Barnsley Biodiversity Trust: Barnsley Biodiversity Action Plan. Last Updated January 2016

Purple moor grass and rush pasture: An abundance of rushes marking out wetter ground, rush pastures are areas of grazed tussocky grassland with clumps or patches of rushes.


Being wet and with some cover, rush pastures are most notable locally for their breeding waders such as curlew, lapwing and snipe.



Rush Pastures occur on poorly drained, permanently moist soils  in the areas of high rainfall of the upland fringe of Barnsley. They exist on slopes as well as in stream and river valleys.


Many Rush Pasture areas are within enclosed land and are grazed by cattle or sheep. Originally derived from woodland through clearance and then heavy grazing, rush pasture is dependant on grazing.


Vegetation is often a mosaic of grassland with patches of rushes.The rushes can form separate tussocks or thick swards. Various rush species are found together with sedges and occasionally sphagnum and other mosses. There may be scattered areas of rush pasture in and among other habitats.


The areas within Barnsley are possibly not classified as pure purple moor grass and rush pastures but are fragmented remnants and often a hybrid of other related habitats.


However this may make this habitat even more important locally for conserving especially due to key associated species such as Brown Hare, Curlew, Snipe, Lapwing and Skylark.


Pockets of this habitat occur in Barnsley across the broad swathe of land between Ingbirchworth, Broadstone, Crow Edge, Langsett and Cubley.


It can also be found on poorly drained parts of reclaimed colliery tips such as Barrow and Cudworth common.


Priority habitat

Rush pastures fall within the UK BAP broad habitat Fen, Marsh and Swamp but can also be considered within a grassland category.


Phase 1 habitat surveys list this habitat as B5 Marshy grassland.


Purple moor grass and rush pasture is a national priority habitat.


Where rush pasture is found alongside a flush, then it is included within the national Upland flush priority habitat.


The National Vegetation Classification (NVC) categories for rush pastures in Barnsley are:

M25 purple moor grass - tormentil mire

U6 Heath rush pasture

M23 sharp-flowered rush pasture

MG10 Soft-rush pasture


The best examples of rush pasture support good populations or assemblages of key species such as breeding birds, amphibians, dragon / damselflies; or provide a rich site for plants or invertebrates.


For this reason rush pasture is a local priority habitat.

Local Wildlife Sites
with rush pasture present:

1 Western moors

2 Whitley edge

4 Ingbirchworth reservoir?

5 Royd moor reservoir?

6 Scout dyke reservoir?

9 Brock Holes

8 Hartcliffe Hill

21 Falthwaite and Lowe wood?

24 Worsbrough Reservoir

41 Wharncliffe chase

51 Barrow colliery

 

Local Wildlife Site criteria

For consideration as a Local Wildlife Site in its own right, rush pasture needs to be over 0.5ha in area and score 12+ from a list of key plant species.


Rush pasture may also be considered because of the populations and assemblages of breeding waders, or other key species.

In Barnsley there are pockets of rush pasture habitat  across the broad swathe of land between Ingbirchworth, Broadstone, Crow Edge, Langsett and Cubley.


Rush pasture can also be found on poorly drained parts of reclaimed colliery tips such as Barrow and Cudworth common.


Not all species-rich areas of rush pasture have been designated as local wildlife sites.

Species supported by rush pasture


Mammals found in rush pasture habitats include brown hare, …


Bird species. Rush pasture are most notable locally for their breeding waders, curlew, redshank, snipe, lapwing, oystercatcher.


Reptiles and amphibians. Rush pasture supports grass snake, and common toad and great crested newt where there is open water nearby for breeding. .


Invertebrates

Rush pasture supports a wide range of insects and other invertebrates.


Types pf rush pasture

Purple moor grass is often abundant together with rushes in tussocky upland grasslands which are sometimes dotted with tormentil (M25). In some areas heath rush may be present (U6)


More species rich rush pastures have sharp-flowered rush as well as soft rush, and purple moor grass, yorkshire fog, brown bent, and sweet vernal grass. Common marsh bedstraw, greater birds foot trefoil, marsh thistle, creeping buttercup, and meadow sweet can also be found. [M23]


In poorly drained farmland pastures or neglected grassland areas, soft rush becomes more abundant, or occasionally hard rush, with yorkshire fog and creeping bent, a range of sedges, creeping buttercup and sometimes cuckoo flower. Meadow sweet can also occur in these rush pastures but grazing may remove it. MG10


Rush pasture features that support wildlife species

A full range of wildlife species requires structural diversity within rush pastures and in particular areas of both dense and open swards of rush are necessary to support breeding wader species. Too much vigorous rush growth can make it difficult for waders. Where tussocks are very sparse not enough cover is available for nesting.  


Each wader requires slightly different conditions: snipe needs tall, rushy, tussocks and damp ground; lapwing is found in shorter swards and slightly drier conditions. Redshank prefers short swards with tussocky areas for nesting.


A diverse structure of medium to tall vegetation holds more species and greater population densities than short vegetation.


Areas of dense litter are beneficial to over-wintering insects and small mammals, but should be less than 25% of the total area by October.


Roles:

Landowners: follow best practice in managing their rush pastures for wildlife and take up countryside stewardship where possible.


Landowners: take up opportunities to restore or create rush pastures where this does not damage other habitats.


Natural England: provides guidelines and sets conditions to protect biodiversity, administers countryside stewardship and change of use authorisation


Barnsley Council as planning authority: sets conditions in relevant planning applications to ensure that the biodiversity value of rush pastures are maintained and enhanced.


Voluntary groups and volunteers: help with rush pasture management; help with information about the condition of rush pastures and provide records of the wildlife in them.

Our key objectives for biodiversity in rush pastures are to:


Opportunities should be identified to extend, enhance and link local priority habitats and provide corridors or steps between them. Although sites over 0.5ha are a priority, smaller sites that may form stepping stones between sites, or are part of a mosaic of habitats should also be considered important.


Targets (under review):

Action taken

Although little management exists and the habitat has declined through drainage schemes and grassland ‘improvement’,

Environmental Stewardship Schemes have supported appropriate management in some areas.

Some local holdings may be under an agricultural scheme which includes appropriate Rush Pasture management.


Causes of loss and decline in value of rush pasture for wildlife


Good management practice:

Maintaining damp conditions and avoiding drainage /drying out.


The best management technique for this type of habitat is moderate to light grazing so that the vegetation structure maintains some diversity and not be reduced to a uniformly low sward


Maintenance of rush pasture as part of a mosaic of habitat types.


Scrub invasion should be prevented wherever possible


Ensuring appropriate cover of rushes for breeding waders; where tussocks are very sparse not enough cover is available for nesting. This

usually involves using light cattle grazing.


Maintaining open grassy areas. Where rushes become too widespread, open areas needed for feeding and foraging are lost.


Swards are sometimes ‘topped’ in late July after chicks have fledged to help prevent the spread of rushes.


Natural England Guidance advocates an average grass height of 7 cm and 8 cm for rush during April and May, increasing to 10 and 13 cm in June to October, a quarter of the sward no more than 15 cm for grass and 40 cm for rushes - a diverse sward of shorter areas interspersed by taller tussocks. Areas of dense litter should be less than 25% of the total area in October.



Legislation

Where rush pasture exists within SCA /SPA or SSSI designated areas and is included in their designation, it has legal protection, a presumption against change of use and support for its conservation.


Sites identified as Local Wildlife Sites have a presumption against planning permission for development or change of use.


However they have no protection against operations that do not require planning permission or change of use authorisation.


Agricultural work where protected species are present may commit offences under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981.


Protected species include all breeding birds including in this context waders.


Licences may be needed from Natural England.


Types of Molina vegetation in the UK are recognised as examples of Molina meadows which are listed in Annex 1 of the EC Habitats Directive.


Parts of this habitat may fall within the Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA).


The DEFRA Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Regulations may apply.


 


Advice

Natural England: technical information; climate change advice

Buglife: Managing rush pasture habitat


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