Lowland acid grassland is one of the less obvious grassland habitats in Britain. These grasslands occur on sandy soils or acidic rocks such as sandstone – they often occur in a mosaic with lowland heathland, on very poor soils. They are very important for lower plants such as lichens and bryophytes (mosses and liverworts) as well as some very small flowering plants. Because acid grasslands are often very open in nature, with lots of bare ground, they are also important for burrowing insects including mining bees and wasps like the amazing bee-wolf. Acid grasslands are also important for reptiles such as sand-lizard and adder.
You can find areas of lowland acid grassland on most heathlands, but particularly good examples occur in the New Forest, on the Dorset Heaths and in the Breckland of East Anglia.
This type of grassland is better known as Culm grassland in the south-west of England and Rhos Pasture in Wales. These grasslands are characterised by the presence of purple moor-grass and the rushes sharp-flowered and jointed rush – as you can imagine, these grasslands are wet, sometimes over the welly-wet. They can be very flowery if well-managed, with purple trio devil’s-bit scabious, betony and saw-wort growing together. These grasslands and their less common cousins the fen-meadows are a feature of the western fringes of Europe and the UK has an international responsibility for some communities which are not really found in many other countries.
Purple moor-grass/rush pasture is the key habitat for the marsh fritillary butterfly, whose caterpillars eat the leaves of devil’s-bit scabious. Our partner Butterfly Conservation is working tirelessly to conserve this beautiful butterfly, which is threatened across Europe.
Next time I’ll be looking at Upland Hay Meadows and some of the more unusual types of grassland that occur in the UK.