When we bought our new house there was one feature that jumped out at me more than any other that made me want to move here, it wasn’t the bedrooms or the kitchen, it wasn’t even the beautiful garden. It was the meadow.
Approximately 2 acres in size, on a south west facing slope on our little farm, it had been cared for as a flower meadow to increase plant, insect and animal diversity. We were originally looking for land of about 1 acre overall in our property search, and the scale took my breath away. It’s an incredible field and right now, I am seeing it flowering in all its glory and I can only describe its beauty as overwhelming.
I was sitting in part of it this week, seeing this sea of flower that has appeared in a matter of weeks and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
The first time I saw the meadow was in September 2020 after it had been cutback for the year, even then I could see the basal rosettes of many familiar species of meadow flower. Right now it is awash with buttercups, layers of other colours beneath the yellow are coming through by the day. Layers of pink, white, blue and the glowing red-amber of the rumex.
Above anything else, with our new move I wanted to secure a parcel of land to give back to nature, to grow wildflowers and increase diversity. I believe protecting and increasing habitat is one of the single most important things we can do – and sadly a lot of people have lost sight of this. Not only does increasing habitats support struggling wildlife, which is the most important motivation for me, it also helps us lock in carbon to slow global warming.
We can all help increase habitats, in our gardens and by supporting charities that buy and look after land in conjunction with local communities. If you are in the position to buy land yourself, that obviously helps too but you don’t need to as you can support charities.
For me personally it was important to secure some land for wildlife habitat however, I believe in conservation so much I have wanted to be more hands on with it my whole life.
I know how to look after meadows, having worked on some in designs, but I have a few key questions I’m currently trying to work out specific to our location, primarily around the time of cut. Being 1000ft high, spring is later and autumn earlier. If anyone has experience of this please do get in touch in the comments below or by email as I’m very keen to get this right.
My gut feel is that the cut needs to be as late into summer as possible, in mid-August or later. However, local farmers have told me this can make the hay less useful because their animals prefer it green and fresh, and is obviously dependent on the weather as it needs to be dry. I would like it to be useful for farmers so the field serves a double purpose of helping wildlife and being productive.
In my mind the most critical timing will be not to cut before the yellow rattle has set seed, as this is such a key species to the success of the whole meadow. Yellow rattle is semi-parasitic, weakening grasses to allow the flowers to take hold. As an annual, it has to set seed to secure future generations.
Another question on my mind is whether to allow livestock onto the field or not? Some people say yes, others have said no and I’m not quite sure which way to lean. In recent years the meadow hasn’t had livestock and it’s looking very healthy diversity wise right now, especially in terms of yellow rattle numbers.
There is also the animal question. What birds, mammals and insects are using the meadow and what plants do they need? What about the timing for them? This is a much bigger question and area of study for me. One day I would love someone to help me identify them all.
It’s an ongoing experiment for me to really get stuck into and I’m looking forward to lots of discussions with people to help look after it.