AVAILABILITY OF ADEQUATELY FUNDED, SKILLED, LONG-. TERM MANAGEMENT

Naturalistic herbaceous vegetation varies in its infallibility and cost, although all are more fallible than vegetation such as mown turf or woody shrub mass. Within communities, individual species also vary in the same way, some are very reliable and inexpensive to establish, others are much more uncertain and potentially expensive.

As a generalisation, the least fallible naturalistic vegetation for a site of moderate productivity in Britain are those based around the stereotype mesotrophic native meadow. Sown at 4 g/m2 the result is a grass-dominated community with a sprinkling of common forbs, such as Centaurea nigra, Ranunculus acris and Leucanthemum vulgare, plus 5-10 other species. Whilst slug predation on seedling forbs will reduce the number established, typically sufficient numbers survive. Even if some of the key forbs fail or decline over time, often due to inadequate management, the grasses and extra robust species, such as Centaurea nigra, will persist. The hay-cut in summer maintains the semblance of a meadow and, in most cases, some additional native species will gradually establish in the meadow. Equally robust is the same meadow with the addition of either exotic bulbous species (e. g. Crocus, Narcissus, Camassia) or well-fitted native and exotic forbs, such as Euphorbia palustris, Geranium x magnificum, Geranium sylvaticum, Lychnis chalcedonica and Persicaria bistorta. The combination of the annual hay-cut and the biomass of the plants themselves excludes most problem species.

At the other end of the spectrum are steppe and prairie communities that are not adapted to be dominated by native meadow grasses. Whilst not difficult to create in absolute terms, prairie-like vegetation is more demanding of understanding. Some of the species are highly palatable to slugs at germination and in subsequent years as they emerge from the soil in spring. They are also intolerant of competition in spring from colonising native grasses. Seed is more expensive per square metre than commercial native meadow-mixes, and if, for some reason, it all goes horribly wrong, you may be left with few visible signs of success. If, however, establishment is successful, the result is a visually dramatic vegetation, well suited to otherwise difficult highly productive sites. Practical aspects of these issues are discussed in greater detail in the section ‘Creation of naturalistic herbaceous plant communities in practice’.