Fighting prickly battles to make way for summer
Cathie Hasler leads the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust team at Meadow Farm as they get ready for summer
IN the two years since the Wildlife Trust bought these remarkable medieval meadows on the borders of Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire we’ve learnt so much about the wildlife that lives here.
I’m lucky to have an office in the farmhouse at Meadow Farm and be part of the team looking after the wider Upper Ray Meadows. This includes several smaller nature reserves such as Gallows Bridge Farm and Leaches Farm, precious remnants of medieval field systems, which the Trust bought with the help of our members and grants, because they are very special places for wildlife.
Meadow Farm comprises seven wildflower meadows each with extraordinary boundaries of unmanaged (until last winter) hedgerows, and the River Ray, which rises near Quainton and flows to the River Cherwell. These are floodplain meadows – The Wildlife Trust now owns 10% of the entire acreage of these traditional floodplain meadows in England, and we’re looking after them for everyone to enjoy, as well as wildlife to thrive.
Meadow Farm is open for booked groups and special events, such as the Dawn Chorus Walk on Saturday April 30, to celebrate International Dawn Chorus Day, on May Day.
This will be a perfect opportunity to enjoy Meadow Farm with buttercups emphasising the ridge and furrow pattern on the fields, and to enjoy hearing birds including chiffchaff, yellowhammer, blackcap and the bubbling call of the curlew.
Then throughout the late spring and early summer there will be a series of Wildflower Meadow Walks, starting on Saturday 14 May, with regular events from 22 May to 10 July so visitors can enjoy the wild flowers at their peak. There’s more information about these and other events at Meadow Farm on www.bbowt.org.uk/ whats-on
The Upper Ray Meadows is a Coronation Meadow, so wildlife-rich that the seed harvested from the fields can be used to restore wildflower meadows nearby.
The Coronation Meadows project was set up by Prince Charles in the Queen’s Golden Jubilee year with The Wildlife Trusts, Plantlife and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, specifically to restore and recreate wildflower meadows across the UK. Seed from Meadow Farm has already been used for meadow restoration near Aylesbury.
The Upper Ray Meadows boast a network of more than 12 miles of hedgerows, which provide food, shelter and nesting opportunities for a range of species. We’re rejuvenating sections of hedgerow and this year coppiced and laid an incredible 570m!
All this work is only possible thanks to our fantastic team of volunteers who have battled spikey blackthorn and prickly hawthorn in all weathers. Reinforcements have come in the shape of the Vale Countryside Volunteers and Bicester Green Gym who have supported us throughout.
New projects are being prepared across the Upper Ray Meadows. These include re-naturalising more than 500m of river to enhance wildlife; expanding our network of wet features and installing predator fencing to help protect breeding birds; and starting work on a new footpath to improve public access to Gallows Bridge Farm.
Funding for these projects and more has come from the Heritage Lottery Fund, as well as Landfill Communities Fund administered by WREN, and grants from Biffa Award, the Ernest Cook Trust and the Wildflower Society.
Schoolchildren are enjoying the special outdoor classroom as well as the pond-dipping, bug hunting and running through the meadows with sweep nets to see what they can catch, and then release.
Come out to Meadow Farm and find out more about these amazing meadows.
Main picture: Meadow Farm buttercups in ridge and furrow