Amongst the unique experimental resources at the Pwllpeiran Upland Research Centre are a set of long-term experimental plots known as the Brignant plots - Brignant being the name of the small farm that the land was once part of.
They were created in 1994 as part of a MAFF-funded collaboration between the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research (IGER) and ADAS, to test the effectiveness of different extensification managements in achieving reversion of improved permanent pasture to semi-natural vegetation.
The plots were established on typical upland improved permanent pasture. Ploughed and reseeded in the 1970s, they had subsequently received regular inputs of fertiliser and lime. At the time the plots were created, sown grass species dominated the sward, with ryegrass at 58% cover. Find out about the experimental design here.
Results from the first wave of project work indicated promising prospects for restoring species-rich grassland communities through natural species colonisation. They also indicated that different extensive managements could vary the rate and direction of successional changes.
A colleague, Dr Gareth Griffith, uses a great analogy that compares long-term experimental plots to cars.
When they are new and shiny they attract lots of attention, but as time moves on they can start to look a bit dated as trends change. At this point there is a high risk of them being scrapped in favour of something newer. However, if they survive and are looked after they eventually start to gain value again due to their rarity and longevity, and the label switches to ‘vintage’.
Thankfully, despite funding for the plots ending in 2006, the ADAS staff at Pwllpeiran kept the plots going on a ‘care-and-maintenance’ basis until they left; with treatments imposed but no data collected. However, in 2011, ADAS gave up its lease on Pwllpeiran. For a while it looked as though all the land would be sold off, but stakeholder pressure on the Welsh Government (the owners) convinced them to look for ways to maintain Pwllpeiran as a research centre.
Gareth Griffiths and others took over Brignant’s cause until the lease to IBERS was settled, making sure appropriate managements were maintained. Today the age and the extent of the treatments effects at the site make Brignant a unique experimental resource. Grassland science owes a great deal to the staff that kept the resource going through ten turbulent years when its future was constantly under threat!
Although over two decades old, the plots are highly relevant to the knowledge and evidence gaps of today.
A third of the upland grassland in the UK is categorised as improved permanent pasture, and for the majority of farms within less favoured areas, the extent and condition of these swards determines the overall level of productivity possible.
However, the policy framework for permanent grasslands is currently undergoing major change due to BREXIT/CAP reform, plus reinterpretation of their role in terms of environmental regulations. These changes can curtail the management options available to farmers, and there is much debate amongst policymakers and the industry as to the wider implications of the new rules.
New project work on the plots is quantifying for the first time the impact of the alternative management treatments on a broad suite of provisioning, regulating and supporting ecosystem services, and exploring related above and below ground processes. The resource is available to national and international scientists for the study of all processes and interactions within managed grassland ecosystems, and we welcome visitors at any time. There’s always something to see on the plots.
We also hold regular engagement events - the next one is an Open Day on Thursday 14th September. All welcome!
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