Playing field finds pastures new
21st December 2009
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The following is a press release from David Hardy at the National Botanic Garden of Wales.  It concerns the environmental impact of our disappearing school playing fields and a successful project that actually saved a grassland habitat of high ecological interest by moving it!  The article follows and I hope you find it of interest.

Disappearing school playing fields are a grave environmental concern but one such play area has recently re-appeared – at the National Botanic Garden of Wales.

When Tycroes Primary School wanted a new building, education chiefs at Carmarthenshire Council called in the experts to assess the environmental impact of the move.

Consultants identified the school field as “a grassland habitat of high ecological interest” containing several “impressive” plants which are becoming increasingly rare.

The school’s expansion plans were crucial but the plants in the playing field were of such importance that current legislation made it a material consideration in the planning process.

So, what was to be done with 300 square metres of this excellent habitat?

On the nearby Waun Las National Nature Reserve, conservation scientists at the National Botanic Garden are carefully conserving and studying very similar habitats.

So they came up with the idea of  transplanting the playing field to their nature reserve - 12 miles away.

Consultant Richard Pryce, who discovered the site, takes up the story: “The school field is a significant area of pristine purple-moor grass – rush pasture, a Habitat of Principal Importance for Conservation of Biological Diversity in Wales.

“The field contains several striking species which are becoming increasingly rare but still associated with the wet meadows of the Carmarthenshire coalfield such as Meadow Thistle (Cirsium dissectum), Devil’s-bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis) and Carmarthenshire’s county plant Whorled Caraway (Carum verticillatum) and

Mr Pryce, who is a trustee at the National Botanic Garden as well as a partner in Pryce Consultant Ecologists, said the flora of the school playing field has changed little from the time when the school was  built in 1907.

“Since that time, the grass has been kept regularly mown as is necessary to maintain the playing field but the important factor here is that, for as long as we know, the grass clippings have been removed  during mowing. This has resulted in the maintenance of the low soil fertility necessary for the proliferation of these important plants.

“The plants the National Botanic Garden is interested in are the ones which have declined over the past half century as a result of agricultural improvement by the application of fertilisers.  They are adapted to thrive in low-nutrient soils, whilst aggressive, dominating agricultural grasses depend upon the high fertility maintained by repeated fertilizer applications, and will smother less competitive species.”

Dr Natasha de Vere, Head of Conservation and Research at the National Botanic Garden, added:  “Ideally, we would protect all of these rare grassland habitats in situ, but sometimes, if the habitat is about to be lost, then these transplantation techniques are an important way of saving these unique areas. We will monitor the plants within the grassland over the coming months to see how successful the transplantation process has been. This allows us to increase our knowledge about how to carry out these types of conservation activity.”

A small area of the important turf was transplanted by hand by Kath and Richard Pryce into the school conservation area where the pupils will be able to study the plants as part of their school-work in their own backyard.  The Headteacher and his staff are very enthusiastic to make the most of this opportunity and also welcome the invitation from the Botanic Garden to show the children the translocated field once it has become re-established in its new setting.

How to make the earth move:

- A receptor site at Waun Las National Nature Reserve was selected
- The existing soil and hydrology closely match those of the school field
- Contractors prepared the area by removing the existing soil and turf to a depth of about 15cm ready to receive the translocated habitat
- The soil and vegetation was carefully lifted from the donor site at Tycroes, turf by turf each one metre square and to a depth of about 15-20cm – including the plant roots with the soil intact.
- the turf was then transported to the Garden on pallets wrapped in plastic to stop them drying out and
- then laid carefully into place at the prepared site.

Once the newly-laid grassland is established, the best way to manage it and ensure it will thrive is to allow our herd of Welsh Black cattle to graze it.

Useful contacts:

Tycroes headteacher: Paul Mainwaring  01269 593253

Chris Williams of Tilhill Contractors (who did a fantastic job in very difficult circumstances and even constructed a special excavator bucket to cut and lift the turves over the weekend before the translocation was to start the Monday of the following week
Tel:  07766 420542

Richard Pryce 01554 775847

David Hardy 01558 667130

About the Author

Diana V

Member since: 10th July 2012

I am Diana Vickers, the site owner of thebestof Carmarthenshire. This was launched in Carmarthen town in June 2008, to support the very best of the area’s businesses with their promotions and marketing....

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