Why are we doing it?
It’s a fact that’s now often repeated that we have lost 97% of our wild flower meadows since the Second World War (Professor John Rodwell 1980). This statistic was given in 1980s and there is concern that even more has been lost since that time. That’s a loss not only of the meadows themselves but all the species that relied on them; invertebrates, birds and mammals.
If you go into a diverse meadow you’ll quickly see the life it contains; butterflies, moths, flies, frog hoppers, beetles and hoverflies, all sorts of food for more noticeable wildlife like birds and bats. You’ll hear the crickets and grasshoppers chirruping away, the bees buzzing and perhaps a Skylark hovering overhead or a Curlew’s distinctive cry.
To do our tiny bit at our house, we’ve set aside a pocket handkerchief sized portion of our small lawn to be our wildflower meadow.
In the early spring my 5 year old son, Ethan and I cut the grass down low and raked out the moss to expose the soil. The guidance from the wildlife charity Plantlife is to expose at least 50% bare ground so that the seeds have got plenty of opportunities to take.
It seems that these days many groups are giving away wildflower seeds and we had packets from Severn Trent Water, the Wildlife Trust and some that we had been given by a friend. Be careful and check that the seeds that you have are native. Some of our packets had species that are not native, and non-native plants can be of less value to insects that make their homes in meadows or outcompete the plants that you are trying to encourage. Ideally seeds that are local to the area are best. If you know a farmer with a diverse hay meadow, that would be the best place to source them from. We scattered the seeds we had evenly across the area and then pretended to be cows stamping them in.
On large scale hay meadow restoration projects hay is cut ‘green’ from nearby fields before the seeds have chance to drop and transported to the donor field where it is spread over the area before being grazed off by cattle. This allows the seeds to drop and be trampled into the soil beneath.
You can see from our first photo that the result was a bit underwhelming! We have something that possibly looks very similar to what we had before. A mix of grasses including Rye Grass, Crested Dogs Tail, Yorkshire Fog, a meadow grass, a Fescue, and some Creeping Buttercup, Dandelions and a Willowherb. Nothing interesting and none of the flowers that we had hoped to see.
But if you compare the life in our tiny patch of grass to the lawn around it (periodically covered by kids’ toys and picnic blankets) it’s fabulous! All kinds of insects have made their homes in there. It may not be diverse – yet – but it’s already providing more varied habitat and places to live that weren’t there before.
What we would like to see
We’re ambitious. We would like to see something like this diverse wildflower meadow.
But I’m also trying to manage my son’s expectations. The meadow in the second photo has been managed through traditional methods for decades and it could take a long time and years of consistent annual management of cutting the grass back down at the end of the summer and raking all the cuttings off before ours looks like this.
Next we’ll add some Hay Rattle – a semi-parasitic flower that uses grasses to help it grow. We’ll put some more seeds in this autumn and fingers crossed this time next year we’ll have more flowers to reward us for our efforts. In the longer term we’ll be including lots of local hay meadow plants found around here. Things like the Oxeye Daisy, Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Black Knapweed, Meadow Vetchling, Selfheal, Cowslips, Pignut, Ladies Mantle, Eyebright and more.
We’ll let you know how we get on!
Further sources of information
There are some great sources of information for creating your own hay meadow, including –
Landlife – UK wildflowers mail order (and where you can specifically request seeds or plant plugs for limestone meadows).
Naturescape – Another mail order supplier of UK wildflowers and seeds.