The meadows at Runnymede and Ankerwycke
The name "Runnymede" comes from the Anglo-Saxon "Runemede", meaning "meeting meadow". For centuries known as a place for folks to come together, trade and be entertained, today the meadows remain a pretty, open space for walks through the countryside - but they're also an important habitat for lots of interesting flora and fauna.
During the summer months, the meadows or "meads" at Runnymede become a haven for wildflowers, with colours and aromas in abundance. These meadows are home to a rich variety of plant, animal and insect wildlife. Once a common sight throughout the British Isles, wildflower meadows have seen rapid decline due to urban development and changes in agricultural practice. In partnership with our tenant farmer, we manage our meadows using traditional practices, with biodiversity as our guiding objective.
For centuries, either the Church or the Crown owned the meads. Each meadow was split into shares - long strips of land, which were tenanted out to the local people. The fields were grazed in the autumn and winter, under the control of the locally elected herdsman, and left for hay throughout the spring and summer. This type of farming practice is still used at Runnymede today.
Much of the conservation work on the meadows is carried out by our tenant farmer, who grazes cattle on some of the meadows between April and November. The cattle play an important role in improving biodiversity, as their selective chewing creates a mosaic of micro-habitats that attract many different species.
As well as selective grazing, this important mosaic of short and long grass is also managed by a careful cutting programme. The meadows are usually cut in June or July, to encourage a wider variety of wildflowers and to provide a better habitat for ground-nesting birds and mammals.
There are other nifty techniques that we use to improve the habitat, too. Paths are cut for visitors through the meadows in wavy lines, which increases the surface area of the edge habitat between the long and short grass. Thistle and ragwort are also controlled with the help of volunteers.
Once the flowers have gone over and the grass has begun to set seed, the meadows are cut. This removes a lot of nutrients from the meadow soil, which is (perhaps surprisingly) good for biodiversity since many meadow species do better in nutrient-poor conditions. Some of the hillside meadows are too steep for machine cutting, so an ace team of volunteers take to the fields to cut and rake the grass by hand.
Today you can see a whole host of wildflower species growing in the meadows at Runnymede and Ankerwycke. In spring and early summer you can spot red clovers, buttercups, birdsfoot trefoil, oxeye daisies, knapweeds, scabious and lots more.