I last wrote a post here over 7 weeks ago beginning with the words ” As the rain falls, and we scan the forecasts for suitable weather for another opportunity for some very small scale manual hay making …”. As most readers will know, this July and August has carried on in the same vein. We have had only 2 occasions in the whole 2 months with more than 48 hours without any rainfall, ( just 2 and 3 consecutive days) so any hay making has been challenging! But for us, getting something half usable from fields that were shoulder high rushes just 2 years ago, was pleasing…
But this, and the arrival of the weighty book “Meadows – by George Peterken“, has got me thinking a lot more about the range of what people refer to as Meadows, and how their management varies hugely, according to history, location, and usage – are they part of a stand alone business, or do they have charitable funding or are part of a ‘hobby farm? This excellent book is a wonderful comprehensive resource to be dipped into, though not perhaps an always easy read. (Click here for more details). Written by an eminent British ecologist who also owns several small meadows in the Wye Valley, it has chapters for example on:
- Meadow Flora
- Classification and the Variety of Meadows
- Making Hay the traditional way
- Improving Meadows
- European Meadows
- Birds,Bees, Butterflies and other fauna What it does give is an insight into the huge diversity of this type of human grassland management system. But I’m also picking up on the huge variety of meadows within easy striking distance of where we live, after visiting several this year. Some like the wonderful meadows at the National Botanic Gardens have areas which are left largely un-mown, or mown very late in the year with no expectation of a usable crop being taken from them. Right now they look wonderful with seas of purple Knapweed, creamy white Meadowsweet and burgundy Great Burnet flowers.
Others are mown and harvested as late as possible to allow all the flowering plants to have completed their flower and seed formation cycles. But in a county like Carmarthenshire, this is where the weather and ground conditions play such a major part in how successful late mowing and harvest is likely to be. Will you be able to get heavy machinery onto wet fields without major soil damage? Will the weather be warm enough or dry enough for a crop to be successfully harvested? Do you chance leaving the whole field for a later cut, or take some off earlier than optimum for seed formation, just to be certain that some usable hay is in the barn in case the weather never picks up?
This is where practical ideas from other local meadow owners as to how they manage their land can be so helpful. So a reminder about the meadow visit/walk on Wednesday August 26 th to Ruth Watkins at Pengraig goch, Llandeusant (See events page for more, and Ruth’s contact details).
Finally I was struck in Peterken’s book by a section headed:
“How many species in a meadow?”
Earlier in the year, I was fortunate to visit the amazing meadow at Blaen Tir (above) in Carmarthenshire, where in 2007 131 different plant species were recorded! And new species are still popping up there according to the owners, Derek and Felicity Cobley. So Carmarthenshire seems to have the potential to establish meadows as diverse as anywhere in the UK, given time and appropriate management – Blaen Tir is cut late in August and then has minimal sheep grazing over the late autumn / winter. In the picture above the effects of this management on diversity are highlighted. The taller strip to the left of centre is where a fence line has recently been removed – nothing like the flower diversity, as yet, in this area, compared with the meadow to the right.
We need to take at least some sort of a usable hay crop from some of our fields, so we may never attain such dizzy heights of plant diversity, but knowing that so many wonderful meadows exist locally is a great stimulus, and target to aim for.
Thanks for reading.