Location: Near Harringworth, Rutland
Grid Reference: SP 915 979
The arches of the Welland Railway Viaduct rise 21m above the River Welland and neatly separate the two hay meadows that make up this reserve.
But the meadows long pre-date this magnificent act of engineering. From the air, a faint pattern of ridge and furrow ploughing is visible, perhaps dating from medieval times.
The reserve was bought by Plantlife in 1996. It is dedicated to the memory of the popular garden expert, Geoff Hamilton, who was on Plantlife’s Advisory Council and whose famous garden is at nearby Barnsdale.
Floods and flowers
The low-lying land near the Welland regularly floods and around 16 acres of the reserve is flood meadow, identified by plants such as meadowsweet, meadow vetchling, yellow-rattle and greater bird’s-foot-trefoil. Great burnet, with spiky, oblong, crimson flowerheads, grows commonly here – the purple-brown stalks of its deeply divided leaves are conspicuous among the grasses and sedges.
On the higher, drier land, the delicate yellow sprays of lady’s bedstraw grow with pignut and oxeye daisy. Where the clay of this higher land meets the silt by the river, there’s an area where water oozes from below the clay. This seepage zone can be spotted from a distance by the lime-green foliage of common spike-rush and the big yellow flowers of marsh-marigold in spring.
The susceptibility of the land to flooding made intensive agriculture impractical and sympathetic former owners maintained traditional meadow management.
From December to July, the two fields are shut up, which means they are left ungrazed to encourage a rich hay crop of grasses and herbs. This also helps the rich flora of the site and produces good breeding conditions for birds like snipe.
Around late July, the hay is cut, helping distribute seeds of the meadow plants. Then sheep and cattle are briefly allowed on the land in what is called aftermath grazing, before the fields are shut up once more.
Seaton is the last example of this kind of meadow in the Welland Valley. We hope it might act as an ecological blueprint to encourage the restoration of more meadows in the area.