Joan's Hill Farm
Location: Checkley, Herefordshire.
Grid Reference: SO 591 376
A stunning piece of Herefordshire meadowland, set in the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Until relatively recently it was still a working farm (the farmhouse is still privately owned) and our land here is divided into 14 different fields, with one parcel of woodland. Three hundred years ago, the farm had exactly the same boundaries as today, and the pattern of fields has hardly changed since the tithe map of 1843.
The reserve is in two parcels, separated by about 300m, but the largest part is a 40-acre block of meadow. One of the first flowers to appear here in late spring is cowslip. Other yellow flowers include lady’s bedstraw, cat’s-ear – a little reminiscent of dandelion but with a more compact head – and yellow-rattle, named because its dry seed heads literally rattle in the wind.
Common sorrel grows here too, along with common knapweed, meadow vetchling and selfheal, with marsh thistle and meadowsweet in damper corners. In some areas, common spotted-orchids (pictured opposite) are so vigorous that they form carpets of pale lilac.
Greenweeds and green wings
Some of the meadow species are less common. Greater butterfly-orchid has flowering spikes up to 40cm tall, topped by a dense head of greenish-white flowers that are fragrant at night to attract pollinating moths.
Green-winged orchid is usually a little shorter, with fewer flowers. Its leaves wrap round its stem and its purple flowers have a broad, flat, spotted lower lip and a darker hood at the top, marked on the outside with green veins.
Also found here is dyer’s greenweed. It looks a little like a low-growing broom, although no more than 70cm tall, but it has no spines and its leaves are unlobed. It is a species of old meadows and grassy pastures, and was once used to produce yellow and green dyes.
Joan’s Hill Farm is also one of several Plantlife reserves that holds the generally scarce pepper-saxifrage, a delicate and attractive member of the carrot family.
Beyond the meadows
The eastern block of pasture land, covering around six acres, hosts species like betony, and in the small area of woodland at the west of the reserve you’ll find many typical woodland plants.
To conserve the flowers and wildlife, we cut the meadows for hay in late summer, after the meadow plants have flowered and set seed. Any regrowth is then grazed by cattle during the autumn, but for the rest of year grazing animals are kept off the meadows to encourage the greatest diversity of plants.
The pasture to the east is maintained by light grazing in summer and autumn.
Purchase of the reserve was made possible by Unilever (Timotei) and the Heritage Lottery Fund.