Meadows and grasslands

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Summer meadow near Murker, Yorkshire Dales National Park © Tom Collier

Yellow and purple meadow flowers with a stone barn on the horizon

Haymeadow - Dartmoor

Haymeadow - Dartmoor

Biodiversity is about more - more species of plants, insects, birds and animals. But sometimes to get more you need to put in less. To get biodiversity in meadows and grasslands, for example, we help farmers do less to their fields.

Modern farming uses artificial fertiliser to increase the amount of grass that grows. The grass is harvested and used over winter to feed sheep and cows. But the grass grows so quickly and so high that other species like meadow flowers can't compete. That means the fields are just full of grass, which is bad for biodiversity.

We help farmers get grant money to increase biodiversity in their fields. Only using a little organic fertiliser, like cow manure, means the grass still grows but not as quickly, so other plants can grow, too.  Cutting the plants later in the year gives the plants time to set seed, meaning plants grow again next year.

Hay meadows with a wide variety of different flowers are great habitats for insects, birds and other animals, too. There are some plants that only grow in upland hay meadows in areas like the Yorkshire Dales,  Northumberland and the Peak District.

Speedy seeding tractors

In some meadows the flowers have been gone for so long that there aren't any seeds in the ground to grow into new plants. New seeds from other meadows might blow their way there in the wind but it could take some time. So we give the seeds a lift down the road, on a tractor.

Speedy tractors pick up bags of seed heads from donor meadows and trundle them to new fields, where the seeds are spread and made ready to flower the next year. The seed spreading teams have about one hour to collect the seed heads and get them to new fields before they start to dry out and heat up in the sun, which could kill the precious seeds inside.

The Hay Time project has created 24 fields of new meadows, covering 53 hectare across the Yorkshire Dales. The project is run jointly by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority and the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust charity.

Recipe for a new hay meadow

Ingredients:

  1. A donor hay meadow full of flowering plants
  2. Big bags
  3. Speedy tractor and trailer
  4. Empty fields ready to become a meadow
  5. A bit of lime (the mineral not the fruit!)

How to make it:

  1. Collect seed heads in a big bag and put in trailer
  2. Before they dry out and start popping, speed down lane in tractor to the new field
  3. Spread seed heads so when they dry and split the seeds fall out all over the new field
  4. Visit next year from May to July to see all the new flowers and insects

How to keep in good condition:

  1. Cut the hay once a year, in late July after the seeds have re-set
  2. Allow cows and sheep to graze from autumn to spring
  3. Shut out the cows and sheep in early May to let plants grow
  4. Add a bit of lime to keep the soil at the right acidity level but don't add any artificial fertilisers

Further information