Keeping our meadows special

Hay meadows and other species rich grasslands once made up a large part of the landscape in the UK and played a vital role in our natural and cultural heritage.  High nature value grasslands were found in every parish across the country but since the 1930s agricultural improvements have intensified, along with other developments, and today only 2% remain.  Nearly 7.5 million acres of wildflower meadows have been lost so far and they are still under threat.  What remains has become increasingly rare and fragmented so it is really important we maintain and revive the grasslands we have left.

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Cattle at Lanlay meadows near Cardiff

Looking after these meadows involves no chemical inputs, e.g. fertilisers or pesticides, with grazing being the most natural method of managing the land.  As the cattle graze across the landscape, they create a mosaic of different sward lengths, bare ground and micro habitats.  They are also less selective in what they eat and don’t just target wildflowers like sheep do.  This all contributes to maximising the potential for biodiversity on a grazed site.

Trampling creates areas of bare ground, which is beneficial in moderation.  It creates nurseries for seedlings that might not otherwise survive and habitats and hunting grounds for warmth-loving invertebrates and reptiles.

Dung creates a whole ecosystem by itself.  A range of wildlife move into a cowpat to set up home – more than 250 species of insect are found in or on cattle dung in the UK and these in turn provide food for birds, badgers, foxes and bats.

As part of my role I manage three sites, all of which have hay meadows and rhos pasture (wet meadows) among other grassland habitats that are of high nature value.  One of these is Lanlay meadows near Cardiff.

Grazing is an important part of the management of Lanlay.  Without this method of control, the vegetation would soon become rank and we would eventually lose some of the plants that make this site so special.  It has been a challenge to find a grazier for the site as it is small and tucked away, but this year we have finally managed it!

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Cattle arriving at Lanlay meadows near Cardiff

The cattle seem to have settled in nicely and are doing a really good job of munching on an invasive species called Himalayan balsam – which has spread through the wet fields in particular and is threatening to shade out lots of our native plant species.  We also cut the hay fields once a year in late summer (mid-late July or early August).  If we did it earlier it would prevent meadow plants from setting seed.  The cut grass is then dried on the field.  Turning and drying the hay on the fields lets more seeds to be shed and afterwards in late summer we allow the cattle in for grazing.

How can you help?
Are you a regular dog walker at Lanlay?  If so you could keep an eye on the cattle for us to make sure they are all healthy and safe.  Please get in touch if you notice any issues on 07483 905537 or 01874 625515.  Training may be available in stock checking if you are interested in monitoring regularly.

National Meadows Day

At another of our sites, Berthlwyd Farm near Ystradfellte (Waterfall country), we are having a free open day in the meadows on Saturday 1st July.  This is a unique opportunity and rare occasion as the farm is not usually open to the public.  National Meadows Day is a celebration of traditional meadows across the country and there will be activities for all the family including bug hunts, soil printing and meadow bingo.  There will also be guided walks, flower surveys and moth trapping.  It’s a free, drop in event so come along and take a look at what traditional, unspoilt hay meadows should really look like – full of colour and life.  For more information check out our Facebook page.

Jess, Conservation and Engagement Ranger

 

 

 

 

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Signs of Spring

What with the new lambs and fine weather we’ve been having over the last couple of weeks it really feels like spring has arrived. Today whilst walking in the Tarrell Valley near Libanus I saw some swallows and heard a cuckoo, both for the first time this year.

The National Trust is responsible for looking after a number of sites across the Brecon Beacons and Monmouthshire, not only by maintaining public access, but also through our nature conservation work.

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One of the habitats that is a key feature of Lanlay Meadows, in the Vale of Glamorgan, is grassland. The meadows are just beginning to come to life. The wildflowers that grow here attract a whole host of insects throughout the spring and summer- bees, butterflies and moths. Birds are nesting in the hedgerows and the mature trees are coming into leaf.

Some of the meadows are classified as neutral grassland. As spring moves into summer, look out for all sorts of hay meadow species like knapweed, Devils bit scabious and stitchworts and hawkbits as well as wood anemone and marsh marigoldsaround the field edges. In the rhos pasture (also called marshy grassland) you will find yellow flag iris and a variety of different rushes.

Cuckoo Flower

Cuckoo Flower

Now is the time of year when we see the results of all our management throughout the year. Every summer, we put a lot of effort into pulling Himalayan balsam, an invasive species that grows very quickly and colonises large areas of the meadow, especially close to the water courses, and out competes the native species. At the end of the summer the meadows are cut then ideally lightly grazed with cattle or ponies. The livestock are then removed in the winter when the ground is very wet to avoid the soil and vegetation getting poached and damaged. Over the winter is when we carry out management of the scrub to stop it encroaching onto the meadows, out competing the grasses and flowers and drying out the soil. This mainly involves cutting brambles and blackthorn on the field edges. All this work means that each spring and summer the rich biodiversity of the meadows is maintained for the value of wildlife and visitors.

We are always interested in any biodiversity records or information about all our sites, so if you are a keen recorder do let us know about anything you see!

Beth
Community Engagement Ranger

Fancy a summer amognst the wild flowers?

Want to join our team, getting out and about and being part of valuable conservation and monitoring work?

We have two different volunteering options open!

Wish you were here?

Wish you were here?

We are looking for a Full Time Volunteer Wildlife recorder for the summer months to undertake species monitoring and surveying across our sites.
We’re also looking for local volunteers who maybe visit our sites regularly to get involved in species recording when it suits you.

Accommodation is provided with the full time role and all volunteers will get support and the necessary training.
Email me on beth.heasman@nationaltrust.org.uk for more information!