Saturday, 5 November 2016

'Is it a number one sir?'. Managing meadows.

Our meadows are young and still verdant with new grasses. It is necessary to remove this nitrogen-rich growth before fertility is returned to the soil. If we don't, vigorous plants will crowd out the less-robust ones and lead to fewer plant species in the meadow. Perversely, wildflower meadows do best on less-fertile soils.

So, time for a meadow haircut, but unlike someone asking for a number one all over, our meadows need more than a one-size-fits-all hammering.
meadow during mowing

To remove all the top growth would deny voles and mice a place to tunnel and be protected from kestrels and owls. It would mean that sleeping hedgehogs lose safe places to hibernate. Many moths, butterflies and other invertebrates use meadow plants as winter hosts for eggs or larvae. Bumble bees make nests in the cover of a thick sward.

Gatekeepers and meadow brown enjoying ragwort
Our cutting regime sees some areas of the meadow cut close each year - and this management will encourage a certain type of low-growing flora. Other areas will be scuffed and the surface of the soil broken to allow the seeds of annual plants like poppies to grow and for the seeds of perennials to spread. This breaking of the soil surface was traditionally done by animals grazing the pasture after the hay cut. The wet winter ground was 'poached' by their feet, providing a fertile seed bed. And finally, as I have already said, some areas are left unmown to provide safe haven for the range of grassland invertebrates and other animals. These unmown areas will provide shelter over winter and hopefully provide a reservoir of wildlife to move out into other areas of the meadow when it begins to grow again. Winter finches should enjoy the seeds left in the unmown areas too. Wildlife likes untidiness!

The caveat I enter here about the unmown sections is that I cut by hand seeding heads of dock and ragwort. Useful for wildlife (ragwort flowers provide a really useful source of nectar for a range of invertebrates), these are very much in the 'bully' category of meadow plants who will colonise and dominate if their seeds are allowed to spread uncontrollably.

Our dream is to create a species rich meadow. We have already introduced harvest mice into the unmown area. We are enjoying the company of a juvenile kestrel at the moment who seems especially interested in the rough grass and its snack-size inhabitants. My dream is to see a barn owl quartering the ground...
Planting an Indian Bean Tree (Catalpa) on the edge of the meadow grown by Mike

This time we've used a strimmer with a brush cutter head and removed the arisings with rakes - thanks to our pal Mike for his muscle. The 'green hay' as we term it has been layered up in a compost bin with manure and wood chippings - all thoroughly soaked. This first layering will probably have a second airing after what I hope will be the final lawn mowing of the year. The compost will be mixed with grass cuttings - adding oxygen and green fuel to the compost to speed its progress. Compost itself is a wonderful place for wildlife.

We finished a hectic six hours by planting an Indian Beantree (Catalpa bignoniodes) seedling. This had been nurtured by Mike in pots for eleven years and was grown from seed collected from a large specimen once growing outside St Nicholas Church on Maid Marian Way in Nottingham. Close to the church is the famous Nottingham castle that has a notable specimen of an Indian Beantree - perhaps our new tree is related to this august plant? Clumber Park, twenty miles to the north of us is believed to be the northernmost Catalpa.

Post a Comment