Grassland – Norfolk Coast Habitat Information
May-July is generally the best time to see grasslands, when a wide variety of plans will be flowering and butterflies and other invertebrates will also be active.
- Common blue butterfly
- Five-spot burnet moth
- Large and small Skippers
- Autumn gentian (chalk grassland)
- Bird’s foot trefoil
- Common rock rose (chalk grassland)
- Common spotted orchid
- Dropwort (chalk grassland)
- Hairy oat-grass
- Horseshoe vetch
- Pyramidal orchid (chalk grassland)
- Sheeps fescue
Grasslands are habitats that are prevented from undergoing natural succession to scrub and woodland by management, normally by regular cutting and/or grazing. The variety of grassland types is a product of the interaction of natural factors, such as soil type and availability of water, with human management. Apart from the grass- lands of coastal grazing marshes, the grasslands of Norfolk are generally the product of ancient deforestation followed by centuries of grazing by cattle, sheep, ponies and other livestock.
Agriculturally unimproved, species-rich grassland exists on soils with low nutrient levels. Cutting for hay removes nutrients, keeping levels low and helps to maintain the diversity of the sward by avoiding a build-up vegetation which swamps less competitive plants. Application of fertiliser to grassland favours productivity of a few coarse grass and other plant species at the expense of diversity. Species-rich grassland supports a wide diversity of invertebrates, as well as birds and animals higher up the food chain, but it is a habitat that has declined drastically in national terms as a result of agricultural intensification.
In the Norfolk Coast area, agricultural grassland is a minor component of the largely arable farm- land, and species-rich grassland is relatively scarce. There are small areas of chalk grassland in the north and north west of the area, reflecting its geology in common with the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire Wolds and chalk grassland habitats in the south of England.
Some areas of cliff-top grassland which have avoided cultivation or enrichment are rich and diverse in both plants and invertebrates. There are also areas of what might be considered grassland within some of the other habitat types described in these information sheets – for example in stable dunes (maintained by rabbit grazing), grass heath, coastal grazing marsh and cliff slopes.
Small patches of any type of dry grassland may also be found in other sites which have never been treated with fertiliser – gardens, old churchyards, old paddocks and some road verges. All benefit from traditional management such as hay-cutting at the appropriate time of year and grazing by livestock.
Where can I find this habitat?
Public access to limited areas of species-rich grassland can be found at:
- Ringstead Downs (Norfolk Wildlife Trust Reserve) – chalk grassland
- Warham Camp – ramparts of an Iron Age fort; limited parking but a relatively short stroll south from Warham village
- Cockthorpe Common – chalk grassland
- Some road verges, known as Roadside Nature Reserves
- In places along the cliff top between Weybourne and Bacton, followed by the Norfolk Coast Path section of the England Coast Path for much of its length
- Some fine examples of wet grassland can be seen from the public right of way between Winterton and Horsey
How is this habitat managed?
Maintaining a range of vegetation types and heights, including very early successional stages, bare ground and short turf supports greater biodiversity. Areas of taller vegetation are also important; flower-rich areas will provide pollen and nectar, while tussocky grasses and sedges support a large number of invertebrates.
Light grazing is generally used to keep succession to scrub and woodland in check and prevent excessive bracken invasion. A rotational grazing system promotes diversity and ensure that there are areas where plants can flower and set seed.
Roadside Nature Reserves
This document lists the Roadside Nature Reserves across the Norfolk area.
Natural England National Character Area Profile – 78 Central North Norfolk
This document, produced by Natural England, contains further detail about the Central North Norfolk landscape.