Changes in the distribution and abundance of Carex ericetorum in Britain since the 1970s


  • Kevin Walker
  • Peter Stroh BSBI



calcareous grassland, management, threats, under-grazing


British populations of Carex ericetorum Poll. (Rare Spring Sedge) were visited between 2008 and 2015 to assess size, habitats, associated vegetation, management, threats and changes in abundance since the 1970s. C. ericetorum was relocated at 40 of the 64 sites visited, mainly in northwest England (24 sites) and East Anglia (nine sites); most populations that couldn’t be relocated were in southern and eastern England. Population sizes were usually small (<100 individuals) and had remained relatively stable or had increased in size since the 1970s. In southern and eastern England, C. ericetorum was restricted to species-rich calcareous grassland overlying chalk or limestone dominated by Festuca ovina and Bromopsis erecta. In northwest England, it was confined to limestone grassland dominated by Sesleria caerulea. Ideal management for C. ericetorum comprised autumn and winter grazing to maintain a short sward (<6 cm), although it had persisted in the absence of grazing where the growth of dominants was restricted by exposure and/or soil infertility. The main threat to its survival is now a lack of grazing leading to increased competition with tall grasses, although agricultural intensification had caused losses in the lowlands. Nitrogen deposition is also likely to have compounded these threats on some sites. Its survival on many sites will require the maintenance or reinstatement of grazing.