National Highways and conservation charity Plantlife have joined forces to launch a new £8 million programme that will improve species and habitats across England – benefiting people, nature and wildlife.
The Meadow Makers projects will help restore the biodiversity of over 100 hectares of grasslands across seven sites in the South West and North East.
Wildflower meadows across England and Wales have depleted by 97% since the 1930s.
Pressures from intensive agricultural practices, development and other land use changes mean only small, fragmented areas of species-rich grassland remain.
However, ancient wildflower meadows and other permanent species-rich grasslands are exceptionally important habitats for wild plants and fungi, supporting pollinators, birds and a wide variety of other wildlife, and need to be protected.
There is also clear evidence that increased species richness in grasslands – particularly deep-rooting plant species – can improve storage of carbon in the soil.
The restoration of natural spaces – at scale and pace – is vital to addressing the urgent crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and human health.
Healthy, natural grasslands support an abundance and diversity of wild plants and invertebrates, store carbon and support the wellbeing of local communities.
The aim of the Meadow Makers programme is to drive up grassland restoration, creating an abundance and diversity of plants and fungi.
Species-rich grasslands are extraordinary ecosystems, with native wild plants at their heart.
‘This funding represents nothing short of a step change for grasslands conservation. Working with National Highways and nature-friendly landowners Plantlife now gears up to restore up to 111 hectares of grasslands across seven sites.
‘From Dartmoor to Yorkshire, this funding builds on the success of previous Meadow Maker programmes to provide a road-tested map to a brighter, better future for grasslands, one of our most vulnerable and threatened habitats.
‘Restoring our meadows matters; for nature and for people. Healthy grasslands support a wealth of wild plants, fungi and other wildlife and are a delight to be amongst. This three-way combination, with National Highways, land owners and Plantlife is a wonderful example of how working in partnership can be so successful in ensuring a healthy natural world for all.’
CEO of Plantlife
The Meadow Makers project will go beyond caring for the 3% of wildflower meadows that remain in the UK and will work with third-party landowners to deliver restoration and creation on species-rich meadows.
By partnering with Plantlife, the ambition is for species-rich wildflower and waxcap grasslands to be restored and protected at scale.
By 2040, it is hoped the project will contribute towards the wider goal of restoring 100,000 hectares of species-rich grassland.
‘We’re committed to significantly improving biodiversity near our road network. The partnership with Plantlife will be a vital step in delivering a more sustainable road network that protects and enhances the environment.
‘With competing pressures on the UK’s land, it is now clear that organisations like National Highways and Plantlife need to make the most of the country’s grasslands, which cover at least 40% of the UK.
‘At National Highways, our work goes beyond operating, maintaining and improving roads; we’re investing in the environment and communities surrounding our network, helping to unlock the creation and enhancement of habitats, and this is an example of the difference we can make with designated funding.
‘We were delighted to partner with Plantlife to realise this project – a glowing example of how this funding can improve biodiversity near our roads.’
Environmental Sustainability Division lead for National Highways
Plantlife is dedicated to the protection and restoration of the plants and fungi that sit at the foundation of nature’s restoration and is leading the charge to restore 100,000 hectares of species-rich grassland by 2040.
The charity has spearheaded grasslands restoration in the UK, having successfully delivered the Save Our Magnificent Meadows, Coronation Meadows and Magnificent Meadows Cymru conservation partnership projects. Plantlife combined with National Highways on grasslands restoration pilot projects in 2020 and 2021.
‘This partnership represents a long-term commitment to working in partnership over 15 years with National Highways and landowners to nourish the landscape with more species-rich grassland that will help accelerate species recovery.
‘With the state of nature in steep decline the need for grasslands recovery is pressing; staggeringly, over 97% of our meadows have been eradicated since the 1930s and with that has come the decline of many grassland species including Ragged Robin and Harebell.
‘Grasslands deliver a myriad of benefits including carbon storage, flood prevention, water purification and crop pollination so this large-scale drive to restore and create more meadows will help tackle the unfolding and interlinked climate and biodiversity emergencies.’
Programme manager, Meadows Makers, Plantlife