In our Habitat in Focus articles, we’d like to draw your attention to some of our important Welsh habitats, including what makes them important and how we are working to preserve them. In this article we are focusing on Rhos pasture.
Rhos is the Welsh word for moor or moorland. Rhos pasture is marshy grassland with purple moor grass and rushes as the dominant vegetation. It is common across the UK, where it is known by other names including ‘wet lawns’ and ‘culm meadow’. It can be found at a range of altitudes, but lowland rhos pasture often provides the highest biodiversity value. Rhos pasture is particularly prevalent in the South Wales coalfield, with over one-third of the total are of this habitat in Wales found in Glamorgan and Carmarthenshire.
It is said that a good rhos pasture can boast up to 50 different plant species present in just four square metres of grassland [Source]. This includes ragged-robin, fleabane, bog asphodel and orchids such as the southern marsh orchid. Small mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds flourish here, with grass snakes and snipe commonly sighted on a walk across rhos pasture. Where rhos pasture supports sufficient devil’s-bit scabious, it is often important for the endangered marsh fritillary butterfly.
Rhos pasture in Wales is threatened by ‘agricultural improvement’ such as drainage and fertiliser application, over-grazing or too frequent burning and under-grazing leading to scrub encroachment and rankness.
As with many grassland types, much purple-moor grass and rush pasture has been lost through agricultural ‘improvement’ or has deteriorated through abandonment or inappropriate grazing.
Grazing and mowing are essential to maintain plant species richness, as well as structural diversity to support a range of invertebrates. Light summer grazing between May and September is usually recommended.
Without cattle or pony grazing, or cutting for hay or bedding, flowers become smothered with a dense thatch of purple moor-grass (which, unusually for a grass, is deciduous) and wetland scrub can become established eventually leading to wet woodland. Some sites are burned in late winter to remove the thatch and promote young fresh growth more palatable to livestock, and encroaching rushes are sometimes cut and removed.
Conservation grazing projects helping to preserve Rhos pasture across Wales include:
If you are interested in conservation grazing and would like to get involved, contact us today!