June is all about the meadows. They are at the very heart of the conservation work we do here. Did you know that we’ve lost 98% of our native wildflower meadows since the middle of the last century? Swallowtail Hill is doing its bit to fight back!
Here we have created – or are converting – 27 acres of rare, diverse meadow. Like meadows of old they contain a wealth of plants, flowers and grasses that are great for wildlife (especially pollinators) but also for animals. Herbs and medicines abound. Farmers used to keep one field aside full of flowers as a ‘hospital field’ and put sick animals into it to self-medicate. Meadows like ours take a long time to create. Our oldest ones are 25. The newest only 3 years into conversion.
How Have We Gone About It?
The conservation work here began 30 years ago. Christopher acquired the land which had been previously farmed on an industrial scale and began the process of leaching the chemicals out of the land in order to allow wildflower meadows the opportunity to establish.
This ‘leaching’ process does two things. It clears the soil of artificial fertilizer and insecticides, and so allows the overall fertility of the soil to reduce to practically zero. That’s what wildflowers need. It also allows time and the right environment for the most critical plant of all to flourish – and this is one you can’t see. It’s called mycorrhiza – a vast fungal filament that threads its way underground, and which is vital for carrying nutrients, acids and minerals up into the wild plants above. No natural landscape can survive without this layer – from flowers to trees. But chemicals kill it.
This process takes about five years, in the course of which, it’s sometimes necessary to kill off the invasive weeds that dominate the fields once they’re left bare. Harrowing work but all in a good cause.
Finally, it’s time to seed the meadows, and here it’s essential to use locally provenanced wildflower and grass seed mix because there are minor genetic variances in adaptability even in fairly close areas. The initial mix is a basic one, and includes red clover and yellow rattle – both critical. So in the early years what happens is that the meadow sort of lurches into life. One year you’ll find one species of flower dominating, the next year another. Eventually the rarer ones arrive on their own – on the feet or in the gut of birds and insects – and because the landscape is now welcoming to them, they seed and thrive.
After ten years, there’s what looks more like a wildflower meadow. And after 20 it really is taking shape.
Which means that converting the rest of our fields was nothing like as dramatic. For a start we didn’t need to leave the soil five years – that had already happened. Secondly, all we had to do was spread bales of our own hay all over the fields we wanted to convert, and after about five years – hay presto (excuse the pun) another wildflower meadow.
The Poor Field is probably the best meadow we have. Why? Its name is the give-away. Wildflowers need poor soil! It has been 25 years in creation and has about 30 different species of flower and grass. Many just arrived on their own once the landscape was receptive to them.
The Pillrags is also one of our oldest meadows, but is low lying and has a high water table, so it supports a slightly different range of flower and grass. It’s jam packed with orchids in June.
The Eight Acres is a much more recent meadow – we’ve been working on it for about eight years now, and it’s just coming into its own – full of flowers and not unlike The Poor Field in range, although it seems to have a dominant array of knapweed later in the year
We love it when guests want to explore the meadows and enjoy the flowers. If you’ve not visted before when the meadows are in bloom but you fancy taking a look – then get your skates on and book for mid June next year so you can enjoy them in their full glory!
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