Over 97% of wildflower meadows have been lost since the 1930s, a startling 7.5 million acres. Species-rich grassland now only covers a mere 1% of the UK.
A meadow would contain up to 40 species in a square metre. The meadow remains an important and crucial habitat with over 150 different species of flower and grass that support a myriad of insects from bees and beetles to grasshoppers and butterflies, which in turn support many small animals and birds.
About 35 percent of the world’s food crops need insects to pollinate them. The loss of pollinating insects could threaten our own food supply. Meadows also help mitigate flooding by holding on to rain water and capture vast amounts of carbon.
15 years ago I decided to make the fields on my land, where I live in south Norfolk, into wildflower meadows. They had been pasture for horses by the previous owner and were quite fertile. The best wildflower meadows have low fertility so the more aggressive species that like rich soil like thistles, nettles, docks and coarse grasses don't overtake the flowers.
Grasses and native wildflowers were used that suited the conditions. One meadow was created using the scarify method where patches of bare earth are made by scraping and seeds or plug plants are inserted. The other meadow was ploughed and sown. The downside of this is there are seeds such as Dock dormant in the soil which germinate when brought to the light, and more recently disturbing the mycorrhizal fungi network in the soil is not advised where not necessary.
Really its management that creates the meadow. The meadows are mowed in the spring until May then left until September when they are taken down. All the cuttings (and there are piles and piles of them!) have to be removed from the meadow to keep the fertility low.
The meadow softly undulates,
like a rippling mantle
stroked by the breeze.
Slender grasses gently lean,
and bend, and sway,
splatters of buttercups joggle and bob,
speckles of daisies, toss their heads,
flashes of white, like flickers of surf.
A thousand shimmering shawls, lay thrown across the swathe, fastened with silken threads.
Below the canopy, the backpackers, hurry, hesitate, scurry,
grasshoppers leap, now here, now there, shaking stalks,
disturbed springtails catapult into clouds above,
up among the drifting butterflies, lifted on slipstreams,
sunlit shafts peppered with tiny mites and humming bees,
pulsating with the murmuring meadow below.
Even where long grass is not suitable, lawns can be managed for wildlife. Just cutting less and raising the cutting deck can enable nectar rich wildflowers such as Self heal, clover, birds foot trefoil to flourish. Plug plants can be introduced into existing lawns. Birds foot trefoil hosts 132 insects.