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The largest ever wildflower grassland in the UK is to be created by the National Trust.

The project will see pockets of a rich savannah sown across 70 miles of the north Devon landscape by 2030.

In the past few weeks, the National Trust has planted 1.3 million tonnes of seed across 86 hectares of land.

These fields, an area equivalent to 120 football pitches, will become donor sites for the remainder of the project over the next eight years.

Project co-ordinator Joshua Day said: “The equivalent of 4.5 million acres of species-rich grasslands have been lost nationally over the last 100 years, with only 1% remaining today.

“This has had a devastating impact on our native wildflowers, with once common species such as eyebrights and cowslips becoming ever rarer, and a disastrous impact on the species that are reliant on these flower-rich habitats such as bumblebees and other pollinators.

“However, lowland grassland creation is a very effective and relatively quick way to improve habitats for wildlife and boost biodiversity.

“For the best chance of success, it’s vital to sow the right types of plants in the right places.

“This will ensure we grow the right complementary wildflowers for the area which will help wildlife that already lives there, as well as attracting new species.”

The team has selected the land for this project by assessing its soil chemistry and suitability to grow different species.

“At one of our first sites at Arlington, we have sown seed for wildflowers such as bird’s-foot trefoil and knapweed which are good for hundreds of different insects,” Mr Day said.

“At Woolacombe we’ve sown species such as kidney vetch and viper’s-bugloss to complement the sand dunes and cliff tops, which are good for blue butterflies and especially the small blue which is scarce in the West Country.

“Once established, the meadows will also attract a variety of important species such as voles, pollinators and bats.”

The team has sourced seed with a suitable provenance for the first tranche of planting which has been sown using a combination of two different methods – hand sowing and seed broadcasting.

“We’ll leave the grasslands to really establish themselves for a couple of years and harvest the first seed in 2025,” Mr Day said.

“Every hectare we harvest from a donor site will provide us with seed to sow two more hectares.

“This gives us a sort of pyramid effect which means by 2030 we’ll have planted our project area importantly with seed from the local area.”

It is estimated that using donor sites in this way and phasing the project over the next eight years could save the National Trust more than £3 million.

The creation of the new grassland habitats will help towards its ambition to create 25,000 hectares of priority habitat by 2025.

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