Meadows and wildflowers in the South West

Sutton Lane Meadows in bloom

Meadows across the South West are alive with wildflowers, providing vital habitats for nature. Find out about the work we're doing to care for and improve these special places.

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Meadows in Cornwall

Wildflower meadow at West Pentire, near Crantock

Caring for coastal wildflower meadows is a crucial part of our conservation work in North Cornwall. In spring and early summer an abundance of flowers such as birds foot trefoil, yellow rattle, eyebright and ox eye daisy provide an attractive habitat for insects such as bumble bees, soldier beetles and butterflies.

Summer fields of wildflowers at West Pentire

We're running projects to imporove the meadows and wildflowers at Trevose Head, Pentire Head, the stitches above Boscastle and near Sandymouth where the wildflowers on the cliffs nearby are on the increase thanks to an innovative partnership.

Creating meadows near Sandymouth

Jeff Cherrington, Lead Ranger for the area, has been working with Devon Wildlife Trust since 2016 to recreate internationally important wildflower meadows. The flower rich coastal grasslands had been in decline since the 1950’s.

The project started with the Devon Wildlife Trust harvesting over 60kg of seed from a wildflower rich meadow in Boscastle in 2015. The fields we care for between Sandymouth and Duckpool were harrowed to create spaces for the seed to germinate in. Then after being cleaned and dried the seed was spread over four hectares (about four football pitches) in the autumn. Coastal wildflowers have been flourishing every summer since.

The other essential ingredient to the partnership is the National Trust’s tenant farmer, Tom Hasson. He has altered grazing his stock so they are in the fields from autumn to early spring which allows the wildflowers to set seed in the summer.

 

Wildflower work in Devon

Middleborough Hill, next to the Baggy Point car park in North Devon, is being improved both for people and wildlife. The field was previously used for sheep grazing and an overflow car park but is now being turned into a wildflower meadow and orchard. 

Prior to lockdown, rangers and local contractors managed to sow wildflower seeds and plant the first fruit trees in the orchard on Middleborough Hill. The seed mix contains lots of pollinator-friendly plants such as clover and vetch, but also poppies and cornflowers which will be really eye catching, especially when combined with the rugged backdrop of the North Devon coastline.

New growth at a wildflower meadow on Baggy Point
New growth at a wildflower meadow on Baggy Point
New growth at a wildflower meadow on Baggy Point

Every year Baggy Point is surveyed for its wildlife, with special focus given to bumblebee numbers. It's already home to many species of our native pollinators, and the meadow will hopefully improve that. There's hope for the Brown-banded carder bee, last seen on Baggy in 2000, but with a strong population in the nearby Braunton Burrows.  

This nationally important species was once found widely across Devon but is now confined to just a few small sites along the North Devon coast. This bee tends to fly later in the summer so there is often little forage for it to feed on, as modern farming pressures tend to require fields to be cut much earlier in the year. 

The survey work is done in conjunction with Bumblebee conservation as part of their Westcountry Buzz project, the project focusses on improving bumblebee habitat across North Devon. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust have also contributed towards sowing the wildflower seed. 

 

Creating meadows in North Devon

Wildflowers at Seymour in North Devon

Seymour near Woolacombe in North Devon has been undergoing a transformation for wildlife. The area was previously in an arable rotation. We supplied seed to the tenant farmer, who adjusted his land management of this area and the meadow was planted with a mixture of annuals which will self-seed for a few years, and perennials which will improve with continued management.

Wildflowers in bloom at Seymour

Grazing and hay cutting patterns have been changed to improve diversity across the whole site. Cutting the site for hay and turning it for a few days releases the seed. In the future it will be managed as a hay meadow and not ploughed to improve the soil structure.

Wildflowers in bloom at Seymour, North Devon

Huge numbers of pollinators including bumblebees and butterflies have been taking advantage of the nectar-rich wildflower mix, with dragonflies, mostly southern hawkers, hunting for insects above the grassland.

Somerset meadows

At Lytes Cary in Somerset, work is being carried out to further help the recognised Priority Habitats this area offers. Sam Tyson, Assistant Ranger, says ‘we're working hard to get all of our wildflower meadows to a high standard for nature, while making the most of techniques such as planting plug-plants, and green hay-ing.' 

Green hay-ing involves cutting a flower-rich donor meadow (after mid-July) and, on the same day transferring the hay to a recipient site of lower biodiversity; this helps widen the area covered by the seeds from the cut wildflowers so is also more cost effective. It’s quite a slow process but it will yield great results over the years. Alongside this we're actively managing problem species such as hoary ragwort.

‘We try not to think of meadows as rectangular fields here' Sam said. 'Lytes has wide (c.10m) field margins that are managed in the same way and are effectively long, thin meadows, running alongside an arable field: proving that you can increase diversity while also managing for wildlife alongside traditional farming.' 

 

Helping nature on the Holnicote Estate

Wildflowers at Selworthy

Selworthy

From an area bereft of birdsong and nature, work at Selworthy Farm on the Holnicote Estate has included a more relaxed approach to hedgerow management. Grazing fewer sheep and the introduction of cattle grazing as well as a revival of hay cutting has created a series of lowland meadows, providing cover for small mammals which helps feed the local Barn Owls, and insects to tempt the rare Spotted Flycatchers out of their woodland homes.

Hoe Meadow on the Holnicote Estate

Hoe Meadow

At Hoe Meadow, also on the Holnicote Estate, a two-year project has seen the meadow develop in to two separate meadows, upper and lower, thanks to restoration work to the hedgerow. This provides better connectivity, structure, and slows down the water run-off into the vale. Re-seeding has continued to demonstrate positive results and there is now an established population of oxeye daisy and yellow rattle growing in good numbers throughout the hay meadow.

Painted Lady spotted on a Knapweed wildflower

Hoe Meadow wildflowers

Other species which are making an appearance at Hoe Meadow are common knapweed, eyebright, red clover, birds foot trefoil and the very occasional ragged robin. These are species we would expect to see in these neutral meadows and, if managed consistently, will continue to spread out across the farm.

Wiltshire wildflowers

Three enclosed fields of exceptionally species-rich, unimproved, neutral grassland at Sutton Lane Meadows near Chippenham in Wiltshire are managed as traditional hay meadows.  Two are designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest and the other is a designated County Wildlife Site.  They are easily missed by most that pass by. These three small meadows are islands of biodiversity in a wider sea of intensive agriculture. 

 

Caring for Sutton Lane Meadows

Orchid in meadow

The meadows are cut each year at the end of July and the hay is removed from the site. Taking this material away means that fewer nutrients return to the ground as it breaks down, therefore reducing the soil fertility. Lower fertility of the soil means that wildflowers can be successful where grasses would otherwise out-compete and dominate the habitat.

Flowers in meadow

They support many dozens of wildflower species and their associated invertebrates, birds and mammals – the most spectacular of which are the green-winged and southern marsh orchids that bloom in their tens of thousands every spring.

How many wild flowers can you spot?

Spot wild flowers (PDF) 

Wild flowers bring vibrant colour to meadows, grasslands and verges, as well as support bees, butterflies and other pollinators. This guide will help you identify the flowers you see when you're out in the countryside.