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Special Areas of Conservation

6510 Lowland hay meadows (Alopecurus pratensis, Sanguisorba officinalis)

Natural and semi-natural grassland formations

Description and ecological characteristics

This Annex I type comprises species-rich hay meadows on moderately fertile soils of river and tributary floodplains. Most examples are cut annually for hay, with light aftermath grazing. Seasonal flooding maintains an input of nutrients.

In the UK, this habitat corresponds to NVC type MG4 Alopecurus pratensis – Sanguisorba officinalis grassland. This community is characterised by species-rich swards containing frequent red fescue Festuca rubra, crested dog’s-tail Cynosurus cristatus, meadow foxtail Alopecurus pratensis, great burnet Sanguisorba officinalis, meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria and meadow buttercup Ranunculus acris. It provides the main habitat in the UK for fritillary Fritillaria meleagris.

Distribution of SACs/SCIs/cSACs with habitat 6510 Lowland hay meadows (Alopecurus pratensis, Sanguisorba officinalis). Click image for enlarged map.

European status and distribution

This habitat type has a wide European distribution.

UK status and distribution

This grassland type is rare in the UK and occurs almost entirely in central and southern England, with a few outlying fragments along the Welsh borders. It is estimated to cover less than 1,500 ha in total, and survives at scattered and mostly small sites. There are particularly important concentrations in the flood plains of the River Thames and its tributaries, and those associated with the Vale of York rivers, especially the Derwent.

Click here view UK distribution of this species

Site accounts

  • Lower Derwent Valley East Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire, North Yorkshire
    The Lower Derwent Valley in north-east England contains a greater area of high-quality examples of lowland hay meadows than any other UK site and encompasses the majority of this habitat type occurring in the Vale of York. The abundance of the rare narrow-leaved water-dropwort Oenanthe silaifolia is a notable feature. Traditional management has ensured that ecological variation is well-developed, particularly in the transitions between this grassland type and other types of wet and dry grassland, swamp and fen vegetation.
  • Mottey Meadows Shropshire and Staffordshire
    Mottey Meadows represents lowland hay meadows in the English Midlands, and holds a relatively large area of the habitat (approximately 40 ha). The site contains grassland with limited influence of agricultural intensification and so demonstrates good conservation of structure and function. There are transitions to other dry and wet grassland types. The site is important for a range of rare meadow species, including fritillary Fritillaria meleagris at its most northerly native locality.
  • North Meadow and Clattinger Farm Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Bristol/Bath area
    North Meadow and Clattinger Farm in the Thames Valley in southern England is one of two sites representing lowland hay meadows near the centre of its UK range. As in the case of the Oxford Meadows, this site represents an exceptional survival of the traditional pattern of management and so exhibits a high degree of conservation of structure and function. This site also contains a very high proportion (>90%) of the surviving UK population of fritillary Fritillaria meleagris, a species highly characteristic of damp lowland meadows in Europe and now rare throughout its range.
  • Oxford Meadows Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire
    Together with North Meadow and Clattinger Farm, also in southern England, Oxford Meadows represents lowland hay meadows in the Thames Valley centre of distribution. The site includes vegetation communities that are perhaps unique in the world in reflecting the influence of long-term grazing and hay-cutting on lowland hay meadows. The site has benefited from the survival of traditional management, which has been undertaken for several centuries, and so exhibits good conservation of structure and function.
  • Portholme East Anglia
    This large site represents lowland hay meadows in eastern England. It is the largest surviving traditionally-managed meadow in the UK, with an area of 104 ha of alluvial flood meadow (7% of the total UK resource). There has been a long history of favourable management and very little of the site has suffered from agricultural improvement, and so it demonstrates good conservation of structure and function. It supports a small population of fritillary Fritillaria meleagris.

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

Please note that the map shows sites where the presence of a feature is classed as ‘grade d’, but these sites are not listed. This is because ‘grade d’ indicates a non-significant presence.