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Read in: EnglishCymraeg
Plantlife Volunteer Story
Ever wondered how biodiverse meadows are made? Plantlife Members and volunteers Andrew and Helen Martin live on a 5-acre smallholding in rural Carmarthenshire.
Here they tell us in their own words about their own ‘Meadow Story’, and how their field is now a haven for orchids and rare plants.
In recent years, the public has been alerted by the media to worry about declines in insects, especially bees. As a former bumblebee research scientist, this wasn’t news to me because the range of many bumblebee species contracted significantly in the middle of the last century. There is little doubt that big changes in UK agriculture (and therefore most of our landscape) were responsible.
To put it very simply, there aren’t as many flowers in the countryside now as there were (for over 1,000 years) So, for us, it was always an ambition to have a little bit of countryside of our own that we could manage for biodiversity, and after my getting early retirement, and Helen being made redundant, we were off like a shot to rural Wales in 2012.
Our fields had been sheep grazed for as long as anyone locally could remember, and they were still being grazed by a local sheep farmer who rents lots of small fields along the Tywi valley.
We decided to manage one of ours as a hay meadow. Research has shown that in a new meadow the plant diversity increases more quickly if you introduce Yellow Rattle, which is partly parasitic on grasses and inhibits their growth. So, in 2013 we collected Yellow Rattle seed from a neighbour’s field about a mile away and sowed it in the field. We began excluding the sheep every year from the end of March and by April 2014 the Yellow Rattle was growing well.
In mid-June 2014 we got the neighbouring farmer to cut and bale the field, but decided that it would be better in future to choose when to cut and so acquired a 1963 tractor and some small-scale haymaking implements.
I’m not particularly keen to produce a hay crop, but for floral diversity the main thing is to ensure that all the cuttings are removed from the field to reduce the soil fertility; and the easiest way to do this is to cut and bale the hay. All we produce is sold to the farmer whose sheep return after the hay cut when grass regrowth begins. I leave the hay cut as late as possible, to allow more species to drop seeds.
Each year, different species’ dominance rose and fell as the county plant recorder predicted they would. For a couple of years there was so much Yellow Rattle, but soon it settled down to more of an equilibrium, while other things rose in frequency then settled down. Eyebright appeared after a couple of years, as did Whorled Caraway (the County Flower), and Cat’s Ear.
Some plants (like Meadow Buttercup) were probably there already, but never got to flower because the sheep ate them. Broad-leaved Helleborines appeared in 2016, and in 2017, a single Southern Marsh Orchid. Common Spotted and Heath Spotted (with hybrids between them) followed, and each year the orchid numbers have increased, it was up to 50 a couple of years back and well over 100 now.
The field looks different as different plants come into flower in succession, but it even looks different on the same day in the morning and in the afternoon because the Cat’s Ear flowers close about lunchtime, so the field is much more yellow in the morning.
In the morning
In the afternoon
Plantlife has done valuable work towards achieving that aim (especially with the recent “Magnificent Meadows” campaign). County Meadows Groups also do their bit to help small landowners to get results like this field, and in the group I chair (Carmarthenshire) we’re also trying to raise the profile of species-rich grasslands generally with the UK wide “Big Meadow Search” (www.bigmeadowsearch.co.uk).
There are few people left who can remember when every farm had a hay meadow, but I hope we can succeed in bringing some back.
Discover how you can identify the mosses where you live, and read about Lizzie's challenge to learn 10 mosses!
Grasslands like meadows and parks are not just home to wildflowers, they are also an important habitat for waxcap fungi.
Ever wondered why we need to go out and count rare plants? Meg Griffiths reflects on a summer of lichen hunting for the Natur am Byth! Project.
Spring is an exciting time to be on our nature reserves.
This is the season when the meadows really burst into life, with lush growth and seasonal flowers.
Cae Blaen-dyffryn is our south Wales nature reserve and can be found close to the town of Lampeter, in Carmarthenshire. It’s best known for its population of Greater and Lesser Butterfly Orchids (Platanthera chlorantha & P. bifolia) which flower in the high summer.
However, a visit in spring is always rewarding. Luxuriant fresh growth in the grassland is fed by a warm sun and abundant rain. Cuckoos call from distant hills. Within the reserve, Meadow Pipits drop from the sky above you with their cascading song, and Stonechats call assertively from the scrub.
You can also find the earliest-flowering plant species breaking through in Cae Blaen-dyffryn in May and June. If you look carefully, you can also find signs of other beauties still in store, like the feathery leaves of Whorled Caraway Carum verticillatum (Carmarthenshire’s ‘County Flower’) poking through.
In May, the most abundant include pink Lousewort (pictured) Pedicularis sylvatica, purple Bugle Ajuga reptans, and yellow Tormentil Potentilla erecta, so the reserve is already a rainbow of colour.
Scattered bushes of Broom (pictured) Cytisus scoparius and Gorse Ulex europaeus are also in their fullest seasonal yellow coat of flowers. As soon as the sun hits them, they are suddenly alive with pollinators.
The speckled leaves of Dactylorhiza Orchids(pictured) can also be found peeking out between the abundant patches of Knapweed Centaurea nigra and Cat’s-ear Hypochaeris radicata.
Our North Wales nature reserve, sitting on a hillside above Clynnog-Fawr on the Llyn peninsula, is equally known for its population of Greater Butterfly Orchids which number in their thousands at the site.
The meadows under the mountain pass face north east, making them a morning spot to visit if you wish to enjoy them in the sunshine at this time of year. They are as equally beautiful in the North Wales rain, however.
The cloddiau (earth and stone bank walls) between the fields are an equal show to the meadows, with their hedgerow tops of Rowan, Damson, Hawthorn and Blackthorn. If you look below the trees the Common Dog Violets Viola riviniana hide amongst the tree roots and the boulders.
The orchids are already visible in the meadow and the Yellow Rattle Rhinanthus minor is just starting to flower.
A few Celandines (pictured) Ficaria verna are just holding on but the yellow flowers and white clocks of the Dandelions Taraxacum spp contrast beautifully with the blue of the Bluebells Hyacinthus non-scripta, which are equally set off by the feathery leaves of Pignut Conopodium majus.
Spring Sedge Carex caryophyllea abounds at the site but if you look between it and the more prominent species very carefully you will see the leaves and tiny starry green flowers of the Intermediate Lady’s-mantle (pictured) Alchemilla xanthochlora and Smooth Lady’s-mantle Alchemilla glabra. If you visit in the morning on a dew laden spring day, you will catch these plants living up to their other name of ‘Dew Cup’.
There is something wonderful about the sense of promise yielded by flower-rich grasslands at this time of year. And a feeling you can’t wait to come back to see what you might find next.
Caeau Tan y Bwlch is managed on behalf of Plantlife by North Wales Wildlife Trust.
For more details on visiting our Welsh reserves in spring and throughout the year, visit our reserves page here Welsh Nature Reserves – Plantlife
Discover 4 new walk ideas and Scottish spring adventure inspiration from Plantlife Scotland’s Communications and Policy Officer, Erin Shott.
Look, the seasons, they are a-changing and I don’t know about you, but I am so looking forward to that sweet, sweet spring time weather. After the cold winter days and long winter nights, I am so ready to get out there and breathe in the freshness of spring.
I would highly recommend taking a visit to one of Scotland’s rainforests if you have the opportunity. The high rainfall, and mild temperatures result in lush mossy areas just bursting with lichens and bryophytes it really does feel like I’ve stepped into a fairy tale. And if that doesn’t attract your attention then you’ll be impressed with the sheer abundance, diversity, and rarity of the species of Scotland’s rainforest.
It won’t be my first visit to the temperate rainforest; however, I’ve visited Glen Nant in the past. Plantlife has a downloadable handy wild plant walk leaflet for the Glen Nant Important Plant Area (IPA), so it was a solid motivation for a visit for me.
But I hear you ask, what if I don’t want to visit a rainforest site? Looking for something short and located in the central belt?
Then download and check out North Berwick Law, our guide is for a nice 1 mile hike up one iconic hill in East Lothian. Plenty of opportunity to spot wild plants too, like Meadow Saxifrage Saxifraga granulata, this snow-white species is found in dry grasslands, or the hilariously named Cuckooflower Cardamine pratensis, due to its delicate purple flowers starting to bloom just as the cuckoo first begins its call.
If you’re the Munro bagging type, then check out the Ben Nevis IPA, a delightful 10-mile hike that is absolutely rich in Bog Asphodel Narthecium ossifragum a plant once used for its potential as a natural dye or the delightfully carnivorous Round-leaved Sundew Drosera rotundifolia (image by Michael Scott) which have long red-coloured stalks that are often seen with globules of ‘dew’ hanging from them. These globules are a polysaccharide solution to trap and digest their prey.
If you’re keen to spend a day out in the Cairngorms, take some time to discover Anagach woods IPA. Download your a free guide here. Soak in the wonders of the Caledonian pinewoods, maybe you’ll spot the rare and iconic Twinflower Linnaea borealis? This special plant is a focal point for our Cairngorms Rare Plants Project. You might also find some Wood sorrel Oxalis acetosella, with its clover-shaped leaves (that taste like apples), this springtime bloomer has delicate white flowers with lilac coloured veins.
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