What’s Growing in Your Field? Funding the care of Waxcap Grasslands in Calderdale
Have your upland fields not been ploughed, cultivated, or dug up for many years? Have they very rarely or never been fertilised? Have they been managed as permanent pasture over a long period? There is a good chance your fields may be home to some of the rarest fungi in Europe!
Identifying these fungi and recognising the good management practices which have enabled them to thrive, is really important for securing funding for farmers and landowners in these special areas.
The Calder Valley Grassland Fungi Project, funded by the National Trust and Calder Rivers Trust, aims to identify valuable waxcap grasslands through survey work, so that we can reward farmers and landowners for their work in protecting these habitats. In areas where waxcap fungi can be identified, this may provide an alternative option to tree planting as a way to store carbon and produce environmental benefits while leaving land open for grazing livestock.
If you think you may have waxcap grasslands, and you would like to have a free confidential survey on your land to help with your future decision making, or if you would just like some more information, contact Steve Hindle, the Grassland Fungi Project Officer using the details below.
What are Waxcap Grasslands?
Waxcap fungi are often brightly coloured, and grow in low nutrient, undisturbed grassland. While many parts of the UK have lost their unimproved grasslands, the focus on grazing and haymaking in Calderdale, with the limited use of fertilisers on upland pastures, means that farmers in this area have maintained some of the richest and most biodiverse meadows in the UK. In these meadows, waxcap fungi form complex relationships with other species. They capture carbon in their extensive underground systems, and provide a range of micro-nutrients which other plants can take up. When these plants are grazed, the livestock gain the benefits of eating these micro-nutrients. The action of these fungi, spreading underground and improving the health of the surrounding grassland, creates more resilient soils and grasslands, reduces erosion, and increases the water-holding capacity of the land.
These fungal communities are often very old. They take hundreds of years to develop their complex relationships. The brightly coloured mushroom we see sprouting in the grass is just the tip of a huge living organism which may be up to 600 years old!
Why are these habitats important?
Like ancient woodlands, ancient grasslands, which these fungal communities are an indicator of, are considered irreplaceable habitats. Long standing habitats develop complicated interactions between species which make the most of the available nutrients and in turn make them available to grazing animals. The diversity of plant species, which may not be recognised in close grazed areas, provides a wealth of botanical chemicals which benefit animal health.
Well established habitats support many species. Plants and fungi are indicators which will support insects species, but it is in the soil where the diversity of species is greatest. The soil then provides many environmental services such as water flow control and purification.
Changing management can upset the fine balance of these habitats and cause a cascade effect of species loss. Tree planting or agricultural intensification (ploughing up or using fertilisers) not only means the loss of valuable species from the few locations where they still grow, but also loses the benefits that the fungi provide within the soil.
Planting trees is one way to combat climate change, but we should be careful to make sure we are planting the right tree in the right place, and thoroughly assessing what each site already provides before we make a decision.
If you are based in Calderdale and considering the best options for your upland pastures, a great idea would be to have a free survey to check for waxcaps before settling on tree planting. Maintaining existing waxcap grasslands can capture as much carbon as planting the same area with trees, and this will be recognised in future funding schemes.
What Funding Will Be Available?
The National Trust hopes to secure funding at a landscape scale to better enable management of existing waxcap grasslands. This funding will be aimed at infrastructure improvements.
ELMS schemes will seek to conserve and improve habitats, one of which will be waxcaps grasslands. In sheep grazed areas these can be easier to survey than plants but there is limited expertise in this area. There will also be landscape scale schemes within ELMS so it’s important to identify the scope of the grassland fungi populations within the area. The best protection we can offer these crucial habitats is to provide a strong justification for farmers to be given financial support to continue to manage these sites in a sympathetic way.
Biodiversity Net Gain is another potential funding stream which will be aimed at increasing diversity through focused management.
Currently, a lot of funding is set to reward woodland creation and tree planting, but there may be access to higher ELMS payments and other specific grants relating to waxcap grassland management in the future. To secure these grants, we need to know where the fungi grow, and how much waxcap grassland there is left for us to protect.
The Calder Valley Grassland Fungi Project
The Calder Valley Grassland Fungi Project operates in the Calderdale area. The project aims to expand our knowledge of where valuable waxcap grassland habitats can be found in Calderdale, so that we can help support the farmers to continue managing the sites in a way that allows the fungi to thrive.
We know that farmers may be concerned that identifying a rare species on their land could cause them problems. The Calder Valley Grassland Fungi Project offers free, confidential habitat surveys, and will provide a written guarantee that no information will be shared with third parties without the express consent of landowners or tenants.
What records will be taken and how will they be used?
To ensure best access to funding, a full field survey should be carried out. The better the results the more likely you are to be able to access funding.
- Records will be taken for each field and how they are recorded will depend on the species found.
- Only certain species will be recorded. For common species, the general area will be recorded. For notable species, a grid reference will be taken.
- The abundance of each species will be recorded on a simple scale of Rare, Occasional or Frequent. The field will then be given an overall score based on its diversity.
Infrastructure and management;
- For each field, an assessment of funding needs will be made.
- This will include repairs to walls and fences, provision of water for stock and ease of access for stock and machinery.
- It will also include the management of undesirable plants, like bracken, thistles and rushes that may be threatening the habitat.
This will be costed, so that the National Trust is able to put forward a funding bid for habitat improvement. If the survey results are used to access funding, they will have to be submitted to the body that is providing the funding.
Records may be submitted to a National Database (with your consent), held securely by the National Trust or destroyed on request.
For more information, or to organise a free, confidential survey, contact Steve Hindle, Grassland Fungi Project Officer:
Phone: 07766 131473