Last year was a drought and this year has been a deluge – and it is obvious what Betty’s Wood meadow and trees prefer! We have had some worrying moments since the meadow was planted in October 2010 and the trees in February 2011. Despite a great display of poppies last year, the perennial wildflowers and the grass sward in particular were very sparse – after a year of growth you could still see the lines made by the seed drill. The diversity was also low, with little in the way of the important butterfly foodplants, such as birds-foot trefoil. Some areas had barely any growth on them at all, and newly-planted areas of wildlowers on top of the spoil removed when we dug the ponds had just a tiny green fringe. The largest meadow was so sparse that when we mowed it, we were throwing up dust from the parched and cracked surface, and there were few clippings left from the sparse mayweed and poppy growth.
The trees, too, had suffered, despite our best attempts to water them. Although we ended the year with 5% loss plus 1% stolen out of our 5000 trees, some were not in the best of shape. In particular, the species we had planted in the area that is normally wet (alder, varieties of willow, poplar, aspen) had struggled to put on any growth at all, and in places, had managed only one or two leaves.
This year started badly too – a drought through March left us wondering how we were going to cope through the summer. We needn’t have worried – although the rain has not been pleasant for humans, and at times we have had problems with the quantity (including a flood in the woods that almost washed away our bridge), the trees and meadow have loved it, and responded with growth that we could only have dreamed of last year.
Standing by the ponds last night, I could hear the leaves of our little aspen trees as they trembled against each other – aspen is the only tree in our wood that you can identify by sound! Last year, they had a couple of leaves each, but this year, enough to make a noise. Our cloned willows are growing enthusiastically. Some of our trees are now about 5 feet high and others are showing great recovery growth. Areas are now beginning to look a bit like a young woodland, rather than a parched meadow with a few sad trees in it.
And the meadow! Oh my goodness, the meadow! We have such lush growth it is hard to walk through it. The grasses, yellow rattle, beautiful clovers, medick, sainfoin, tufted vetch and large patches of birds-foot trefoil. And daisies. Lots and lots of daisies. Over a million ox-eye daisies.
With the meadow and improvements to our ponds have come insects – thousands of insects. We have a really good show of common blue and brown argus butterflies this year. We also have small heath butterflies for the first time, and to our delight, the dingy skipper has arrived too. Almost every flower has a ladybird, some kind of bug, beetle, fly, bee, hoverfly, spider or other living thing on it, feeding from it, and enjoying it. The grass is thick enough for us to see vole and rabbit tunnels and pathways. A skylark is sussing out potential nesting spots. Our ponds, too, are showing increased diversity of life, including common blue, azure, blue-tailed, red-eyed, white-legged and large red damselflies, as well as the four-spotted and broad-bodied chaser dragonflies. As you walk through the meadow, little clouds of azure damselflies rise up and settle again. The contrast with the agricultural land over the fence is staggering.
We complain about the rain. We complain about having to wear wellies and a raincoat in summer. But the rain has wrought a transformation that outweighs the inconvenience. The meadow has come to life.