Grassland terms and definitions

There are lots of terms and definitions associated with grassland, so we’ve listed a few here. Some of them are maybe a bit technical and geeky, but I think they help to put grassland in context.

Term Definition
Natural grassland grassland that is the climax vegetation i.e. where the climate prevents scrub or trees establishing. The United Kingdom has little or no natural grassland - unmanaged, much of what is currently grassland would revert to scrub and woodland. I think this is important to note - the reason our countryside is as lovely as it is, is because of the management of farmers and those who work on the land. With no farming and no management, most of the land would revert to scrubland.
Semi-natural grassland Grassland where cutting, grazing or burning prevents scrub or trees becoming established but is otherwise unaltered by Man e.g. no drainage or fertiliser.
Semi-improved grassland Grassland that has had some agricultural improvements made to it, such as drainage or some fertilisation, but where botanical interest if maintained through a mixed sward. This is what we are aiming for here at Dalmore.
Improved grassland Grassland that has been managed to increase its productivity, usually by a combination of drainage, fertilisation, herbicide use, ploughing and / or reseeding.
Agricultural grassland Grassland that is farmed to be at its most productive, generally with the use of artificial fertilisers and consisting of ryegrass, sometimes with clover.
Ley Short-term agricultural grassland, usually sown as part of an arable rotation, to provide hay, silage and grazing for a few years (normally less than five). Most short-term leys will consist of perennial and Italian ryegrass and white or red clover. This is probably the closest to “pure” grass, if clover is not sown. Permanent pasture is likely to contain many species other than grass, and many species of grass, as well.
Pasture Grassland that is principally grazed, rather than being cut for hay or silage. This is what we have here at Dalmore.
Meadow Grassland that is kept specifically for conservation i.e. to be cut for hay (or haylage / silage), although the aftermath, the regrowth of grass after the hay is cut, might be grazed in the same season. There are still some ancient hay meadows left in the UK but they are becoming increasingly rare. Protecting them helps to support many species of wild plants, flowers and insects in particular.
Permanent pasture Pasture that has been, or is intended to be, managed for many years without being ploughed up and resown. This is what we have here at Dalmore.
Legume A plant species that can fix nitrogen by a symbiotic relationship with bacteria that live in its root nodules. Legumes are generally high in protein and include clovers, trefoils, vetches and lucerne (alfalfa).
pH a measure of acidity and alkalinity used for soil as well as other materials. The pH scale runs from 1 (strongly acid) to 14 (strongly alkaline), with pH 7 being neutral.
Rosemary Champion

About Rosemary Champion

Rosemary lives on a 12 acre smallholding in Angus, in the east of Scotland, where she keeps Ryeland Sheep, Shetland cattle and assorted poultry. She was destined to be a smallholder from an early age.

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