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The colours and sounds of meadows


By Spalding Today Columnist


View of a traditional hay meadow. Credit: Barrie Wilkinson (3008342)
View of a traditional hay meadow. Credit: Barrie Wilkinson (3008342)

Meadows hum with life. The buzz of pollinators and whirr of grasshoppers fills the air. A breeze ripples through the long grass revealing splashes of colour: a yellow haze of lady’s bedstraw, white and yellow discs of ox-eye daisies and purple pincushions of knapweed. Meadows are living tapestries with a wealth of evocatively named flowers. Growing alongside the lady’s bedstraw there’s devil's-bit scabious and sneezewort. Even the grass isn’t simply grass but quaking-grass and crested dog's-tail.

Buff-tailed bumble bee (Bombus terrestris) nectaring on black knapweed (Centaurea nigra) at RSPB's Hope Farm in Cambridgeshire. July 2011. (3008344)
Buff-tailed bumble bee (Bombus terrestris) nectaring on black knapweed (Centaurea nigra) at RSPB's Hope Farm in Cambridgeshire. July 2011. (3008344)

When we see these colours and hear these sounds, instead of a monochrome of green and silence, we are glimpsing the past. Before the Second World War, meadows with a profusion of wildflowers and humming with insects would have been familiar across Lincolnshire. Before the advent of the car, it was hay not petrol that helped fuel the nation’s transport - hay meadows providing winter feed for horses and livestock. A meadow that produced a crop of hay was a vital part of the landscape and economy. They were cut for hay in July, then for a few weeks in autumn the re-growth or ‘eddish’ as it was known in Lincolnshire, was grazed by cattle or sheep.

Devil’s-bit scabious. Credit: Barrie Wilkinson (3008346)
Devil’s-bit scabious. Credit: Barrie Wilkinson (3008346)

Sadly, most of these meadows are long gone. Estimates suggest that since 1938 as much as 99 per cent of Lincolnshire's hay meadows have been ploughed for arable or converted to improved grassland. Glance through the list of Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust nature reserves and you’ll see the names of meadows which undoubtedly would have been lost. Each has its one personality, a reflection of the subtle differences in drainage, soil, grazing and hay-cutting. Silverines Meadow has an abundance of silvery-white meadow saxifrage. Rush Furlong is a remnant of the ancient strip farming. Willoughby Meadow is one of the richest with over sixty species of plant found in one square metre.

Devil’s-bit scabious. Credit: Barrie Wilkinson (3008346)
Devil’s-bit scabious. Credit: Barrie Wilkinson (3008346)

Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust’s meadows are cared for in the traditional way. Cut for hay in the summer usually between July 15 and August 7. Often this small window of hay cutting time coincides with wet weather. This makes the process difficult and sometimes ruins the hay crop. Due to the continuing warm and dry weather this year, Trust meadows are being cut early. This takes advantage of the weather and ground conditions. There’s also increasing evidence that earlier cuts are more beneficial for the wildflowers in the long term.

meadow brown butterfly feeding on a buttercup. Credit: Amy Lewis. (3008356)
meadow brown butterfly feeding on a buttercup. Credit: Amy Lewis. (3008356)

For information about creating and managing meadows, click here

Meadow grasshopper: Credit: Guy Edwardes (3008358)
Meadow grasshopper: Credit: Guy Edwardes (3008358)


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