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Oct 2021 - Meadow Maintenance




A number of visitors to the park have expressed disappointment that the meadow at the top of the ramp has now been cut down. Whilst it’s good to know that people notice and care about these things, we’d like to reassure you that it was a necessary part of maintaining the meadow into the future.

Meadow at the Rec July 2021 


At the risk of repeating myself, having already written about wildflower meadows, I’d like to explain about the maintenance regime and why we’re doing what we’re doing.


Effectively we’ve tried to create what would have been a traditional hay meadow; a habitat that until recently had all but disappeared. These were used over hundreds of years to provide livestock with winter food. Prior to the Second World War, chemical fertilisers and pesticides were not in common use, having only recently been developed in the USA. Traditional farming methods meant it was difficult to eradicate wildflowers from the grass crop, and the absence of nitrogen rich fertilizers also favoured the native flora. The variety of flowers and grasses in the meadows supported a huge number of insects, which in their turn fed birds and small mammals. It was a thriving ecosystem that came about as a consequence of the need to provide winter fodder. Our focus is on encouraging wildlife, but in order to achieve it, we need to replicate the traditional methods of management.


Hay meadows were always harvested between July and September, whenever the crop was judged to be at its best, and the weather favourable. Once the grass had been cut, it was left to dry for a few days, regularly turned or tedded and subsequently gathered up. The drying process, necessary for the preservation of the hay crop, enabled the wildflowers to set seed. The removal of the hay prevented nutrients being returned to the soil and consequently favoured the conservation of the meadow flowers that flourish in impoverished soil. Usually the land was then grazed, when possible, through the winter months. This had the effect of helping to break up any matted grass (or thatch) that remained, opening up the soil to light and rain, and creating bare patches. All this activity would again have helped to maintain the diversity of the flora. The grazing animals were then removed in April to allow the meadow to grow, and for the whole cycle to begin again.


As we don’t have to consider producing a healthy crop of hay, we were able to leave the mowing until later to give the wildflowers the best chance to set seed. If we had just left the meadow to die back naturally, the nutrients in the decaying vegetation would have enriched the soil. This would encourage the growth of more thuggish species such as certain grasses, thistles, nettles and docks, at the expense of other wildflowers, which would eventually disappear.



In accordance with traditional management, the cuttings were removed after mowing. We now plan to scarify the surface, removing as much of the thatch as possible and creating bare patches. Unfortunately, we don’t have any meadow munchers, in the form of cows, sheep or horses, so we’ll have to set to with rakes and a good deal of muscle power!


A technique that definitely wouldn’t be practised by the farmers would be the sowing of yellow rattle seeds. It’s a native annual that is a partial parasite and obtains some of its nutrients from surrounding plants, especially grasses. It can reduce grasses by up to 50% and would be hugely detrimental to the production of hay. But this is exactly what makes it so good in creating space for the less vigorous wildflowers. So unlike the farmers, we will be sowing yellow rattle, which unsurprisingly, is also known as ‘the meadow maker’. Lastly, we will add a little more wildflower seed, just for good measure, and keep our fingers firmly        crossed for next year!


Sadly, since the last war, thousands of miles of hedgerows have been grubbed up and the huge fields of monocultures that resulted, can only be maintained by the application of substantial doses of pesticides and fertilizers. Our green countryside is a ‘chemical green’ that has had a devastating impact on our wildlife. It is sobering to think that we’ve been rated one of the most nature depleted countries on the planet. But thankfully things are changing and, as we face the challenges of climate change and loss of biodiversity, we’re realising that the way we live and farm just isn’t sustainable. Conservationists, many farmers and other organisations are now working to restore degraded habitats, conserve those that remain, or even create new ones. So here at the Rec, we like to think that we’re bang on trend and doing our bit to help support our local wildlife.


P.S. If you would like to read a book about the power of nature to regenerate, please do read ‘The Running Hare’ by John Lewis-Stempel. He leased some land to attempt to restore it using traditional farming methods. And the wildlife soon came! Sadly, it was a short lived experiment but it demonstrates how quickly nature can recover if we only allow it the space.


Words by Denise Long

Photographs by Denise Long and Bruce Larner - Click any photo to enlarge





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