Many thanks to Derek for providing both his observations on and photographs of his stunning meadow over the strange year that has been July 2017 to July 2018:
It was never going to be a normal year from the late summer of 2017. We put off a chance for the local farmer to cut our field until after the August bank holiday week as we wanted some friends to see the flowers before it was cut. However, as the rains began then, there was never a chance for him to get on to the field. He said that it was the wettest winter he has known, with him not being able to work on several of his own fields. Not necessarily in terms of total rainfall but in the number of days when it rained on saturated ground.
Then we had the freezing late Spring and the hot summer of 2018. We knew that we could expect changes in 2018 as it would be the first time in over 20 years that the field hasn’t had its single cut in late August with the hay taken off. However the other two climatic events have meant that we have no idea which of the three things has produced the greatest effects on the flowers. So this is not a scientific study more general impressions.
Overall, we are fairly sure the lack of a hay cut has meant less flowering this year. It seems that many of the lower growing plants were not visible this year. We didn’t see Eyebrights or Tormentils or Harebells to name but three species. But was this because of the much higher and thicker grasses or just because everything was late because of the cold spring and then speeded up in the heat? We didn’t see it but might have missed them. Much that did flower bloomed and was over in a week. However we suspect that it was the thick grasses preventing growth or flowering of the smaller plants.
Our orchids, mostly marsh, heath and butterfly, were not as numerous as usual (although still in their hundreds). They seemed more spread out across the whole field and, unlike other years, the marsh orchids were late and were still in flower when the Greater Butterflies bloomed briefly in the first wave of heat, with little setting of seed.
The Hawkbits were also many fewer than usual. The taller growing plants still flowered. The meadow thistles and the dyers greenweed in clumps smothering or above the grass.
Earlier than normal the Whorled Caraway, Scabious and Knapweed bloomed well but were then almost over by the beginning August.
The Yellow Rattle, Birdsfoot Trefoil and Vetches were definitely much fewer than usual, more spread out as individual plants.
We have noticed a decline in yellow rattle over the past few years which we had put down to the fact that the grasses had been parasitised for over 20 years and perhaps the rattle might not be able to take as many nutrients from the fewer more impoverished grasses than before. Perhaps it would need a few years for the grasses to recover before the rattle would also recover? We have noticed similar fluctuations in other species as the years passed. A few years ago the meadow seemed “swamped” with Knapweed. But again after a couple of years they declined to their normal levels.
All in all an interesting year. Now there are few obvious signs that we had the heatwave. Every field around us is showing almost no sign of the scorched browns and yellows, but has a growth of fresh green. The mix of warmth and the heavy rain of the last couple of weeks has meant a new long, lank growth of grasses everywhere. This year, our field was cut and the bales removed in early August, much earlier than usual. But everything had set seed by then. It is now green again.
We wait to see what the Autumn will bring.