Meadows are very rich areas for wildlife, particularly if they are managed well. Most of our meadows have only been in place for a few years, although the main meadow in our woods has been a clearing for a long time. We are managing all of them to maximise wildflowers and to provide maximum benefit for pollinating insects, as well as to provide food plants for butterfly and moth caterpillars. In the last couple of weeks, these meadows have really started to come to life with buttercups, purple vetch, red campion and ragged robin appearing in ever-increasing numbers, to add to the cowslips and snakes head fritillaries of early spring.
In the last few days other plants have started to come out – in particular the spectacular southern marsh orchid, which is spreading in the damp areas of Betty’s Wood, and the first ox-eye daisies are starting to bloom.
In the ponds, too, the iris are coming into flower, and emergent stems of sedge, spearwort and iris are forming great vantage points for the four spotted and broad bodied chaser dragonflies staking out their territories. Damselflies are also on the wing, roosting in the long grass, on the thistles and on the trees in the hedgerow.
With the blooming of the meadows come the first of the summer butterflies – brown argus, small copper, common blue, dingy skipper and small heath are now all on the wing in our meadows, as well as the large and small white, brimstone, green-veined white and the ever-present peacock and small tortoiseshell.
We manage our meadows in a number of ways. One of the star plants is the yellow rattle, pictured above. This marvellous plant is semi-parasitic and knocks back the grass, making it possible for more wildflowers to thrive. We add to this by mowing and removing the hay, which takes fertility out of the soil – wildflowers generally thrive in relatively impoverished soil, and low fertility again keeps the grass in check. It has taken a while to get the process of improvement started, but we are now seeing the results.
In the next few weeks we are looking forward to seeing large and small skippers, Essex skippers, ringlets and meadow browns. Then the meadows will truly be in their prime, but for the moment, they are full of promise.