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Species Rich Grassland Restoration Project at NT Rowallane Gardens Farmland

Kevin Duncan from the National Trust tells us about a trial methodology to speed up the reversion to a more species rich sward of the grassland at Rowallane in Northern Ireland.

As part of our Land Outdoors and Nature strategy to restore and create landscapes where are our native wildlife can survive and thrive. We have under taken an exciting project within the farmland at Rowallane to enhance the diversity of the wildflowers found there, in partnership with the local tenant farmer. This in turn has the potential to enhance the overall biodiversity of the site, as the wildflowers will provide a valuable provide nectar sources for our native pollinators and attract insects which then act as a food source for farmland birds. Flower rich grasslands have undergone serious declines, and this is why we are so passionate about trying to re-establish them, helping to restore a healthy, beautiful, natural environment.


This autumn working with Ecoseeds, a wildflower restoration specialist company, we used a method known as ‘stitching in’ to sow some wildflower seed called Yellow Rattle into an area of one of the fields. This is a low disturbance method but creates enough bare ground to create germination areas for the seed. The seed was harvested locally within National Trust land, helping to keep the seed of local origin.


Yellow Rattle or Hay rattle as it is commonly called, due to its seeds making a rattling sound in the wind. Is a typical wildflower species found in traditional species rich hay meadows. This little plant has useful conservation restoration characterises as it is a hemi-parasitic plant.  It uses specialized roots called haustoria to penetrate the roots of neighbouring plants, in particular grasses to obtain nutrients.   This reduces the vigour of the grasses and encourages a wider diversity of more delicate plants to come up over time, as there is less competition.


Fingers crossed we will see Yellow Rattle plants start to germinate from late March onwards and this will help in time to deliver a much more species rich grassland.


The tenant farmer will be continuing to  work in partnership with us to aid the management of field towards the development of species rich grasslands over time. Through managing this field as a traditional hay meadow, followed by aftermath grazing. The hope is to expand this management across some of the other fields in the land holding and spread the species rich green hay to other fields, to encourage the development of these species there.


It is only by working in partnership with our tenant farmers, farming in wildlife friendly way, that the National Trust can deliver our great conservation work, helping nature to survive and thrive.


If any farmers are interested in carrying out similar meadow restoration projects like this one. This can be funded through Countryside Stewardship schemes. Would will help fund the seed and establishment costs and the needed traditional land management practices such as taking a late hay cut.


Although these traditional meadows may not be as productive as the modern Rye grass dominated swards. They do bring other benefits to livestock. Such as increased livestock health benefits through the diversity of plants, grasses, legumes and deep rooting herbs found in these grasslands. Which contain a range of minerals and vitamins helping to keep the livestock in good health, with less reliance on mineral licks or drenches being required. This increased mineral content is then passed onto the consumer through consuming the end products.  There is also research showing that certain plants which contain tannins, upset the live cycle of parasites and lead to less need for expensive worming drenches. Helping to stop the on going issue of anthemic resistance.


So working with nature can really benefit the whole farming system and make it more resilient long term whilst delivering the many services the public demand.  However it’s important to remember if we the public want landscapes full of colour and sounds of native species we must then support farmers, who have made the move to nature friendly practices which not just deliver for nature, but our health and wellbeing also.