Hay from Ham House helps its historic neighbour

Gathering the hay on Ham Meadow

Eighteenth-century Marble Hill House recently received a special delivery from Ham House, its 17th-century River Thames neighbour – a boatload of freshly-cut hay.

The wildlife and nature-rich meadows at Ham House are now very rare and by sharing the hay – full of flowering plants and delicate grasses – with Marble Hill, it is hoped that a similarly abundant grassland will flourish in Marble Hill’s park.

This project is part of English Heritage’s Marble Hill Revived programme which includes restoring the Georgian landscape and creating new habitats to improve the park’s biodiversity. Meadows such as those at the National Trust’s Ham House have virtually disappeared across the UK, with an estimated 97% lost in the past 50 years.

By working together in this way, the National Trust and English Heritage aim to improve wildlife in London and to support the long-term survival of the meadowlands in their joint care nationwide.

Shire horse collect hay from Ham House's historic meadows
Shire horse collect hay from Ham House's meadows
Shire horse collect hay from Ham House's historic meadows

The meadow at Ham House was mowed by London’s last herd of working shire horses – provided by the charity Operation Centaur. Cutting the meadow in this traditional fashion helps maintain the ideal conditions for native wildflowers to flourish. The mowed grass was then raked and collected at Ham House before being sent across the Thames to an English Heritage team who spread out the hay in the south west corner of Marble Hill park.   

Kate Slack, English Heritage’s Head Gardener at Marble Hill House and Park, said: “Meadows like those at Ham House are sadly become more and more rare. By laying this local hay, we hope that a new meadow full of colourful plants like Lady's Bedstraw and wildlife such as grasshoppers and butterflies will also thrive at Marble Hill.”

Ham House Head Gardener Rosie Fyles said: “These flood meadows have been part of the London landscape since the 17th century and would have been used for grazing or cut for hay and feed. 

" We’ve managed them in a traditional way, using shire horses for mowing, which has led to rare species of plants flourishing.

The meadow has an abundance of yellow rattle, a common indicator of a meadow being in good health as well as meadow saxifrage, once common on hay meadows and old grasslands."
- Rosie Fyles, Head Gardener, Ham House and Garden

“It is a rich and very diverse wild flower meadow which makes it ideal for spreading the ‘green hay’ cut to share the diversity with other sites. It is something we started last year spreading the hay on nearby Petersham Meadows, also looked after by the Trust, last year and we are delighted to work with Marble Hill’s team in helping them bring more wild species to their meadow as well.”

English Heritage’s Marble Hill Revived programme will open up the historic house more, restore and revive the landscape – from the play area to the sports pitches – and improve the facilities across the park. Marble Hill Revived is supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund and the National Lottery Community Fund.