Isabel had arranged 4 excellent speakers :
Firstly Stephanie Tyler gave a fascinating review of the 10 years or so work of the Monmouthshire Meadows Group, which was inspiring and enlightening. They have over 300 members; have plant surveyed over 200 member’s meadows for free, ranging from large fields to small un-mown lawns; engaged in educational outreach; produced their own illustrated book filled with member’s meadows images and stories of how meadows have been restored; and even fund raised over £90,000 recently to purchase several plant rich meadows which were going to be sold and potentially lost as prime examples of how glorious wild flower meadows can look.
Practical examples of how members work with contractors to manage meadows and harvest seed were also given, and their knowledge database is now invaluable to members with simple practical examples of Do and Don’t lists for meadow management.
One thing that struck me from the examples of less common flowers found in the 200 plus meadows surveyed was that Carmarthenshire will have quite a different floral, and probably insect and fungi mix in its meadows. For example Lousewort was found in just 9 of these sites, Broad Leaved Helleborine in just 7 and Butterfly Orchids in just 4. Of the handful of sites I’ve visited locally, these plants seem to be present in several sites. So justification, I think for trying to get a clearer picture of just what we have in this county’s meadows –
Secondly, Bruce Langridge from the National Botanic Garden of Wales (NBGW) gave us all a great insight into the wonderful wax cap mushrooms which are a feature of many local meadows. Indeed Wales is probably the prime location in the world for these meadow based fungi. Though Bruce mentioned that in the USA, Waxcaps tend to be found in woodland rather than meadows There are 23 species (out of a total of about 40 ) which have been found over the years at the NBGW . And most feature colourful caps in pinks, browns, greens, reds, blacks and oranges as well as having fairly wide spaced gills which release white spores. They are restricted to wet meadows with mossy bases and low fertility. Bruce emphasised that even a single application of a inorganic fertiliser can wipe these mushrooms out for decades, and Bruce hinted at some interesting work on how exactly the fungal spores germinate – perhaps requiring passage through another plant before this will be successful. In turn the underground fungal networks of these, and other mushrooms are probably key to the successful growth of many of our meadow plants – particularly orchids.
Bruce provided 2 useful links to local groups who might be able to help with identification of any mushrooms which we find in our meadows, and also organise group fungi forays :
Charles encouraged meadow owners to actually consider what they want from their meadows. No two meadows are the same, and trying to work out what we individually want to achieve from our meadows, will have a big impact on how, if at all, we choose to utilise animals to help us towards this goal. Without animal ownership, the use of animals supplied by a grazier would be another option, or perhaps the more frequent use of cutting and removal of herbage from the site to mimic many of the actions of grazing animals. Sometimes not an easy thing to manage mechanically on wetter ground, or over late autumn winter.
Fourthly Richard Smith talked about his work over many years working with Butterfly conservation and a group of volunteers to survey 2 quite rare butterflies which hang on in Carmarthenshire as something of a stronghold in their UK distribution.
Of the 2 we are more likely to see the Marsh Fritillary, partly because they the adults fly around at field level during June in a normal year. Richard explained that their typical habitat contains a mixture of short vegetation and tussocky clumps of grass, with plentiful Devilsbit Scabious plants – which are the caterpillar’s larval food plant. For this reason, it’s unlikely that they will thrive in a regularly cut hay meadow, but less intensively managed Rhos pastures may well be suitable. Richard illustrated just where the several meta populations exist in discrete clusters of suitable habitat around the county.
Brown Hairstreak butterflies, by contrast, are only found below 100 metres, and in addition the critical requirement is for suitable youngish blackthorn hedge growth on which the female butterflies will lay their tiny white eggs typically at twiggy joints. So the message for anyone with land below this level in the county, is to let some hedges become a little taller, and not to flail them annually. Richard and his team survey suitable areas for eggs every winter, and Carmarthenshire is a stronghold for this rare butterfly, but even so, Richard described a recent worrying decline in the number of eggs found.
The adult butterflies spend most of their time high up in the tree canopy feeding on aphid secretions, and only tend to be spotted when the female flies down to complete her egg laying on the blackthorn, so it’s a very secretive, rarely seen butterfly, even in this part of the world.
Finally, Isabel encouraged members to look at and ‘follow’ the blog. (Many thanks to those who already do – it helps to keep you up to date with how the group is developing.) A message reinforced by Julian Wormald, who is particularly keen to receive pieces written by ecologists or contractors on the work that they do in relation to meadow management. There must be a wealth of knowledge out there, which could be usefully shared through this channel. Contact Julian by email : firstname.lastname@example.org and if no reply (since emails occasionally get mislaid…) try 01558 685119.
In addition, Julian encouraged any meadow owners or managers (however big or small your patch) to consider answering a few simple questions to begin a process of compiling an on line record of the history and diversity of some of our member’s meadows – which will end up on the separate gallery pages. A few photos taken through the seasons would be great as well, though preferably of a reduced size, since he has satellite data limits.
Since this is already quite a long post, the sort of questions that Julian would like you to answer for your own meadow will follow in the next blog post. Clearly this is an optional process, and you may not be able, or want to provide all of the detail. But in time it should help others to see the range of meadows and management strategies in the county, and since each meadow will be allocated its’ own gallery page, can be added to and updated to provide an on line record of how the meadow changes over time.
Many thanks for reading.