Hay meadows, which are managed using a low intensity regime, are characterised by highly diverse vegetation but have declined significantly since the mid twentieth century. Remaining species-rich meadows are often protected by statutory designations and conservation management agreements. However, long-term studies of change in the composition of meadow vegetation, and investigations of the success of conservation over the long-term are rare. Fourteen sites, which had a long history of being managed for field dried hay, were resurveyed after 25 years and redundancy analysis was undertaken to investigate changes in community composition. Investigations of the effect of soil conditions, site size and spatial distribution of the meadow sites were carried out. Although overall community composition had changed significantly, the suite of species representative of the meadow community had been maintained, and species usually associated with more intensively managed grasslands had declined. However, there were losses of particular species of conservation importance such as Alchemilla glabra and Conopodium majus, and losses and gains of species varied from site to site. There was a significant increase in the homogeneity of the meadow vegetation between the two survey years. Comparisons of indicators of soil conditions suggested that there had been no significant change for the community as a whole but analyses of the species showing the most change indicated a decrease in soil fertility. Low intensity management has been successful in maintaining the meadow community but consideration of changes in key species and losses at the site level is needed. More research is needed to establish whether fragmentation is starting to have an impact on diversity.
|Early online date||22 May 2018|
|Publication status||E-pub ahead of print - 22 May 2018|
- hay meadows
- community composition
- conservation management