Iso­lated pock­ets that need our pro­tec­tion

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - COMMUNITY -

These meadows, once a com­mon sight across the low­lands of Eng­land, are now for many a dis­tant mem­ory. With an ever-in­creas­ing pop­u­la­tion and need for hous­ing, more and more of these meadows are be­ing lost un­der con­crete and tar­mac, whilst the re­main­ing coun­try­side is farmed in­ten­sively.

The scale of loss means that those re­main­ing meadows are small, frag­mented and of­ten iso­lated pock­ets that leave wildlife, in­clud­ing in­sects, birds and small mam­mals, even more vul­ner­a­ble to de­cline be­cause there isn’t suit­able habi­tat nearby for them to move into.

Flood­plain meadows, a par­tic­u­larly rare and vul­ner­a­ble type of meadow, have suf­fered more than most. Once oc­cu­py­ing large swathes of land across the UK‘s coun­try­side there are now less than 1500ha left, an area roughly the size of Heathrow Air­port.

The lo­cal Wildlife Trust Bucks, Berks and Oxon Wildlife Trust is work­ing hard to pro­tect the last sur­viv­ing rem­nants of these an­cient meadows and to en­sure that their tra­di­tional man­age­ment is con­tin­ued. The Trust cur­rently man­ages just over 500ha of all types of meadows across the three coun­ties.

These meadows are par­tic­u­larly di­verse: in one square me­tre of some habi­tats you’re likely to find up to 40 dif­fer­ent plant species. Hav­ing such a rich ba­sis to this ecosys­tem gives rise to a whole host of in­sects, which in turn sup­port many birds and small mam­mals.

Tra­di­tional they may be, but these meadows are not a nat­u­rally-oc­cur­ring habi­tat. They have evolved along­side our need to sus­tain live­stock over the win­ter months, by cut­ting sum­mer grass and stor­ing it as hay for win­ter fod­der.

This tra­di­tional method of let­ting veg­e­ta­tion grow through the spring and then tak­ing a hay-cut in mid-sum­mer, fol­lowed by graz­ing by sheep or cat­tle in the au­tumn, pre­vents the coarse grasses from be­com­ing dom­i­nant and en­cour­ages more wild flow­ers to thrive.

Look­ing af­ter these meadows is vi­tal for their sur­vival; and we have Royal sup­port for this im­por­tant work.

In June 2013, HRH The Prince of Wales launched the Corona­tion Meadows project with the aim of cre­at­ing a net­work of flag­ship an­cient wild­flower meadows in ev­ery county to mark the an­niver­sary of the Queen’s corona­tion.

Meadow Farm lies within the Up­per Ray Meadows na­ture re­serve in the Vale of Ayles­bury, and is one of the three Corona­tion Meadows that BBOWT looks af­ter. The oth­ers are Chim­ney Meadows in west Ox­ford­shire and Moor Copse in Berk­shire.

There are now 88 Corona­tion Meadows in Eng­land and Wales, which the project aims to pro­tect. They are also a valu­able source of seed to es­tab­lish more wild­flower meadows us­ing nat­u­ral seed­ing meth­ods. Al­ready 66 new meadows to­talling 575 acres have been cre­ated since the project be­gan.

This sum­mer BBOWT will be us­ing seed har­vested from Meadow Farm to help Ayles­bury Vale District Coun­cil cre­ate a wild­flower meadow in the cen­tre of Buck­ing­ham.

The Corona­tion Meadows project, led by Plantlife, the Rare Breeds Sur­vival Trust and the Wildlife Trusts, and sup­ported by Biffa Award as part of the Land­fill Com­mu­ni­ties Fund, is prov­ing to be a sig­nif­i­cant cat­a­lyst for the restora­tion of tra­di­tional meadows.

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