Case study

Restoring Flower-Rich Grasslands

Beyond planting trees

Nature in Crisis

The Chief Executives of Plantlife, Butterfly Conservation, and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust talked to us about how grasslands are essential for mitigating climate change and the biodiversity crisis, and how their initiative Grasslands+ is leading the way.

The eradication of 97% of wildflower meadows since the 1940s in the UK is mirrored by the loss of species-rich grasslands across the world; 24% of America’s Northern Great Plains and 50% of Brazil’s Cerrado has been converted to croplands and livestock production. This large-scale loss of grasslands has had a devastating impact on our native wildflowers and fungi, butterflies, moths, and insects – bumblebees in particular.

In the UK, two bumblebees have already been lost to extinction, two are on the brink of extinction, and another six are at severe risk. This is already having adverse impacts on our soft fruit industries around the world. Today, we now import in the region of 70,000 boxes of commercially farmed bumblebees to carry out this critical ecosystem service, because we no longer have enough wild bees for basic pollination services in this country.

Gill Perkins, the CEO of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust shares the importance of grasslands to our pollinators: At the global scale, approximately half of the value of pollination services to crops comes from wild bees, as opposed to managed species such as the European honeybee. The only way to reverse this devastating loss is to restore and conserve our species rich grasslands”

Grasslands play a key role in climate mitigation, via removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, enriching soils, and reducing flood risks. They are also botanical treasure troves and home to countless native species of flowers and pollinators that underpin many of our natural and agricultural ecosystems. Some of our most enigmatic species of butterflies and moths, from rare species, like the stunning Large Blue butterfly to commoner species like red and black Burnet Moths, rely on grassland landscapes for their habitats. They therefore act as critical reservoirs for our pollinators.  

Julie Williams, CEO of Butterfly Conservation adds that “Our efforts to recover threatened butterflies and moths, as well as the grasslands they thrive in, is a nature-based solution to climate change worth investing in

Protection, Restoration and Management is Critical

Species-rich grassland protection, restoration, and management is critical to delivering for nature, for climate and for food production. As such, it is vital that we understand the economics of their creation and stewardship, including the use of sustainable finance markets to enable a return on investment.

A healthy grassland environment can be created in a matter of a few years. Regenerative agriculture techniques in pastoral systems, will increase soil organic matter, locking away atmospheric carbon and reducing nitrogen losses, and support increased biodiversity. A revised road verge and green space management regime can also offset vehicle emissions, improve wild plant diversity, and provide carbon storage space in our urban communities.

With ambitions to restore 100,000 hectares in the UK, the economics of species-rich grasslands has an estimated natural capital valuation of billions of pounds. A blended finance input model of agricultural support, conservation grants, and private investment can catalyse a grasslands revival; investment returns are viable through the carbon and emerging biodiversity credit markets, and through proper valuation of grassland food products and other commodities such as seed mixes.

The Grassland+ partners have been leading the way in terms of establishing the best ecological and stakeholder engagement models to deliver grassland restoration. They work to:

  • Find cost-effective and practical models for engaging networks of farmers, landowners, local authorities, businesses, and local communities to undertake grassland restoration.
  • Engage researchers to measure impact and present reportable evidence.
  • Influence the enabling environment – training, species identification and measurement, re-focusing agricultural systems, enabling biodiversity net gain, promoting green finance, and encouraging a leadership group of organisations and corporations committed to investing in grasslands as a nature-based solution.

Nature-Based Climate Mitigation

The Grasslands+ coalition aims to demonstrate that protecting grasslands on an international level is crucial in the fight against biodiversity loss and climate change. Saving them will increase biodiversity, food security, and carbon sequestration and storage, as well as enriching lives.

As individuals and organisations, we can all identify and invest in opportunities to protect, manage and restore grasslands and position grasslands alongside forestry as a route to Nature-based climate mitigation.

This case study was prepared by Plantlife, Butterfly Conservation and Bumblebee Conservation Trust.