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Plantlife are excited to have begun a 10 year partnership project with English Heritage, where we will restore and create 100 meadows across 100 historic sites, as part of the King’s Meadow Project.
Meadows and grasslands are essential for biodiversity, as well as for storing carbon and enhancing our well-being.
Understanding how meadows are established and the role we have as humans on sustaining them is crucial. Sarah Shuttleworth, Plantlife’s Senior Ecological Advisor, explains how collaboration between Plantlife meadow experts and English Heritage head gardeners and landscape staff, is helping to protect these beautifully biodiverse landscapes.
‘Nearly all land in the UK would eventually turn to woodland if it was completely left alone, therefore grasslands naturally start to turn to scrub and then woodland if they are not managed. This is why we need to cut them for hay and/or graze them with animals which helps to keep the diversity of specialised meadow critters from disappearing.
It was also important to explore the reasons behind their disappearance: we have lost over 97% of our meadows or species rich grasslands in the last century.
Our demand for food since World War II has intensified the way in which we manage the land, resulting in a shift from species-rich hay meadows that were cut by hand, to ploughing and replanting grasslands with grass seed mixes for silage, or pasture for animals to graze on. This is why this project to restore and create meadows is so exciting.’
Training led by Plantlife will have an impact on some of England’s greatest historic sites, whose meadows are as rich with nature as they are with heritage.
During a 2-day training event held at English Heritage properties, Plantlife led discussions about how to create new meadows at their sites, and enhance those that already exist at iconic landscapes across the country.
‘Plantlife’s meadows team helpfully showed us how we could improve the species diversity by cutting meadows earlier to control the vigour of grasses and other vigorous species. Our gardeners and managers have returned to their own sites across England enthused and have started planning soil surveys as the first stage to assess the potential of sites we are looking to restore in the years ahead.
With Plantlife’s support and advice, English Heritage is creating more natural spaces at the heart of 100 of our historic properties, ensuring that wildflowers and wildlife can flourish there once again, and helping our visitors to step back into history and experience something with which the sites’ historic occupants would have been familiar.
On one such site, over in Kent, Charles Darwin used his meadow at his home, Down House, to produce hay, for grazing his animals and as a place for observation and experiments. In 1855, with the help of his children’s governess, he started a survey of all flowering plant species growing in the neighbouring Great Pucklands Meadow. He would go on to use the data to demonstrate biodiversity in his seminal work on natural selection.
Today, both of Darwin’s meadows provide an outstanding show in the early summer. Buttercups turn the field into a golden blaze, followed by White and Red Clover, Great Burnet, Ox-eye Daisies, Knapweed and many more. This wonderful array is enjoyed by visitors large and small, including bees, butterflies, moths and wasps.
In a decade’s time, our coronation pledge will be an inspiring legacy of established, restored and new meadows at 100 of our historic sites – big and small – right across England.’
We’ve lost over 97% of our meadows in less than a century. Plantlife’s work, like the Kings Meadow Project, will restore healthy grasslands rich in wild plants and fungi, which can support more wildlife, store more carbon and so much more.
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A new stock-take of the UK’s wildlife has revealed continued declines in our biodiversity, with over half of our flowering plants declining in their range since 1970.
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