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Nationally important wildflower grasslands get increased protection

Two nationally rare flower-rich grasslands have gained national protection in recognition of their national importance for wildlife, Natural England has announced.

Dallow Downs & Winsdon Hill (DD&WH), a chalk grassland on the western outskirts of Luton, and Cowslip Meadow, a flower-rich meadow located in a residential area to the north of Luton, have gained national status as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Over 97% of wildflower meadows have been lost since the 1930s with flower-rich grassland now only covering a mere 1% of the UK’s land area. Today’s move will see around 48ha of land receive strong legal protection on account of the rich array of wildflower-rich grassland and rare plant interest, including the nationally rare great pignut plant which has a stronghold on these sites.

The sites also have an array of woodland which is home to warblers and plants such as dog’s mercury and yellow archangel during the spring, and wetlands hosting species such as slow worm, water vole, and southern marsh orchid. The chalk grasslands hold a rich assemblage of invertebrates including the marbled white butterfly, which can be seen feeding on the abundant knapweed and scabious flowers in mid-summer. Cowslip Meadow hosts a number of water bodies, scrub and grassland which provide an oasis for a range of birdlife, and DD&WH offers a perfect viewpoint to see red kites flying high over the town.

Aidan Lonergan, Natural England’s area manager for West Anglia, says: “These designations are a huge step forward to secure the protection of these nationally important wildflower meadows which host an array of rare and wonderful wildlife.

“These grasslands are right on Luton’s doorstep and we know the value of having nature close to home has been vital for so many of us during this challenging year. Today’s move will offer long term protection for these important sites, so local communities can continue to connect with this special habitat and its amazing wildlife as we build back greener from the pandemic.”

Natural England worked closely with partners including Luton Borough Council and the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire to gather the evidence needed to confirm the designations.

Last month, a Natural England survey revealed that almost nine in ten adults in England during lockdown reported that protection of the environment is important to them, and today’s move will help ensure that local communities in Luton continue to benefit from these wildlife-rich greenspaces long-term.

The government has laid out its ambition in the 25 Year Environment Plan for a growing and resilient network of land, water and sea that is richer in plants and wildlife, and has also recently committed to protecting 30% of the UK’s land by 2030 which will result in over 4,000 sq km of new land in England being designated.

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