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21 Dec Glorious Cotswold Grassland Project
In the 1930’s, 40%of the Cotswolds AONB was covered in wildflower-rich grassland. Due to agricultural intensification and changing land management practices, less than 1.5% remains and many of the plants and animals associated with this habitat have suffered major declines.
‘Glorious Cotswold Grasslands’ is a three year project set to reverse these declines by restoring and creating wildflower grasslands throughout the Cotswold AONB, establishing the largest connected network of wildflower-rich grassland within the UK’s band of Jurassic limestone
In 2019 after a consultation and survey of our grassland by FWAG SW we were approved by the Cotswold Conservation Board to be part of the scheme. A 10 acre field was designated as recipient site and we embarked on a series of operations to prepare for sowing seed in late summer. We cut and baled hay from the more level areas and cut racked up the banky section. The purpose was to take away as much greenery as possible to deplete the nutrients going back into the soil. Soil nutrients fertilise the grasses which then can out compete the wildflowers. We then did a second cut to ‘scalp’ the field which removed more greenery and importantly exposed patches of earth so that the sown seed would come directly into contact with soil and thereby increasing the chance of germination. The field was now ready for sowing
Seed from a flower rich meadow was generously donated by a neighbouring farmer. The seed was delivered to us in large ‘dumpy’ bags directly after harvesting and had to be sown the same day. This is essential so that the mixed seed and chaff did not have time to warm up in the bags which would have damaged the viability of some of the seeds. The seed was sown by hand from the back of our ‘scuttlebus’. In a very organised grid, Clive drove slowly backwards and forwards across the field while Lydia sat in the back dispensing the seed in a rhythmic motion to ensure an even distribution. The weather was very kind and it was a thoroughly enjoyable day.
In the autumn the grass had recovered enough to offer some light grazing for our sheep. Trampling the ground is important to help push seeds down into the damp ground to agin help with soil contact and germination. The field was left empty of stock during what was one of the wettest winters on record. The following spring was the driest spring on record so we were very worried that none of the wildflowers would germinate. We regularly crept around on our hands and knees looking for seedings. We were very relieved to see a large number of yellow rattle plants emerging. It is incredibly important to get these plants established in the first years of restoring a meadow. Yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor) is an annual, completing its life cycle in one year. In early spring the seeds germinate and grow quickly. As their roots develop underground they seek out the roots of plants growing nearby, especially grasses. Once contact is made the yellow rattle draws water and nutrients from them, suppressing the growth of grasses by as much as 60%. In the resulting space, other flowers have room to grow.
We did spy other plants, a good covering of Lady’s Bedstraw, Selfheal, Oxeye Daisy, Knapweed and several other species that had not been present before sowing. Wildflower seeds can remain dormant in the soil for many years waiting for optimum conditions so we were not too disheartened with our findings. The main success is the numbers of Yellow Rattle which will then go on to multiply over the years and help create the right conditions for other flowers.
The field was lightly grazed by sheep and cattle in the spring (livestock do not like Yellow Rattle) and then left until we took a late hay harvest in August. This would have given time for any flowers to set seed for the following year. When the field had recovered it was grazed over the autumn and winter by cattle and sheep again ensuring that seed was trodden into the soil for the next year. We will continue to observe the meadow as it develops and alter our management as necessary. We are so delighted to have been part of this project and we hope that in time we will be able to harvest our own seed to use to re seed another of our fields or pass on to another recipient.
Yellow Rattle in the first year after seeding
Find out more about all of the projects at Lower Hampen Farm on our projects page HERE.
More information about the Glorious Cotswolds Grasslands project with Cotswolds AONB can be found at: