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Giles Strother explains why Oxfordshire’s wildlife trust is simply wild about meadows
Wildflower meadows brimming with ox-eye daisies, yellow bird’s-foot-trefoil and pink knapweed are among best places to see Mother Nature put on an impressive display.
Thanks to all the rain in June, Oxfordshire’s wildflower meadows are still looking fantastic, but hurry to see them before they’re cut for hay later this month.
The vibrant show of flowers and grasses with butterflies and bees dancing among them is reliably consistent, but the details vary each year. Last year’s highlight for me was the startling colour contrast of a metallic emerald-green forester moth collecting nectar from deep-pink knapweed. This year I found a patch of grass vetchling looking exactly like the surrounding grasses, but given away by the tiny jewel-like flowers of magenta and lilac.
This is why we at the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust are mad about meadows. We not only do everything possible to protect the few that remain, we also take opportunities to create new ones.
In the West Oxfordshire hamlet of Chimney, six meadows were designated a National Nature Reserve in 1975 and protected from modern farming improvements. In 2003, the neighbouring farm came on the market and we jumped at the chance to transform hard-grazed pasture and fields of arable crops into traditional hay meadows. Thanks to overwhelming and generous support from our members, BBOWT bought it and now it’s one of our flagship nature reserves.
Seventy hectares of new meadows have been created alongside the original 50 on the National Nature Reserve, making this one of the largest areas of unspoilt neutral grassland in England. BBOWT has achieved this by using the traditional method of spreading ‘green hay’ cut from the National Nature Reserve where wild flowers are abundant and spreading it on to the prepared soils of the new fields.
Over time the rest of the farm has been transformed as wildflower seeds moved from hay meadow to pasture on the hooves of cattle and sheep. These fields are now a beautiful sight with countless flowers of cowslip, red clover, knapweed, birds-foot-trefoil and many others. Over all wave tall stems of grasses and ox-eye daisies, giving a protected home for millions of insects and spiders. Bats, mice, voles, snakes and lizards hunt across these meadows by night and day. Owls, red kites and buzzards have moved in to make the most of the abundance of prey.
This summer, BBOWT was given the opportunity to add another piece to this multi-coloured tapestry. Upper Common, a field of 11 hectares, is available just across a ditch in the north-east corner of Chimney Meadows. We’ve looked longingly at this field for some time because it fits so naturally with the rest of our land. Most of it could be converted to wildflower meadow, with some lower-lying land made into new wetland for wildlife. Upper Common is bounded by the River Thames and Great Brook, so it would give access to long stretches of bank where otters lie up on their travels and we’ve already noted signs of water voles.
Our decision to buy Chimney Meadows proved to be one of the best we ever made, and if we can buy Upper Common too it can only make a good thing even better.
Imagine wandering through clouds of wild flowers alive with butterflies and knowing that you helped to make it happen. Whatever’s happening in the wider world around us, BBOWT nature reserves offer stability and security for wildlife for the future.
If you would like to help BBOWT buy Upper Common and recreate a beautiful wildflower meadow, go to www.justgiving.com/chimneymeadows
Visit www.bbowt.org.uk for information about guided walks in meadows and other nature reserves in Oxfordshire.