Save our Magnificent Meadows
Hay meadows and species-rich grasslands may be declining nationally, but in Ceredigion they are still full of life, colour and movement, due to the work carried out by the ‘Save Our Magnificent Meadows’ project.
‘Save Our Magnificent Meadows’ was a nature conservation partnership project made up of 11 organisations, including the National Trust and led by Plantlife. It started in 2014 as a three year project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The project aimed to improve the fortunes of 6000 hectares of meadows and grasslands in nine strategic landscapes across the UK. It didn’t just confine its work within the hedges and gates of the fields, it also gave people the chance to visit these precious wildlife oases, it raised awareness of the decline in grassland habitats and it equipped communities with the knowledge and skills to reverse this alarming decline.
In Ceredigion we worked across nine sites, from Llanerchaeron’s iconic parkland hay meadows to the damp and humid marshy grassland of Rhos Cwmsaeson and the wind sculpted coastal slopes of Mwnt and Ynys Lochtyn.
This project fits in perfectly with our ambitious plans as an organisation to reverse the decline in wildlife on the land that we care for. We are proud to be able to continue the legacy of this project and reverse this trend over the next ten years and continue to welcome wildlife that was once common to these fields.
Why are meadows important?
Meadows and other species-rich grasslands are an intrinsic part of the UK’s natural and cultural heritage – rich in landscape character, farming, folklore and history; they are as much a part of our heritage as the works of Shakespeare.
Within the UK our remaining species-rich grasslands have faced significant decline. Today, only 2% of the meadows that existed in the 1930s remain, we’ve lost around 7.5 million acres of wildflower meadow. Modern farming now favours silage fields as an alternative, which often have as few as two or three plant species, often without a single flowering plant. Of those that do survive, around 75% occur in small fragments and remain vulnerable to destruction.
The project in Ceredigion
On the sites involved in the project in Ceredigion, we focused on the way we grazed the fields; grazing is important to maintain these habitats in a good condition.
This is referred to as conservation grazing – grazing the habitats in a particular way to make the grasslands as good as they can be for wildlife. The more interesting delicate species can often be out-competed by other more dominant species, such as those more frequently encouraged in modern fields, such as rye grasses or Yorkshire fog grass. Utilising conservation grazing as a management tool prevents fast growing grasses from dominating and allows smaller plants to flower and seed.
At Llanerchaeron our conservation grazers are our resident Welsh Black Cattle, and on our coastal sites we use a small herd of Welsh mountain ponies.
Practical side of the project
To make sure that we were able to graze all of the sites, and in particular the hard to reach coastal slopes, we installed fencing, gates and drinking water troughs.
Another focus of our work was to clear back gorse and bracken. While the livestock do a good job of keeping the grasses under control, on some of the sites, we needed to clear areas and pathways to help the stock push further into the otherwise impenetrable gorse and blackthorn, known as scrub. During the lifetime of the project, our team, volunteers and contractors cleared around 36ha of bracken and scrub.
What did the project achieve?
In 2013, River Meadow at Llanerchaeron, was full of rye grass with little diversity or colour within the field, a good example of a very productive modern field, of little value to wildlife. In 2014 we spread wildflower seed collected from our parkland hay meadows and changed the grazing season to allow a more traditional hay crop to grow. We saw an almost instant improvement for wildlife in 2015 and by 2017 the meadow was full of life and colour.
Sharing our the project’s successes
We’ll be monitoring the different grasslands every year to see how they’re reacting to the work that’s been carried out by the project and sharing the successes through events such as National Meadows Day at Llanerchaeron or the Farming and Rural Life Celebration Day.