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Friday, 3 July 2015

Summertime in the meadows

Self heal

Summer is here and the wild flowers are looking great as we have already seen in the recent orchid post. During the summer we carry out monitoring in the meadows so that we can get them in the best condition possible.

Youth rangers helping with meadow monitoring at Curbar
This habitat has been created over time by human management and the assemblage of plants and the wildlife they support depend on the continuation of this management. If these areas are over grazed then many of the plant species can be lost as they are unable to reproduce as they are not given the chance to flower. If abandoned courser grasses will out-compete the wild flowers and succession will eventually lead to development of scrub.
Tufted vetch
Bush vetch
  The general principles to maintain a meadow are pretty simple:

1.    keep the livestock out during the spring/summer to allow the plants to develop

2.    cut the vegetation late in the summer so the plants can seed

3.    allow the hay to dry in the field so the seed can drop off

4.    remove the hay so that the land does not become enriched by the decomposing hay

5.    follow this with aftermath grazing over the winter
Making the fields stockproof so that we can control the grazing

Modern agricultural practices have led to ‘improvement’ of fields regarding productivity. This generally requires larger field sizes so that machinery can be used, fertilizing and use of pesticides to increase yield, and replacing the meadow mix of plants with specially bred productive grasses. There has been a general move away hay making to the harvesting of silage which allows multiple cuts in a year and is easier to store and feed in bulk. As such hay meadows are becoming an uncommon sight; estimates suggest that only 1000ha upland hay meadow remain. However, we are lucky to have some excellent examples in the area and there are schemes to encourage land managers to maintain their meadows.

Yellow rattle, a key meadow plant. It is semi parasitic and so weakens the grasses, this gives flowing plants more opportunity to flourish in the meadow.

Each meadow will have it’s own character depending on things like pH of soil, aspect, dampness and past management. Even within the same field there can be a big variation. On the Eastern Moors our meadows are upland meadows and have plants which can tolerate acid/neutral soils. We have brought these fields back into the correct grazing and cutting regime by repairing the drystone walls and fencing (to control cattle) and pulling ragwort (to enable hay making).

Volunteers pulling ragwort at Curbar. Ragwort should not be in hay which is fed to livestock as it can be eaten by accident and cause poisoning so to make the field worth harvesting it has to be pulled out.

We are also looking at other inbye fields to see if it would be possible to return them to meadows. However this must not impact other feature of interest in those fields.

Youth rangers look for adders tongue fern in the field.

If you want to see wildflowers for yourself now is a great time, the early flowering plants are just coming to an end while the later plants are in full bloom. It is also worth giving the grasses some attention as they can have beautiful delicate flowers.

Cock's foot grass
Crested dog's tail grass

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