Celebrating the Lake District's hay meadows

A beautiful hay meadow at Hill Top farm, Near Sawrey

The National Trust celebrated the unique hay meadow habitat with rangers carrying out demonstrations, talks and walks throughout July.

Now sitting within a World Heritage Site, hay meadows have been an integral part of the Lake District’s cultural landscape for hundreds of years, providing feed for livestock during the winter months. The cyclical process of making hay; preparing the fields, moving livestock to allow grasses and flowers to grow and cutting and drying the hay grass was a significant event in the farming calendar and within the local community.

A decline in species

Very few traditional hay meadows remain in the Lake District today, and, due to changes in farming practices, Britain has lost 97% of its hay meadows since the 1930s. An increase in demand for food led to the intensification of farming, and a greater use of fertilizer meant that while grass thrived, wildflowers did not. Because of this, a number of bird species such as the corncrake, lapwing and curlew have also declined dramatically.

A haven for wildlife

As well as their significance in farming, the vast mixture of wildflowers and grasses provides a huge food and nectar supply for bumblebees, birds and butterflies. The long grassland provides valuable cover for nesting birds like the endangered curlew and mammals such as brown hares.

Working in partnership to restore meadows

Today, National Trust rangers work with local farmers to try to conserve hay meadows in the Lake District and create new ones wherever possible. By using the seed rich ‘green hay’, or in some cases ‘plug planting’ of hay meadow flowers to produce a new seed source, the Trust hopes to kick start this restoration. In reducing the use of fertilisers and waiting until late summer to cut the meadows there is more time for different flower and grass species to thrive and grow. Elsewhere in the Lakes, and with support from generous legacies, volunteers and the Cumbria Wildlife Trust, the National Trust has begun a two-year conservation project to restore hay meadows in Grasmere, Borrowdale and Sizergh.

Annual surveys help our rangers build up a picture of how the hay meadows are changing
Rangers surveying a hay meadow at Hill Top farm, Near Sawrey, Cumbria
Annual surveys help our rangers build up a picture of how the hay meadows are changing