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

Grasslands. Meadows of waving grass dotted with colourful wildflowers and humming insects; pastures  of tussocky grass on the upland-fringe: grasslands can contain a rich diversity of plant species, supporting invertebrates, mammals and birds. However such grassland is the habitat that is most rapidly being lost across the UK.

Priority habitat details

All unimproved and semi-improved grasslands in Barnsley are a priority for conservation.

Areas of improved grassland with the potential for restoration can also be important.

Local grassland priority habitats include:


Lowland dry acid grassland

Lowland neutral grassland

Floodplain grazing marsh

Purple moor-grass and rush pasture

These are all national (UK BAP) priority habitats.

Other types of grassland may be valuable for wildlife.

General information on grassland is provided here on this page.

Information is provided on other pages on the grassland priority habitats and on amenity grassland being managed for biodiversity.

Key features of grassland habitat for wildlife species

The type of grassland depends on how acidic, nutrient-poor and wet the soil is. Acid grassland forms on sandstone or peaty soils and neutral grassland is found on shale soils or alluvial deposits.

Imported soils can also have an impact: grassland:for example, plants normally supported by limestone soils can be found in Barnsley where limestone has been used as railway track ballast.

The availability of nutrients through for example, fertiliser and manure applications plays an important role in determining the species composition of grasslands.

The sites that have been subject to regular management by traditional cutting, mowing and grazing but without addition of fertiliser, use of herbicides or ploughing and re-seeding, are the richest in the flora and fauna they support.

Sustaining an ‘unimproved nature’ of grassland is important for a range of plants which cannot tolerate competition from the more vigorous grass species associated with agriculturally improved grasslands.

The presence of flowers for nectar and pollen and uncut, large plants for food and shelter throughout the spring and summer will be critical to a number of invertebrate and other species, some of which are dependent on specific plant species at times of their life cycle.

Managing sites by wide scale frequent mowing or intensive periods of grazing over the whole site will be unsuitable for many species.

Different species require widely different types of grass length - sward structure - and no single type is beneficial for all.

Longer swards with copious invertebrates and seeds support a more numerous and varied small mammal and bird population, including sparrows and finches, feeding on them.

Open and short swards, often only a few centimetres high, are favoured by birds like lapwing, starling and thrushes and mammals such as hedgehog, feeding on soil invertebrates.

Some species associated with grassland also require habitat features such as patches of bare ground. Adjacent areas such as hedgerows, scrub and woodland support species requiring places to nest and roost as well as feed, for example yellow hammer.

Species supported by grassland


Grasslands support farmland birds such as lapwing, grey and red partridge, skylark, yellow hammer, linnet and other finches.

They also support curlew, snipe, redshank and golden plover as well as starling, kestrel and barn owl.


Voles, mice, shrews, hares, hedgehog, mole

Amphibians / reptiles

Grass snake, newts, common lizard,


A wide range of invertebrates including solitary bees and wasps, bumblebees, butterflies, moths, and grasshoppers.


Lists of the plants typical of species-rich grasslands are available.

Factors causing loss or decline

Good management practice:

Grazing, mowing and other grassland management practices have a big effect on wildlife. The choice will depend on whether the grassland is managed primarily for livestock, to benefit wildlife, or both.

Wildlife benefits from:

Legal protection

In Barnsley there are some grassland sites given legal protection by being designated as SSSIs and some areas are within Local Nature Reserves where local byelaws may be set.

Other grassland sites in Barnsley are in areas designated as Local Wildlife Sites and therefore there is a presumption against development or change of use that would have an adverse effect on their conservation value when planning consent is required.

Specific wildlife species found in grassland habitats are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. This includes intentionally or recklessly disturbing birds at, on or near an ‘active’ nest. 

Defra Ecological Impact Assessments apply to species rich grasslands.

Any older grassland with a range of native flowers should be managed in traditional low-intensity ways.

Links for advice and information

Floralocale: grassland management and restoration

Magnificent meadows information+guidance

RSPB: Grazing grassland

RSPB: Hay meadows

RSPB: Rewetting grassland

RSPB: Grassland management for birds

Buglife Grassland management

Buglife: Community meadows

NE: Assessing grassland priority habitat

NE: Grassland management handbook

NE: Horses & grassland management

Our key objectives for biodiversity in grassland must be to:

What has been done?

Some more species-rich meadows have been restored or maintained by private individuals, farmers, charities and local community groups.

Pye Flatts is an example of how local individuals have brought meadows up to SSSI status.

RSPB have also created a meadow at Old Moor.

The Transpennine Trail conservation volunteers with Barnsley council rangers have been active in creating and managing wild flower grassland areas along the transpennine trail.

Friends of the Earth Penistone have created a number of meadows.

Proposed actions


Landowners including farmers, private estates, trusts, and individuals as well as

Barnsley Council, the Environment Agency and the RSPB,:

A number of organisations including land fill bodies may offer grants for grassland management, improvement and restoration. It can also be part of countryside stewardship schemes

Where it is intended to change the use of unimproved grassland this should be subject to a change of use application to Natural England.

Barnsley council as a planning authority: can ensure in relevant cases that the biodiversity value of grasslands are maintained and enhanced. It can set conditions to protect grassland and require EIAs where appropriate.

Voluntary groups and volunteers can help with meadow creation, extension and management where appropriate.

Local groups and volunteers can help provide  information about the condition of our grasslands and collect records of the wildlife seen there.

Further information is provided on individual pages on the grassland priority habitats:

We welcome comments
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Woodpasture also contains grassland, as do some arable field margins. More information on verges may be added

Biodiversity within grassland is often increased by the presence of such areas as impeded drainage, flushes, springs and ditches or boulders, scree and rubble (e.g. from collapsed dry stone walls).

Grassland meadows and pastures that have been subject to regular management by traditional mowing and grazing but without artificial ‘improvement’ with fertiliser, herbicides, or ploughing and re-seeding, are the richest in the flora and fauna they support.

As well as farmland, grassland can also be found in glades in woods and within urban areas as parks and green spaces, on roadside verges, and indeed on former industrial land.

Birds and small mammals forage for insects and seeds in grassland, and use it as shelter and cover. In turn these attract birds of prey.

In Barnsley, the main grassland types are acid and neutral grassland, floodplain grazing marshes and some rush pastures.

Unimproved neutral grasslands have a high proportion of broad leaved plant species. This gives rise to a colourful wildflower sward in summer, heavily used by insects such as bees and butterflies.

Although the tussocky vegetation and bare ground of acid grassland

are relatively poor in plant diversity they are important for birds and invertebrates. The same is true for purple moor-grass and rush pasture.

Although amenity grasslands are not priorities for conservation in the usual sense. they can be managed to benefit biodiversity. They are therefore included in this local Biodiversity Action Plan.