Pp. xvii+340, John Wiley, Chichester. ISBN 0-471-9761909. Price £70 (hardback).
The 20 papers included in this book represent the results of a project aimed at promoting sustainable management of wet grasslands, funded by the UK Government. This text is largely the outcome of two workshops held in Eastern Europe and attended from a wide area of Europe, although the participants are mainly from the anglophone parts of the ecological community. This book is therefore much nearer to being the proceedings of a conference than the textbook on wet grasslands the publisher’s jacket notes suggest. The papers are a mixture of reviews and research findings but most of the papers relate to single sites, small suites of contrasting sites, or regions of individual countries; few of the papers provide a pan-European synthesis of knowledge.
A broad range of subject matter is covered but some highly significant topics are ignored. For example, there is no substantive paper on the avifauna of wet grasslands, nor on the ecological processes associated with grazing and cutting, which ecologically sustain wet grasslands.
The key issues for the conservation of wet grasslands are knowing where they occur, evaluating their plant and animal communities, developing sustainable management and, given extensive habitat loss, the development of techniques for restoration. Accordingly, following an introduction by the editors, which is largely a summary of the content of this book with pointers to appropriate conservation principles, the papers are grouped into four sections entitled Status, Biodiversity, Management and Restoration. However, many of the papers cover a range of subject material which does not fit neatly under these headings and those seeking information on specific topics will therefore need to consult a range of the sections.
There has been a rapid development of nature conservation legislation and policy at a pan-European level in recent years. Wascher’s paper on the legislative and policy background, while sitting somewhat unnaturally alongside papers on status and lacking an account of European Union agri-environment schemes, is valuable as at present there is limited published material on this topic.
The remainder of the Status section consists of papers on wet grasslands in England, Estonia and Central Spain. The status of wet grasslands in England is well documented and the paper by Jefferson & Grice provides a useful summary. Although not an issue explored in this work, the flood plain grasslands in northern and central Europe support plant associations which are widespread and show a limited range of ecological variation. The account of Estonian grasslands by Truus & Tonisson, as well as papers relating to grasslands in Slovakia and Czech Republic elsewhere in the text, suggest vegetation which would be familiar in character to the UK ecologist.
For the most part, the wet grasslands of Europe occur on floodplains or on coastal plains, mainly in the North and West. Information about the situation in southern Europe is sparse in the English language literature and the contribution by Rey et al. relating to grasslands of central Spain is therefore valuable. Unfortunately, we are provided with only the most limited information about the floristic composition of these grasslands and their similarities to types in the rest of Europe is unclear. The paper by Glaves on monitoring of the Somerset Levels ESA in England sits unnaturally in the section on Status, although the ESA monitoring programme in England is one of the more significant schemes in Europe and given current widespread interest in monitoring it is timely to bring this work to wider attention. Of the five papers in the Biodiversity section, three deal with invertebrates. Given the paucity of information about invertebrates of wet grasslands this is not unwelcome, although it gives a biased account of grassland biodiversity. The review of invertebrates of wet grassland in England by Drake would be a good model for work to put invertebrate conservation in Europe’s wet grassland in context.
The distinctive management feature of wet grasslands is that they often have highly managed water regimes. By comparison with cutting and grazing, which have been an important focus of research, the effects of hydrological regimes on grasslands are poorly understood. Accordingly, three of five papers deal with hydrological aspects of grassland ecology, including papers on (i) hydrological modelling of grassland on clay by Armstrong & Rose; (ii) the way in which small-scale surface hydrology influences floristic composition by Gowing et al. ; and (iii) a brief review by Xiong & Nilsson on the role rivers play in the transport of plant litter and hence plant dispersal. Many habitat restoration projects fail because they are established on substrates which are eutrophicated. Two of the four papers in the Restoration section of this book deal with this problem, emphasizing the role of phosphorus. The observations by van der Hoek & Braakhekke on the interaction between hydrology and nutrient status remind us that ecological outcomes are the result of an interaction between factors, and not the single factorial phenomena the experimentalist craves.
In many cases wet grassland have been abandoned, particularly in eastern Europe, and restoration or rehabilitation, is dependent upon re-establishment of grazing or cutting. Several of the papers scattered through this book deal with this topic, although only one occurs in the section on restoration; they should have been brought together to give a clearer picture.
As is often the case with publications which arise from meetings this is a serendipitous collection of papers, most presenting results of primary research. This book will therefore be of most interest to researchers, although conservationists will find some thought-provoking material particularly related to invertebrate conservation, nutrient management and hydrology. The limited coverage of key aspects of wet grassland ecology and conservation, means that the work will have less interest to those seeking an introduction to grassland ecology and conservation.
J. J. Hopkins