Isolated pockets that need our protection
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.