Wildflower Meadows

Buttercup in evening sun

Buttercup in evening sun

Southern marsh orchid

Southern marsh orchid

There has been a lot of publicity recently about the decline in wildflower meadows – we have lost 97% of our meadows in the last 80 years, thanks to changes in farming practice and use of herbicides.  But wildflower meadows provide a rich habitat with multiple ecological niches as well as an amazing experience for human visitors (See article in The Independent).  Wildflower meadows are a wonderful example of the impact of humans, domestic animals and natural processes to produce a very rich ecosystem.  Their richness depends upon management – upon mowing for hay, light grazing of the stubble and the wonderful natural process that creates a balance between many different plants and grasses.

Our own meadows have different origins:  those in Betty’s Wood are newly-established on a former arable field, and those in Alvecote Wood are a clearing that was heavily-grazed and unmanaged, resulting in very little diversity and loss of the wonderful mixture of wildflowers.  Both suffered from over-fertility – the former due to fertilisers, the latter due to animal dung.

What is wonderful now is the way in which they have responded to management, even though this has been suboptimal over the years, thanks to difficulties with weather and access for equipment.  The warm, wet June we have had so far has been paradise for so many species.  We have oxeye daisy, birdsfoot trefoil, yellow rattle (a marvellous plant that subdues the grass and makes for a better display of flowers), tufted vetch, sainfoin, medick, clover (white and red), yarrow, red campion, ragged robin, forget-me-not, meadow buttercup and creeping buttercup and others besides.  A few annuals thrive also, including cornflower and corncockle.  At the edge of the ponds, teasel is spreading, providing food for the birds.  In a damp patch, the southern marsh orchids which started off as a single plant are now multiplying and spreading too.

Yellow Rattle

Yellow rattle

All of this makes a brilliant source of food for insects and nectar for bees and other pollinators.  Dragonflies and damselflies hover over the meadow in the sunshine.  Butterflies seek places to lay eggs on a variety of foodplants.  Swallows and swifts swoop in to eat insects during the day, and bats feed at night-time.  Small mammals take shelter under the thatch of grass, providing food for foxes, badgers, owls, kestrels, buzzards and red kite.  The adjacent field of barley is devoid of life by comparison.

We still have a lot to learn about meadows.  Creating and maintaining them is not easy – it is not just a case of flinging a bit of seed on some soil and sitting back.  But it is extremelyrewarding to help reverse a widespread decline, even if our own meadows cover only about 4 acres (out of our 20 acre woodland site).  If you can create a meadow, it really is one of the most wonderful things you can do to help wildlife (planting trees and digging ponds being the others).  And join the Plantlife campaign to prevent councils from mowing wildflowers in grass verges until they have set seed, for this adds up to a massive wildflower meadow throughout our towns and villages, if only we could learn to value rich meadows over sterile short grass.

Meadows are brilliant.  If you can find one, please spend some time in one, enjoying what they have to offer.

 

Yellow – the colour of spring

Buttercup in evening sun

Buttercup in evening sun

Buttercups in the meadow

Buttercups in the meadow

Buttercups

Buttercups in the meadow

Spring has been very late this year, but is now here in glorious colour.  I got to thinking about the colours associated with different seasons.  Winter to me is white, or rather, monochrome.  Colours are very muted, there is snow, and any plants that struggle through, like snowdrops, are white.  To me, the excitement of spring starts in the woods when we see a tinge of yellow, from our daffodils, but also from our lesser celandine in the shade of the trees and on our woodland paths.  Lesser celandine is like a herald of the beauty to come in the form of the showy daffodils.

Cowslip

Cowslip

Lesser celandine

Lesser celandine

Primrose

Primrose at Alvecote Wood

More spring yellowness comes from the primroses and cowslips that have been slowly and quietly spreading across our wet and shady areas in the woods, doing particularly well this year (and maybe producing oxlips in future – those showy primroses up on long stems that result from primrose/cowslip hybrids).  These little gems of brightness on cloudy and wet spring days are really cheering, particularly so this year after the dismal, long and dark winter.

 

White bluebell among blue

White among the blue

Then, ever so slowly, the palette changes.  Yellow stays with us, in the form of buttercups, but is joined, first by blue and then by white, pink and all the colours of the rainbow.  Blue is the complimentary colour of yellow, providing a wonderful counterpoint to the yellowness of the daffodils, buttercups and primroses.  We are so very lucky that our woods are full of bluebells, almost all of them blue, a few white and pink, and a stunning sight they make.  There is also a blue counterpoint in the meadow in the form of both germander speedwell, and forget-me-not – these two beautiful, complimentary colours enhancing each other.  Even the emerging leaves, acid-green with a strong yellow tone, and the yellow of the catkins and tree-flowers, add to this spring yellowness.  The first butterflies are also yellow – the brimstones that range along the woodland edge looking for buckthorn on which to lay their eggs.

Single bluebell

Single bluebell

The changing palette brings in purples and pinks (campion, snakeshead fritillary, early purple vetch) and white (greater and lesser stitchwort, Jack-under-the-hedge, early ox-eye daisy and mayweeds).  These are the colours of summer – along with the red of poppies, the blue of cornflower, the pink of corncockle, and a multitude of beautiful colours from clovers, vetches, sainfoin and our wonderful southern marsh orchids.  Summer to me is a rainbow, rather than one particular colour.

This year, spring has seemed the more spectacular because it has been compressed – coming late, and making up for that with a vengeance.  Let us hope it is a harbinger of a beautiful, colour-filled summer.