The grassland of Dumfries and Galloway may appear uniform, but it is surprisingly diverse, with variations due to factors such as soil type, altitude and past and present management.
Most grassland habitats rely, at least to some extent, on farming practices, and many are pastures grazed by sheep or cattle.
Acid grassland is one of the most extensive semi-natural habitats in the UK, however there are have been declines, mostly due to afforestation. Although generally considered to have low species diversity, this habitat type forms important territories for birds such as the Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos and breeding waders. In Dumfries and Galloway most of the acid grassland is associated with upland areas.
Areas of Purple Moor Grass and rush pasture occur at an altitude of up to 600 metres and there is approximately 750 hectares in Galloway alone. It has a distinctive character, consisting of various species-rich types of fen meadow and rush pasture, and is highly susceptible to agricultural modification. Purple Moor Grass Molinea caerulea provides important areas for butterfly species such as Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary Boloria selene and Scotch Argus Erebia aethiops.
There are less than 50 hectares of calcareous grassland in the region, in small patches around Eaglesfield’s old lime pits and kilns, such as Kelhead Quarry near Annan. This habitat is diverse with rare plants and is particularly characterised by species of lime-rich soils, such as Common Rock-rose Helianthemum nummularium. Other species that can be found include Juniper Juniperus communis and Wild Thyme Thymus serpyllum.
Unimproved neutral grassland has suffered losses through more intensive land management and is now largely restricted to field edges where there are remnants of former hay meadows. Meadow Cranesbill Geranium pratense and Yellow Rattle Rhinanthus minor are good indicators that the land has not been improved by the addition of fertilisers. The habitat also provides a valuable reservoir for woodland edge species and can support a range of colourful waxcap fungi which are dependent on unimproved grassland.
The Local Biodiversity Action Plan identifies six priority grassland habitats:
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