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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Our local wildflower meadow

Our local Wildflower Meadow.

Although our meadow is a small 4 acre field on the outskirts of a village, it is part of a larger living landscape. Immediately along side is an almost identical 4 acre field privately managed as a wildflower meadow and beyond that is farm land, run on a wildlife friendly basis. It is also linked by hedges and generous margins to small fields some of which have been turned over to wildflower meadows by the same farmer. In the area generally hedges are being allowed to grow taller and occasionally trees are left to grow. However all this could change; farming methods could revert to past intensive practices and the rich biodiversity of the meadow could be easily destroyed

The history of the field is only partially known but its use for agriculture probably ceased around 1985. It was used briefly for sports activities but that also ceased after three or four years around 1993. Since then it has been left alone with only an annual hay cut by a local farmer with the hay baled and removed. The hedges were not managed and have spread into the field in places. It was given the status of a County Wildlife Site in 2007.

The meadow has now come into the ownership of the Parish Council which has to decide what to do with it. A number of options are still being considered.

The field is regarded by informed observers as being of high ecological value which explains why it is attracting a great deal of interest. The most detailed assessment of its value is in a flora report made after a survey of the adjoining field by Dr Jon Marshall for the private owners. The survey described that field as herb rich, unimproved neutral grassland of nature conservation value. It was carried out in two stages in Aug 2005 and May 2006. It lists a total species count of 105, made up of 15 woody species, 61 flowers and 29 monocotyledons (including two species of Orchid, Bee and Pyramidal).

Dr Marshall commented that the two adjacent fields have essentially the same species present. Arrangements are in hand for two further surveys to be made on the new field and reports are awaited. The findings will be important.

Birds of prey hunt over the fields and small mammals must be present. Grass snakes have been seen.

There is a blackthorn hedge running across the eastern end of the field and the eggs of the Brown Hairstreak butterfly have been found on new growth. All the usual meadow butterflies are present including a large population of the Marbled White seen for the first time this year on June 22nd, Large Skipper, Meadow Browns in large numbers, Common Blue and the day flying Burnet Moth.

Another first sighting for this year on June 24th was a Great Green Bush Cricket which does indeed make the grass shake as it moves. Among the large number of grass species present is the delicate Quaking Grass.

One of the most curious plants to find in the meadow is the perennial and parasitic Broomrape which is present in significant numbers distributed across the 4 acres. The exact species identification is still being argued about!

Despite the sometimes dominant grasses the Bee and Pyramidal Orchids continue to show each year in most areas of the field sometimes in quite numerous groupings.

Visitors to the field have all commented on its quality, the variety of its flora and its potential with good management to develop its beauty and diversity. However the future of the meadow is uncertain.

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