a number of nationally rare species at the edge of their northern distribution such as late spider orchid and monkey orchid. Calcareous grasslands typically support rich invertebrate communities including many scarce butterfly species such as Adonis Blue and Silver-spotted Skipper.

The Kent Habitat Survey 2003 recorded 1,658 ha of lowland calcareous grassland (20 % of the south east chalk grassland resource) , of which only a third is notified as SSSI, although a further third lies within Local Wildlife Sites. Latest figures suggest that of the 1658ha approximately 50% is managed under agri environment schemes, much of this covering non SSSI sites.

Factors

  • Neglect and scrub encroachment: Lack of grazing management is the main threat to the habitat, with species diversity declining in rank grassland followed by its eventual loss to scrub and woodland.
  • Inappropriate management: Losses to agriculture are now controlled by the EIA (uncultivated land and semi-natural areas) regulations 2001, but inappropriate management such as overgrazing, stock feeding or horse pasturing affect the quality of the habitat.
  • Habitat fragmentation leading to isolated populations of certain species: This is a long term threat to the habitat, as fragmentation hinders the response of species to factors such as climate change.
  • Recreation: Downland is a popular venue for informal recreation. With increased access to the countryside there is potential for damage and disturbance to the habitat from unmanaged access.

Current Action

  • Lowland calcareous grassland is a targeted habitat under agri-environmental schemes for maintenance, restoration, enhancement and creation.
  • The Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Management Plan 2004-2009 contains policies adopted by Local Authorities within the AONB to conserve and enhance biodiversity. Current actions include applications to the Heritage Lottery Fund for the Medway Gap “Valley of Visions” Landscape Partnership and the Dover & Folkestone landscape Action Plan partnership.
  • Under its Public Service Agreement target, English Nature is targeting areas of calcareous grassland within SSSIs to achieve at least 95% in favourable condition by 2010.

Objectives

  1. Maintain the extent of all existing lowland calcareous grassland sites.
  2. Restore and enhance all neglected lowland calcareous grassland sites
  3. Increase the extent of lowland calcareous grassland, particularly in districts and areas of high concentrations of the resource. Particular focus will be placed on: The Dover/Lydden/Folkestone chalk grassland complex, Wye and Crundale dry valley complex, Medway Valley and Darenth valley areas.
  4. Secure the appropriate conservation management of all existing and restored/recreated heathland.

Relevant Habitat Action Plans

The relevant UK Habitat Action Plans:

The relevant UK Species Action Plans:

The relevant Kent Habitat Action Plans:

  • Ancient &/or Species-Rich Hedgerows
  • Cereal Field Margins
  • Chalk Rivers