Discover meadows in the Chilterns Countryside

Hugh Mothersole, Volunteer photographer and web editor Hugh Mothersole Volunteer photographer and web editor

Colourful flower-rich meadows and grasslands are not only a treat for the eye; they are also crucial wildlife habitats. Collectively they support over 150 different species of flower and grass, which in turn support a myriad of insects such as butterflies, beetles, bumblebees and grasshoppers. These, in turn, support numerous species of small mammals and birds. A mature meadow can contain as many as 40 species per square metre.

In summer traditionally managed meadows becomes a brightly coloured mini-jungles, alive with wild flowers, and insects, with the songs of skylarks ascending overhead.

Most wildflower meadows in the UK aren’t entirely natural; they have developed over centuries under the mild, damp British climate as a result of traditional farming practices. These include the grazing of sheep and cattle on permanent pasture, and the cutting hay to be stored as winter feed for livestock.

Meadows are not just biodiversity hotspots; they support many insects that pollinate valuable food crops. They also help mitigate flooding by holding on to rainwater and they capture large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere.

Harebells on a chalk grassland anthill
Harebells on a chalk grassland anthill
Harebells on a chalk grassland anthill

The decline in wild-flower meadows

Up until the 1930s, meadows and grasslands were an intrinsic part of our rural landscape, but during the Second World War, some six million acres of grassland were ploughed to grow cereals crops. Since the War, many meadows have been replaced by improved pastures, which has been managed to increase productivity, usually through a combination of drainage, ploughing, reseeding, and the use of fertilisers and herbicides. This creates productive monocultures of grass and clover for grazing animals, but often to the detriment of biodiversity.

The decline has continued until now, leading to a loss of 97% of wildflower meadows in the UK. Species-rich grassland now covers only 1% of the land area, and what remains consists of scattered fragments. This loss of meadows and species-rich grasslands is said to be without parallel in the history of nature conservation in the UK

National Trust Meadows in the Chilterns Countryside

Many of the meadows managed by the National Trust in the Chilterns consist of rare chalk grassland habitats. These carefully managed wildflower meadows are key features in the Chilterns Countryside. Where possible, meadows are integrated into sustainable farming systems, giving them economic, social and environmental value. The management follows an annual cycle of growing in the spring and early summer, and cutting or grazing in late summer. Invasive scrub vegetation is also kept under control.

Cattle grazing at Bradenham
Cattle grazing at Bradenham
Cattle grazing at Bradenham

You can find wildflower meadows at our National Trust properties at Bradenham, Coombe Hill, Hughenden Park, Watlington Hill and West Wycombe Hill, and you can enjoy a visit at any time of the year, but they are at their most colourful from mid-May until mid-August.

Buttercups in Hughenden Park
Buttercups in Hughenden Park
Buttercups in Hughenden Park

You can find out more about our chalk grasslands, and what we do to manage them, by following the links below: