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Wildflower meadows for all

wildflower meadow creation

Wildflower meadows are often recommended by ecologists in relation to development schemes, due to the biodiversity benefits that they bring.  In this article, James Gillies (land management consultant) tells more about the ‘100 Meadows’ initiative and passes on his tips for successful meadow creation…

Natural England surveys estimate that in the 50 years from 1930 – 1980 over 97% of the ancient meadowland in the UK was lost, and as little as 75000ha remained intact in 2010.

We recently launched the ‘100 Meadows’ initiative, working to reverse the decline in native wildflower meadows. Meadows form crucial habitats – a single healthy meadow can be home to over 100 species of wild flowers and grasses, not to mention the array of wildlife that live and feed from it. Everything from insects to small mammals and birds will benefit from the formation of new habitats, wild flower meadows not only house but also feed a huge variety of creatures.

Meadows are amazing things; plain grassy meadows are great for voles, small mammals and invertebrates, which has a knock-on effect by providing food for larger animals and birds. If you can inject floral diversity, you will be providing a multi-level food supply and by adding as many native wildflowers as you can within your meadow, you’re providing nectar and pollen for butterflies, hover flies, bumblebees, solitary bees (UK native solitary bees are under a greater threat than their more well-known cousins the honey and bumblebee) and more. Flowers will encourage pollinators and more insects, which means more food for birds and bats. Meadows are incredible – the more native plant species the more specialist invertebrates and vertebrates you attract.

The decline in wildflower meadows over the last 50 years has meant that this diverse and valuable ecosystem, which is home to so many, is disappearing. By creating a small patch of wildflower meadow everyone, regardless of size of garden and soil type could help increase biodiversity and habitats across the UK.

Within the 100 Meadows initiative we are helping people create all different sizes of meadow; the project includes anything from seeding a mini-meadow of just a few square meters, to many hectares of new wildlife habitat. We have been fortunate enough to have seeded three large meadows in association with Blenheim Palace Gardens to kick off the project in style!

We know that not everyone has vast swathes of land to give over to meadow; a few square metres of garden border alongside existing lawns will help create a patchwork of wonderful wildflower habitats across the UK, and hopefully begin the reintroduction of wildflower and grasslands.

When creating wildflower habitat, these are James’s top five tips for long term meadows success:

Soil analysis
Soil testing is an essential part of the meadow planning process, by taking multiple samples across your proposed meadow site you can ensure that you have an accurate representation of the site.

Sampling from one spot will not be enough as the spot you sample may have been heavily fertilised or some parts of your ground may be wetter and therefore have more nutrients. We recommend between 4 and 10 sample sites across your proposed meadow (depending on size), dug down to 10 cm.

Seed mix
Once your soil sample has been analysed, you will be able to then ascertain the type of seed mix required for your site. Soil analysis will provide you with a specific soil PH and nutrient base, from this you can select your flower and grass seed mix. Mixes are created with specific sites in mind and choosing the right mix is incredibly important. If the area you wish to sow is chalk or limestone, acid or clay, damp or shady, then always sow a mix created for those specific sites to increase the levels of success.

Start early
Meadows need minimal maintenance throughout the year but to be sure that your meadow gets the best start you MUST ensure the seed bed is clean – so that no weed seeds will germinate, as weeding a wildflower meadow is very problematic. To create a dead seed bed start with a standard herbicide/weed killer then rotovate (or hand-turn the site with a fork) to pull all the weed shoots and seeds to the surface, we recommend that the process is repeated three to four times to fully ensure your grass and flower seeds get the best start in life.

If you are not keen on the use of a herbicide, you can carry out this process without it; you need to ensure the rotovation is done five to eight times and remove all weed seedlings thoroughly at each turnover of the soil.

Sow your seeds
Scatter your seeds and lightly roll them in to avoid losing the seeds to birds. You can water lightly if the soil is particularly dry but not if the ground is already damp, seedling roots will penetrate deeper in search of water, and therefore become better established. If you sow in spring, a few typical meadow species will bloom in the first year, such as ox-eye daisy, buttercups, clovers and poppies. The longer the meadow is established the more varied the flowers you will get year on year.

Mowing and on going care
When it comes to mowing, timing is key. Don’t attempt to mow until the end of August or even better early September, this gives the seeds time to form and drop. You can then mow with your normal lawnmower, leave the mown grass and flower clippings for a day or two to let any remaining seeds drop. Do not leave the clippings to rot down as compost, as this increases the nitrate levels in your soil and can make it a haven for weeds instead of your desired wildflowers and grasses.

Meadows take minimal maintenance and weeding, pull weed seedlings if you spot them but otherwise sit back and enjoy your very own manageable wildlife habitat.

About the Author: James Gillies, as well as running his own consultancy and land management businesses, is a Countryside Steward, Woodland Trust Consultant, trustee for the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) and a member of the British Institute of Agricultural Consultants (MBIAC). He has over 20 years practical experience in conservation and land management.

If you would like to get involved with James’ 100 Meadow initiative, please visit www.100meadows.com for more details. To discuss any of the details covered above please contact; James Gillies, Consultancy Suite C, Unit 1, Eagle Industrial Estate, Witney, Oxon, OX28 4YR Phone: 07973 796406 Email: james@james-gillies.com

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