Wildflower meadows at Bodiam Castle
We’re about to start a long-term project, working with the existing grassland areas at Bodiam Castle, to create lowland grassland and floodplain meadow habitats. By changing the management regime on what is considered species-poor grassland, we will, over time, greatly increase the biodiversity of both invertebrates and wildflowers, creating species rich meadows.
Creating meadows at Bodiam isn’t just going to make for an attractive landscape, it also creates a brilliant new environment for wildlife and wildflowers. The areas that we are concentrating on are Castle Field to the west of the castle and Freren Meade, the field south of the river. The original parkland estate at Bodiam which covered several thousand acres of land, would have had a variety uses.
Partly a designed landscape or more accurately, a waterscape centring on the moat around the castle but also agricultural land with extensive grazing in both woodland and grassland. Grazing of floodplain meadows still continues to this day along the river valley, so by creating more of this lowland meadow habitat we are returning the landscape back to something much closer to its origins and adding to the connectivity of habitats within the landscape.
What will we be doing?
Each summer the estate team will take a hay cut of the long grass on Castle Field, just as you would with any managed hay meadow. The arisings – all of the dead and now unwanted grass will be baled and used for animal bedding or feed by a local farmer. Removing the arisings at this stage is a crucial part of meadow conservation in order to stop them rotting down and releasing nitrogen back into the soil. This has the effect of reducing the vigour of rank grass species, allowing wildflowers, which prefer nutrient-poor soils, to colonize more rapidly as they become less overwhelmed by the grasses. The grass will then be cut once more in October, replicating the natural ‘aftermath grazing’ that would normally be carried out by sheep or cattle.
As our current meadow sward consists of a high percentage of grasses, we have begun sowing Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor) an important plant species for managing meadows. This parasitic plant takes its nutrients from the dominant grasses, further reducing the vigour of the grass. This annual plant will quickly spread over a large area of Castle Field and other grassland areas where it has been sown. Alongside the Yellow Rattle we will also start re-seeding with a mixture of wildflower seeds. These will either be locally sourced collected seed or strewn as green hay from a local donor site.
In order to give the seed the best possible chance to grow, we plan to create spaces within the meadow sward so the seed has direct contact with the soil. Using a compact tractor and an attachment that scarifies the whole area, the estate team can create pockets of bare soil, removing thatch build up from old grasses. Sowing collected seed can be expensive so the green hay method, using hay recently removed from a site which already has a great variety of wildflowers is an excellent and cheaper method of introducing greater plant diversity.
We may also decide to experiment by over-seeding some areas more heavily, creating what is known as inoculation strips. This method aims to create small but more populated areas of wildflower species. These plants will then seed and spread outwards in the coming years, populating the rest of the site with wildflowers.
Plans for the future
The creation of a floodplain meadow in Freren Meade will take more time to plan as we have to work with various organisations such as the Environment Agency to develop a method for seasonally flooding the meadow in order to create the right conditions for traditional floodplain species to thrive. One of the most iconic floodplain meadow plants is the Snakeshead Fritillary and there are many invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians and birds, such as the Curlew, that will also be drawn to this specific habitat.
Undertaking meadow restoration is not a quick process, it will take many years for wildflower populations to become established, with ongoing work throughout the coming years. It is an enjoyable process and it will be incredibly exciting and rewarding to see what new species appear every year and to be able to share the fruits of the estate team’s efforts with our supporters.