The NPWS have recently published The Monitoring and Assessment of Three EU Habitats Directive Annex I Grassland Habitats (Martin et al. 2018) Irish Wildlife Manuals, No. 102. The new Wildlife Manual presents details of a monitoring survey conducted between 2015 and 2017 to assess the conservation status of three EU Annex I grassland habitats: Semi-natural dry grasslands and scrubland facies on calcareous substrates (Festuco-Brometalia) (6210) important orchid sites (*6210), Molinia meadows on calcareous, peaty or clayey-silt-laden soils (Molinion caeruleae) (6410), and Lowland hay meadows (Alopecurus pratensis, Sanguisorba officinalis) (6510).
A review of the methodology used during the baseline Irish Semi-natural Grasslands Survey (ISGS) of O’Neill et al. (2013) was undertaken during the current Grassland Monitoring Survey (GMS). This resulted in amendments to the survey and assessment methodology which are outlined in the Wildlife Manual report and these updated methods were followed during the GMS. The main changes to the assessment criteria for the monitoring of the three Annex I grassland habitats are in relation to the recording of positive indicator species. High quality and positive indicator species can be counted within 20m radius of the monitoring plot, as well as within the monitoring plot itself, if the plot was only one species short of passing the assessment. The presence/absence of additional positive indicator species, to the species originally listed, can also be recorded if the positive indicator species criteria is failing. Where assessment plots marginally fail in relation to structure and function, expert judgement can be applied to allow plots to pass the assessment criteria.
The data collected during the GMS contributed to the national conservation assessment for all three target Annex I grassland habitats. The overall conservation assessment of all three habitats was Unfavourable-Bad. Habitat loss and degradation were the biggest threats with the main pressures coming from agricultural intensification, abandonment and forestry. The data collected during the GMS indicated that Lowland hay meadows habitat is the most threatened of the three Annex I grassland habitats studied. The biggest threats to this habitat are a result of pressures such as agricultural intensification and the application of natural fertilisers, such as slurry.
The report discusses recommendations to help address the declining conservation status of all three Annex I grassland habitats along with recommendations to change the sampling strategy used to select Annex I grassland sites for monitoring, ensuring that Annex I grassland data that are collected in the future more accurately reflect the national status of the habitats.