There is very little entirely natural grassland left in the UK and most of the grassland we are familiar with can be described as semi-natural, having been altered throughout history by farming practices such as grazing, mowing, burning and the removal of larger plants. Throughout the UK there are a number of different types of grassland which vary depending on the soil type and geography of the area.
Meadows are perhaps the best known of all grasslands, famous for their rich variety of wildflowers. There are various types of meadow found in the UK, from lowland meadows and flood pastures to the scarce upland hay meadows of the north of England. Meadows must be actively managed using traditional farming methods and after the flowers have seeded these grasslands are cut for hay and reverted to grazing during the winter.
Chalk or limestone grasslands, also known as calcareous grasslands, occur in both upland and lowland areas. They are managed by regular grazing, usually by sheep, which encourages plant diversity and prevents any one species from dominating this habitat. Calcareous grasslands are best known for the huge number of butterfly and moth species they support, as well as being home to a number of rare orchids.
Acid grasslands often occur on areas of infertile soil unsuitable for growing crops, and were traditionally used as common grazing land. These grasslands are characterised by clumps of vegetation interspersed with areas of open ground. Species found here include heathers, mosses, lichens, solitary bees and wasps and the rare field cricket (Gryllus campestris).
Marshy grasslands, also known as purple moor grass and rush pasture, are most commonly found in the west of the UK thanks to the high rainfall and peaty soils of this region. Characterised by tussocks of purple moor-grass and rushes, these grasslands provide important habitat for a number of species, including ground-nesting birds and invertebrates such as the marsh fritillary (Euphydryas aurinia).
Machair is a rare grassland habitat, only found along parts of the Scottish and Irish coasts. Carefully managed by local communities, machair is found on sandy coastal soils and boasts an impressive variety of flowers. It is also home to plenty of invertebrate species, particularly bees, as well as a number of breeding birds.
Calaminarian grasslands are found on soils with high levels of heavy metals which are toxic to many plant species. As a result, the plant life found in these grasslands is less varied, however they are home to some rare plants such as Young's helleborine (Epipactis youngiana) and a large number of lichens.