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Special Areas of Conservation

6410 Molinia meadows on calcareous, peaty or clayey-silt-laden soils (Molinion caeruleae)

Natural and semi-natural grassland formations

Description and ecological characteristics

Molinia meadows are found mainly on moist, moderately base-rich, peats and peaty gley soils, often with fluctuating water tables. They usually occur as components of wet pastures or fens, and often form mosaics with dry grassland, heath, mire and scrub communities. This habitat type includes the most species-rich Molinia grasslands in the UK, in which purple moor-grass Molinia caerulea is accompanied by a wide range of associated species, including rushes, sedges and tall-growing herbs. The more impoverished forms of Molinia pasture on acidic substrates are excluded from the Annex I definition.

In the UK these grasslands are represented by two NVC types:

  • M24  Molinia caerulea – Cirsium dissectum fen-meadow
  • M26  Molinia caerulea – Crepis paludosa mire

M24 Molinia – Cirsium fen-meadow is the more widespread and diverse community. It comprises a heathy form found mainly in south Wales, south-west England and Northern Ireland, a form with tall herbs in the fen systems of East Anglia, and a more widespread ‘typical’ form widely but locally distributed in southern Britain. Some forms of Molinia – Cirsium fen-meadow with abundant Cladium are referable to Annex I type 7210 Calcareous fens with Cladium mariscus and species of the Caricion davallianae.

M26 Molinia caerulea – Crepis paludosa mire occurs more locally in wet grasslands and fens in uplands and upland margins of northern England and north Wales, and as small scattered stands throughout Scotland as far north as Moray. The vegetation has a distinctive sub-montane character, manifested in the presence of species with a northern distribution, such as marsh hawk’s-beard Crepis paludosa and globe-flower Trollius europaeus.

Some Molinia meadows hold populations of notable species, including whorled caraway Carum verticillatum, soft-leaved sedge Carex montana, and the Annex II butterfly 1065 Marsh fritillary Euphydryas aurinia.

Distribution of SACs/SCIs/cSACs with habitat 6410 Molinia meadows on calcareous, peaty or clayey-silt-laden soils (Molinion caeruleae). Click image for enlarged map.

European status and distribution

This habitat type has a wide European distribution.

UK status and distribution

Molinia meadows are widely but discontinuously distributed in Britain, with concentrations in south-west England, western and central Wales, East Anglia, northern England and the south-west of Northern Ireland.

Click here view UK distribution of this species

Site accounts

  • Asby Complex Cumbria
    Asby is one of three sites in northern England selected for Molinia meadows, and contains examples of M26 Molinia caeruleaCrepis paludosa mire. The community occurs in extensive pastures in association with 7230 alkaline fen and 6210 semi-natural dry grassland communities, as well as locally in hydroseral transitions on lake margins.
  • Craven Limestone Complex North Yorkshire
    Craven is one of three sites representing Molinia meadows in the northern England centre of distribution. This site contains what are believed to be the largest expanses of M26 Molinia caeruleaCrepis paludosa mire in the UK, amidst 7230 Alkaline fens and 7110 active raised bog communities of the Malham Tarn area; smaller fragments are associated with meadows, wood edges and river banks elsewhere on the site.
  • Culm Grasslands Devon
    Culm Grasslands represents Molinia meadows in south-west England. This site contains extremely diverse examples of the heathy type of M24 Molinia caeruleaCirsium dissectum fen-meadow, ranging from short, grazed swards through to stands that are transitional to scrub. Structural diversity accounts for the conservation of a wide range of flora and fauna, particularly of species characteristic of south-western Europe, such as meadow thistle Cirsium dissectum and whorled caraway Carum verticillatum.
  • Cwm Cadlan East Wales
    Cwm Cadlan has the largest recorded example of Molinia meadows in Wales. The typical form of Molinia caeruleaCirsium dissectum fen-meadow (M24b) is extensively developed, and there are clearly-displayed transitions to a range of associated habitats, including base-rich flush and neutral grassland. Globe-flower Trollius europaeus occurs in the Molinia meadows here towards the southern limit of its British distribution.
  • Drostre Bank East Wales
    Drostre Bank is selected for its species-rich example of the typical form of Molinia caeruleaCirsium dissectum fen-meadow (M24b). This vegetation is particularly well-characterised, having a high frequency of mildly base-demanding species, such as tawny sedge Carex hostiana, flea sedge C. pulicaris, quaking-grass Briza media and marsh valerian Valeriana dioica. There are well-displayed transitions to a floristically related form of rush-pasture, as well as to base-rich flush and wet woodland.
  • Fenland East Anglia
    Fenland contains, particularly at Chippenham Fen, one of the most extensive examples of the tall herb-rich East Anglian type of M24 Molinia caeruleaCirsium dissectum fen-meadow. It is important for the conservation of the geographical and ecological range of the habitat type, as this type of fen-meadow is rare and ecologically distinctive in East Anglia.
  • Glaswelltiroedd Cefn Cribwr/ Cefn Cribwr Grasslands East Wales
    This is one of four sites representing Molinia meadows in south and central Wales, one of the major UK strongholds for this habitat type. At this site, there are extensive stands of M24 MoliniaCirsium dissectum fen-meadow, including the heathy sub-type with cross-leaved heath Erica tetralix, as well as other forms with a stronger representation of grasses, rushes and small sedges. Transitions to stands of more acidic Molinia and Juncus pasture, dry neutral grassland and wet scrub vegetation are well-represented. Uncommon and declining species associated with the Molinia meadows at this site include the nationally rare viper’s-grass Scorzonera humilis and the nationally scarce soft-leaved sedge Carex montana.
  • Gower Commons/ Tiroedd Comin Gŵyr East Wales
    At Gower Commons, stands of M24 Molinia caeruleaCirsium dissectum fen-meadow are set in a heathland context. Ericaceous floristic components are well-developed, and transitions to wet and humid heath, and to acid valley mire, are clearly displayed. This habitat type is best represented on Fairwood Common and Welsh Moor, with further significant examples on several of the other Gower Commons. The nationally scarce soft-leaved sedge Carex montana and geographically restricted whorled caraway Carum verticillatum occur in the Molinia meadows habitat at this site.
  • Lough Melvin Northern Ireland
    Lough Melvin is one of two sites representing Molinia meadows in Northern Ireland. This site contains diverse examples of M24 Molinia caeruleaCirsium dissectum fen-meadow, ranging from Molinia-dominated swards with black bog-rush Schoenus nigricans to very herb-rich swards managed as hay meadows. The former grades to wet heath and scrub communities whilst the latter forms mosaics with other species-rich grassland types. Meadow thistle Cirsium dissectum is one of the most characteristic species of this habitat. More notably, blue-eyed grass Sisyrinchium bermudiana also occurs.
  • Moor House - Upper Teesdale Cumbria, Tees Valley and Durham
    This is one of three sites representing M26 Molinia caeruleaCrepis paludosa mire in northern England. Although less extensive and more fragmentary than at Craven Limestone Complex, stands occur in a wider range of ecological contexts, including examples within 6520 Mountain hay meadows (which are not found in other sites), as well as examples in lightly grazed pasture, on wet margins of woodland and on stream banks.
  • The New Forest Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Bristol/Bath area, Hampshire and Isle of Wight
    The New Forest represents Molinia meadows in southern England. The site supports a large area of the heathy form of M24 Molinia caeruleaCirsium dissectum fen-meadow. This vegetation occurs in situations of heavy grazing by ponies and cattle in areas known locally as ‘lawns’, often in a fine-scale mosaic with 4010 Northern Atlantic wet heaths and other mire and grassland communities. These lawns occur on flushed soils on slopes and on level terrain on the floodplains of rivers and streams. The New Forest Molinia meadows are unusual in the UK in terms of their species composition, management and landscape position. The grasslands are species-rich, and a particular feature is the abundance of small sedges such as carnation sedge Carex panicea, common sedge C. nigra and yellow-sedge C. viridula ssp. oedocarpa, and the more frequent occurrence of mat-grass Nardus stricta and petty whin Genista anglica compared to stands elsewhere in the UK.
  • Waveney and Little Ouse Valley Fens East Anglia
    This site represents M24 Molinia caeruleaCirsium dissectum fen-meadow associated with spring-fed valley fen systems in East Anglia, where Molinia grassland is very rare. The Molinia meadows are found here in conjunction with M13 Schoenus nigricansJuncus subnodulosus mire and 7210 calcareous fens with Cladium mariscus. Where the fen-meadow is grazed it is more species-rich, with frequent southern marsh-orchid Dactylorhiza praetermissa.
  • West Fermanagh Scarplands Northern Ireland
    West Fermanagh Scarplands is one of two sites representing Molinia meadows in Northern Ireland. The site contains a significant proportion of the Northern Ireland resource and includes diverse examples of M24 Molinia caeruleaCirsium dissectum fen-meadow in complex mosaics with other fen-meadow and rush-pasture communities. In places it is exceptionally herb- and sedge-rich, ranging from short, grazed swards through to stands that are transitional to scrub and wet heath. Characteristic species include meadow thistle Cirsium dissectum, sharp-flowered rush Juncus acutiflorus and the moss Breutelia chrysocoma.

SACs where this Annex I habitat is a qualifying feature, but not a primary reason for site selection

Many designated sites are on private land: the listing of a site in these pages does not imply any right of public access.