Enter a bewitching world of blooms and butterflies this weekend and search for the delights of devil’s-bit scabious and dark green fritillaries

Celebrate National Meadows Day by tracking down a host of enchantingly-named wildflowers and butterflies in a meadow…

Meadows are wonderfully colourful and exciting places for getting up close to wildlife. Saturday 1st July is National Meadows Day and The Wildlife Trusts are urging people to enjoy a meadow event or a stroll through one of the many buzzing, humming meadows cared for by volunteers and staff across the UK.

Unimproved grasslands - grasslands that are cared for using traditional farming methods - are the richest habitats for wildlife in the UK, supporting more endangered species than any other habitat: a fifth of all threatened species need unimproved grassland habitats. To take just one of thousands of species that thrive in meadows - the rare marsh fritillary butterfly depends on areas of flower-rich grassland to breed. The amazing variety of herbs, grasses and wildflowers attract pollinators searching for nectar – and this abundance of insects, in turn, attracts rare horseshoe bats and declining farmland birds, such as skylark.

Ellie Brodie, Senior Policy Manager of The Wildlife Trusts, says:
“Lowland meadows were formerly found across lowland England. Unfortunately, 97% have been lost, largely to agriculture or development since 1940 and there are less than 8,000 hectares left, mostly surviving as small individual fields on farms. These special places depend on sympathetic management, such as low-intensity grazing by livestock or horses, or mowing for hay. A successful meadow restoration can take a while - over 15 years for some of the species to establish and start to bloom. The Wildlife Trusts across the UK are doing all they can to help protect those that are left and to restore others through habitat enhancement, and by providing advice to farmers on wildlife-friendly farming methods such as conservation grazing techniques. In many counties Wildlife Trusts have saved some of the last remaining meadows and now manage these as nature reserves.

“We work with partners too, for example through Save Our Magnificent Meadows - the UK’s largest partnership project transforming the fortunes of vanishing wild flower meadows, grasslands and their wildlife. The project is targeting almost 6,000 hectares of wild flower meadows and grasslands in nine areas across the UK.”

Lowland meadow

Focus on four marvellous meadows:

Blakehill Farm – former WW2 airbase, now Wiltshire Wildlife Trust’s huge meadow restoration project

Blakehill Farm near Cricklade (north Wiltshire) was once home to a WW2 airbase where Dakotas flew off to Europe. It was then home to an East German GCHQ listening station - you can still see the outlines of the runways on the main plateau.

Wiltshire Wildlife Trust has been turning the airbase back into hay meadow since 2000. This one reserve is meeting more than 45% of the government's 10-year target for restoring hay meadow in England. The reserve is next door to Stoke Common Meadows which contains a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The whole site is nearly 265 hectares (655 acres) - one of Wiltshire Wildlife Trust’s largest.

Castle Vale Meadows – a new urban meadow created by Birmingham & Black Country Wildlife Trust which has come into its own for the first time in 2017

This meadow creation is striking in that it lies beside an urban estate - Birmingham & Black Country Wildlife Trust have created around 50 new urban meadows as part of their Nature Improvement Area. Two of these - Castle Vale Meadows - are coming into their own for the first time since being created in 2013. Castle Vale is a former landfill site that was a poor quality open space, little used by local people. It was species poor – which means that it used to have only very few species of grass growing on it – and now it’s a glorious meadow that has already been awash with rare green winged orchids and cowslips this May and will go from strength to strength for the rest of the season. It lies on the edge of an urban estate, near the M42 and is practically underneath the Birmingham International flight path. The meadows, covering 4.8 hectares (just under 12 acres) were created using green hay which was harvested from ‘donor’ sites: Eades Meadow (cared for by Worcestershire Wildlife Trust) and Draycote Meadows (cared for by Warwickshire Wildlife Trust.) The success of the meadows creation will be monitored as part of PHd research by the University of Wolverhampton.

Meadow Buttercup

©Lee Schofield

Chimney Meadows – Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust's largest nature reserve in Oxfordshire is an arable reversion scheme

Once a commercial farm, the rich wildlife of this remote and tranquil place has been restored since the Trust started looking after it in 2003. Chimney Meadows’ fields were once planted with wheat and barley - they are now colourful, species-rich wildflower meadows. Previously heavily grazed pastures are now nationally-important wetlands and home to wading birds. This type of habitat is important for its remarkable diversity of plant-life and as a home to nationally declining wading birds such as curlew, which breed here.

2017 is the first year that they’ve got green winged orchids back since they were flooded in summer of 2007. It’s also the first year that they have nesting curlew using the arable reversion fields. There are lots of interesting orchids here and invertebrate numbers are on the up. (Image (c) Peter Gathercole)

BBOWT took on the reversion because they were already managing the National Nature Reserve next door. When the neighbouring farm came up for sale they saw it as an opportunity to extend lowland meadow habitat along the Upper Thames Living Landscape. The site has changed hugely since it was acquired by the BBOWT – the restoration has turned a smallish, isolated site, into a wonderful place to visit linked to the Thames path. It’s a really inspiring scale of restoration. 

Hannah’s Meadow Nature Reserve is cared for by Durham Wildlife Trust – it’s a meadow established over several centuries.

The site has evolved as a result of farming practices over several centuries. Once owned and farmed by Hannah Hauxwell, who lived alone at Low Birk Hat Farm without the luxury of electricity and running water. The land was managed for hay and pasture and maintains the rich variety of wildlife that has been lost from many other Teesdale meadows. On her retirement in 1988, DWT continued the traditional management and created the reserve as it is today.

Now a Site of Special Scientific Interest, the meadows are considered to be some of the least changed by modern agriculture and the most species-rich in upland Durham. Visitors in June and early July will be treated to a spectacular view of traditional hay meadow flowers, such as ragged robin, wood crane’s-bill, marsh-marigold, yellow-rattle, adders-tongue fern, globe-flower plus rare species such as frog orchid and moonwort. Lapwing, skylark, redshank, curlew and meadow pipit can be heard making their home in the rushes and sedges of the pasture. For more about the reserve, see here.

Stop Press:

Ashes Pasture – Fundraising Appeal!
Ashes Pasture is an upland hay meadow in the Yorkshire Dales that is traditionally managed. I think there is only about 1000 hectares of upland hay meadow left in the north of England, so it is really important and this piece of land is in the shadow of Pen y Ghent and Ingleborough. There are some nationally rare species at Ashes, such as the small white orchid and rare birds such as black grouse and curlew.