Lowland Meadows and Pasture

Durham Lowland Priority Habitats
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Lowland Meadows and Pasture Action Plan

Priority Habitats: Lowland Meadows and Pasture

1. Maintain and protect the existing extent of lowland meadows and pasture, securing appropriate long-term management.
2. Restore areas of lowland meadows and pasture in suitable areas, concentrating on linking fragmented sites

Lowland Meadows and Pasture Targets
Vision Statement: To increase the extent of lowland meadow and pasture in good condition, and to expand the area of species rich lowland meadow and pasture.

Target Type Unit Value
1. To maintain the extent of lowland meadow and pasture in the Durham BAP area. maintain ha tbc
2. To restore lowland meadow pasture in the Durham BAP area. restore ha 200
3. To expand the extent of lowland meadow and pasture in the Durham BAP area. expand ha 100
4. To achieve good condition of lowland meadows and pasture in the Durham BAP area. achieve condition ha 40

This action plan deals with species rich neutral grassland.  Most of this resource occurs in traditionally managed meadows and pastures occurring in lowland areas and the fringes of the upland on clay and loam soils with a neutral pH. The plan also includes species-rich floodplain grassland which have distinct vegetation commuities.

Increasingly this type of grassland is being re-created through reseeding, or restored through appropriate management of formerly ‘improved’ grassland, although the time-scale over which this might be achieved in full will be centuries rather than decades.

Our definition, which is based on the frequency of indicator plant species in the sward, encompasses both older and more recent species rich meadows, in order to encourage the re-creation of this type of grassland. However is must be emphasised that old meadows and pastures are likely to contain a vastly more diverse invertebrate fauna, fungi and lower plant flora than any newly reseeded meadows, and that they are essentially an irreplaceable resource.

Lowland refers to land outside the North Pennines Natural Area, and traditionally managed meadows within the North Pennines are dealt with in the Upland Hay Meadows Action Plan. Limestone and Acid grasslands occurring in the lowlands are dealt with under the Magnesian Limestone Grassland and Lowland Heath Action Plans respectively.

These grassland communities are important for their plant communities and for the invertebrates, mammals and birds which they support.


Species rich lowland meadows and pasture are now an extremely rare and fragmented resource. In 1984 it was estimated that only 3% of the 1930 extent of lowland neutral grassland in the UK remained (Fuller 1987).  Since the 1980s loss and damage to this resource has, sadly, continued. Although there is no comprehensive account of this loss in Durham, or even the UK as a whole, individual counties have reported annual losses of up to 10% per annum for periods in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Agricultural intensification accounts for most of this loss and damage. Where pasture has been ploughed up and reseeded with agricultural grasses its wildlife value is lost. Other sites have been damaged with the regular application of fertilisers or slurried manure which leads to rapid species loss.

A number of sites which have been damaged in this way, but which retain their rigg and furrow profile, and have therefore been saved the plough, sometimes retain fragments of their former plant communities. Adders tongue fern, and often Waxcap fungi are still associated with some of these sites. (See Waxcap Grassland Action Plan).

Clearly only a minute fraction of the wildflower rich grassland which once covered lowland Britain still exists today, and what remains is a series of very small and highly fragmented sites.

The challenge we face is to hang on to the remaining fragments of this species rich resource, and to start a process of restoration as part of a more extensive and sustainable agricultural environment.


Lowland meadows and pasture have a fragmented distribution within the Coal Measures, Tees Lowlands and the Magnesian Limestone Natural Areas.

Good examples of old meadows and pasture exist at Hawthorn Dene in the east of the area, Derwent Walk Country Park in Gateshead, Low Barns in the Wear Valley, Broken Banks near Bishop Auckland and in the Deerness and Browney valleys.

More recently seeded species rich meadows can be seen at Cross Lane Meadows adjacent to the A1 and opposite the metro centre in Gateshead, and at Rainton Meadows Nature Reserve near Houghton-le-Spring.


  • Continued loss and damage to sites through agricultural intensification, especially of undamaged sites as ownership changes hands, and despite EIA legislation which covers the larger sites. Damaging agricultural activity includes drainage, ploughing and re-seeding, heavy grazing pressure, supplementary stock feeding, and application of fertilisers, herbicides or pesticides.
  • Decline in the plant species diversity of sites as they are abandoned, or undergrazed, allowing scrub and coarse herbs to encroach and become dominant.
  • A lack of awareness of the value of old meadows and pastures for their complex associations of plants, invertebrates, macro and micro fungi.
  • Over-reliance on re-seeding with non-local provenance seed as a restoration technique.  Associated with this is a lack of suitable local donor sites for green hay or seed.
  • Coastal erosion threatens grassland which is sandwiched between the sea and built development, with no room to retreat.