What is grassland?

Grasslands are areas dominated by grass cover, but they can also contain lots of other plants. Grasslands cover large areas of the UK, but most are highly modified by land management and agricultural 'improvement'. Semi-natural grasslands are very scarce, and some wooded areas contain important pockets of semi-natural grasslands within glades, rides, wood-meadows and clearings.

Grassland near a residential area at Gorsefield Wood

Credit: Richard Faulks / WTML

Types of grassland

Grasslands vary, depending on whether the site is upland or lowland, and if the soil is chalky, acidic or neutral. Marshy grasslands also occur on damper soils.

Most grassland is used for grazing and agriculture, and some is used for recreation, such as in parks and sports fields. ‘Unimproved’ grasslands are areas that have never been ploughed, reseeded or heavily fertilised. They are semi-natural habitats, which have developed as a result of sustained grazing, and they support a wide range of associated plant and animals. They can sometimes form mosaics with scrub and denser woodlands. Montane grasslands also occur on high mountains.

Key features

Rich grasslands can have as many as 30 species of wildflower within a quarter of a square metre. Wild flowers, such as orchid, cowslip and red clover blanket may be seen in unimproved grassland in the spring and summer.

Grassland wildlife

Diverse grasslands provide habitats for a range of native species. Birds of prey, such as the barn own and falcon, hunt small mammals that hide in tall grasses. Grasslands are important habitats for a huge number of invertebrates and many threatened species, like the adder.

Wildflower-rich grasslands are a vital resource for bees and pollinators. Butterflies in particular rely on the wild flowers of grassland and many rare species are found on grassland sites across the UK, although some of these also rely on mosaics of more open sunlit grassland near to taller vegetation and scrub, for example.

Explore grassland

Grassland covers around 40% of the UK, so you’ll find plenty around! Look out for meadows and grasslands at sites such as Wragby and Coed y Gopa.

Wildflowers growing in unimproved grassland against sunset at Lineover Wood

Credit: Adam Burton / WTML

Threats to grassland

Though grasslands cover much of our countryside, the biodiverse unimproved grasslands are under threat from agricultural improvement or heavy recreational use. Although semi-natural grassland communities can occur within wooded mosaics, the scarcity of these unimproved grasslands in the wider countryside means that they do sometimes need to be safeguarded from scrub and trees. This can involve grazing as well as routine cutting.