8 July 2011

Seas of grass

The compartments from which the conifers were cleared in late 2009 have produced a wealth of fresh, new vegetation and many areas are now waving seas of grass.

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Generally they consist of two dominant species, Yorkshire fog (Holcus lanatus) and common bent (Agrostis capillaris).  The Holcus is pale fawn, almost white and the Agrostis a shimmering brown.  Both tend to occur in wide patches several metres across giving a variegated appearance to the sward that constantly changes as it is combed by the wind.

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I often wonder how grasslands like this can appear so quickly after woodland clearance, but the seeds of the Holcus, and I suppose of the Agrostis too, are known to be able to remain viable for many years producing "a large, persistent seed bank" (Cope & Gray, 2009, Grasses of the British Isles).  So, these billowing fields have arisen as children of the pre-conifer grasslands of the early or middle part of the last century.

As well as being a joy in their own right, the grasslands are attracting other species and there were many butterflies such as skippers, small heaths and meadow browns, as well as a chorus of grasshoppers and happy bumble bees.  Nectar for the flying adult insects is largely supplied by brambles at the woodland edges and biodiversity should increase dramatically as more flowers appear.

This in turn will benefit small animals and seed-eating birds with further benefits up the food chain.

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I like the flying insect top right in this picture of Yorkshire fog at anthesis.

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