July - Chirk Castle’s wildflower meadows

A view from the north facing Chirk Castle over the wildflower meadow

Meadows are a part of the natural and cultural heritage of the British Isles, and feature heavily in our folklore and history. Flora, insects, bugs, reptiles, amphibians, small animals and birds all thrived in the lush pastureland.

The image of lines of scythes engaged in long Summer days of manual haymaking once provided an archetypal view of the countryside, but the Second World War led to a staggering six million acres of ancient wildflower meadow being cultivated in the national drive to grow more cereal and vegetable crops. This activity included ploughing, drainage and increased fertiliser and herbicide application, as well as earlier silage cutting rather than the traditional hay cut. A total of seven-and-a-half million acres have now been lost, as wildflower meadows have sadly declined by 97%.

Today, intensively-managed grassland monocultures have all-too-often replaced the species-rich wildflower meadows, and of the surviving meadows, 75% are fragmented and are in danger of destruction!

Wales contains 40% of the United Kingdom’s remaining wildflower meadows, and thirty six acres of hay meadow exists on Chirk Castle Estate!

We have recently embarked on an ambitious project to transform 16 acres of this hay meadow into a species-rich wildflower meadow: ‘Top Lawn’ and ‘Middle Lawn’, the two fields adjacent to the portcullis, had their iron fencing removed several years ago, with the aim of restoring the original unbroken landscape envisaged by William Emes in the Eighteenth century – this will ultimately make an aesthetically pleasing wildflower meadow.

Looking north from the rooftop of Chirk Castle, out over the new wildflower meadow
Looking north from the roof of the Middle Tower of Chirk Castle

We realised that because of historic fertilizer application, the high nutrient status of the soil caused dominant competitive grass species to out-compete the majority of herb species present – further, a lack of local wildflower meadows meant that there was no local seed source from which we could colonise any herb species.

It was decided to speed up the process, and as well as furthering the original decision to prevent further nutrients being used on the estate, we increased the number of hay and silage cuts to increase the nutrient take-off.

The issue of the lack of local wildflower seeds was tackled, last year, by introducing seed from well-established sources to Middle lawn: using a ‘Ryetec Flail’ and then a ‘Spring Tine Harrow’, the seed bed was exposed, and green hay – containing seed from over 70 different species and spread on these scarified strips. The key species introduced were Yellow Rattle and Eyebright, both of which should reduce the vigour of the competitive grasses, allowing wildflower species a chance to establish.

We will be repeating this process again this year, on Top and Middle Lawn – if you are interested in our Wildflower Meadow Project and the wildlife which they support, do come along and be part of the events on Saturday 1st July, as we celebrate National Meadows Day. We have scything, moth-trapping, wildflower identification and bug hunts.

See our website for more details: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/chirk-castle/whats-on