This 1997 report describes the first stage in development of a rapid and repeatable method for assessing the condition of semi-natural habitats in the English uplands. The objective of this initial stage was to produce a definition of optimal habitat condition for the vegetation of selected upland habitats intended to provide both a consistent approach to the assessment of statutory sites, and a better understanding of the habitat condition of the wider countryside. Optimal vegetation condition is defined for the four most extensive habitats found in the English uplands: dry heath (which incorporates acidic grasslands), wet heath, blanket and raised mires and montane heath. These definitions are expressed as a series of criteria for each habitat which identify the features which characterise vegetation in optimal condition. The principal features used are sward composition and structure. The criteria focus on the effects of management on the conditon of the vegetation, rather than on whether there is evidence that a particular management practise is, or has been, in operation. These criteria have been trialled on upland sites throughout England. The effects of current upland management practises and other environmental factors on vegetation condition are discussed for each habitat. Three field survey methodologies are described.
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