Meadow conservation in the Midlands

Wildflowers growing at High Peak.

It's a sad fact that meadows in the UK are on the decline, but have you ever stopped to think about what makes them so important? Here in the Midlands we have some lovely meadows in our care, each one an individual and equally special ecosystem.

Changes in agricultural needs

Farming has changed at lot in the last 100 years leading to huge changes in British countryside. Hay produced from summer meadows used to be one of the key sources of winter forage for farm animals. As a useful resource meadows were common, bursting with a huge array of summer blooms. 

A variety of flowers benefit from hay meadows
A la Ronde summer hay meadow
A variety of flowers benefit from hay meadows

The widespread switch to silage making in the 1960s has meant a vast reduction in the area of hay meadows nationally, causing huge problems for the species that rely on meadow habitat.

 At our Longshaw Estate in the Peak District there is a series of hay meadows at Grouse Inn Fields that were restored after many years of being managed as pasture (grazing only). A hay making regime was reintroduced, banning use of artificial fertiliser, and the meadows began to slowly recover.

Seeing results

15 years later and the meadows support a great diversity of flowering plants including yellow rattle, oxeye daisy, fairy flax, common milkwort, birdsfoot trefoil, meadow vetchling, red clover, common spotted orchid, twayblade and the unusual grassland ferns, adders tongue and moonwort. Hay was taken from these meadows and spread and seed new areas elsewhere on the estate, including the Jubilee Barn fields and Greenwood Farm which are in varying stages of “recovery” in terms of species-richness.

During the period 2002-2005 the Trust reverted 400 acres of arable land to grassland at Croome park, as part of its restoration of ‘Capability’ Brown’s first great landscape creation in the 18th century.  Several areas of the park, including Church Hill and Horse Close, are managed as hay meadows and support an abundance of wildflowers which attract many butterflies and other grassland insects .

Grouse Inn fields haymeadows in the summer
A wildflower meadow with a barn in the distance
Grouse Inn fields haymeadows in the summer

Wildflower lawns

At Calke Abbey in Derbyshire, there are three “hay meadow lawns” around the mansion house that were noted as having some wildflower interest when the Trust took on the Abbey in 1985. Soon after, the management of the lawns was changed to hay making to promote the flower interest and the response was dramatic.

The spring display of cowslips is spectacular then later on other plants begin to show including yellow rattle, vetches and common orchids. Hay was used from the lawns to establish new flower-rich meadows elsewhere on the park.

Packwood House has areas of lawn managed as meadow, with ‘hay cutting’ taking place in June and July.  Early displays of cowslips and (planted) wild daffodils give way to a colourful range of summer wildflowers, including lady’s bedstraw, knapweed, oxeye daisy, bird’s-foot-trefoil and three species of orchid – greater butterfly, common-spotted and twayblade.   Neighbouring property Baddesley Clinton also has a fine wildflower meadow in its garden.  

Bringing Calke's lawns back to life
Wild flowers at Calke
Bringing Calke's lawns back to life

Bringing meadows back to our farms

As well as managing, restoring and creating our own hay meadows we also have several on farms managed for us by tenants. These have, in the main, been present for a long time but have been bought back into a hay making regime to increase their diversity. Grazing systems can also have a huge impact on how our meadows and grasslands thrive, we take great care in the way we stock our pastures.

We have a series of beautiful meadows at Waterfall Swallett near Eyam in the Peak District plus a smaller one just south of Sheffield at Moss Valley Meadow (this has limited access). In addition, we have meadows at Hardwick Park Farm and Heath Farm in Derbyshire and in the Peak District, Blackden View Farm, Crookhill Farm, Ashes Farm and Upper Booth Farm (Access is also limited to where public rights of way cross the land).

The Trust’s land at Packwood House also includes the ten acres of Bow Meadow, a rare example of a meadow supporting a diverse range of grassland plants adapted to wet soil conditions.These include an abundance of great burnet and many sedges and rushes. Packwood’s ‘welly walk’ crosses a corner of the meadow.