Conservation in action
Minchinhampton and Rodborough Commons are renowned for colourful arrays of wildflowers and butterflies, and in the summer are grazed by local Commoners' cattle. The National Trust and the Common graziers jointly care for the Commons, to provide a rare island of tradition and peacefulness in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. But did you know that you can help too?
An ancient story
The Commons represent an ancient English land use tradition, and are one of Britain's richest grassland systems. They are home to many rare flowers and insects such as the Pasque flower, varieties of different orchids, Duke of Burgundy and Adonis Blue butterflies, Glow-worms and Lesser and Greater Horseshoe bats, to name a few. The Jurassic limestone beneath the grass is renowned for its fossils, including a 165 million year old dinosaur skull.
The Commons record 4000 years of human activity; from Neolithic long barrows, pre-historic field boundaries, Romano-British settlements, to limestone quarries and WWII defences. Trees were first cleared for Bronze Age farming but even as late as the 13th century there was much more woodland on the Commons, and you can still see woodland plants such as Wood Anemones and Bluebells thriving out in the open grassland. Even today, without man's intervention and regular cattle grazing, the Commons would soon revert back to scrub and woodland; and the rare grassland plants and animals would die out.
The cows let out by the Commoners on Marking Day every 13 May, are vital to the management of these wonderful flower-rich, limestone grasslands. The cattle graze these precious grasslands in the ideal way and to just the right height to encourage wildlife and prevent scrub encroachment.
Throughout the year visitors can spot different plants and wildlife as the seasons change. From spring Primroses and summer yellow rattle to puffballs and wax cap fungi in the autumn months. Even small numbers of a rare and beautiful orchid; Narrow leaved helleborine, can be found on the Commons. Chalkhill Blue butterflies are on the wing in late July. Throughout the year redwings, fieldfares, skylarks and waxwings dart across the Commons. Thrushes, robins and great tits sing for their territories. Winter snowfall provides a wonderful opportunity to study animal tracks such as Roe deer, fox, or even badger.
Grasses show as much variation as the more easily recognised herbs. The Commons support a very wide range of grass species with weird and wonderful names such as Upright Brome, Tor Grass and Quaking Grass, all characteristic of limestone grassland plant communities.
Can I help too?
In the early part of the twentieth century, almost half of all the land in the Cotswolds was covered in limestone grassland, like you see on the Commons. It is now very rare: only 1.5% of the Cotswolds remains limestone grassland and it occurs in very few places in the world.
Throughout the autumn and winter months, the National Trust Rangers lead teams of dedicated volunteers who work hard to cut back scrub, such as brambles, growing on the Commons and crowding other plants out, to make more room for the grassland and encourage plants and wildlife to flourish.