A new heyday for hay meadows?
IT IS estimated that less than 500 hectares of upland hay meadows still exist today in Cumbria, including parts of the Northern Yorkshire Dales and conservation organisations, Cumbria Wildlife Trust and Cumbria FWAG, are joining forces to halt the loss of both upland and lowland hay meadows and to restore them to their former beauty.
Hay is the traditional winter food for livestock in these upland areas and only a few years ago our valley bottoms would have been filled with the distinctive sight and smell of meadow flowers such as globeflower, wood cranesbill and melancholy thistle. A combination of ploughing, drainage, reseeding and fertiliser have destroyed many of these gems.
Hay meadows have been identified as an endangered habitat in the Cumbria Biodiversity Action Plan. The Cumbria Hay Meadows Project is a three-year project that aims to identify and maintain hay meadows in the Lake District National Park and the wider Orton area, and to restore them where possible. Hay Meadow Ecologist, Claire Cornish, will survey 250 sites for their variety of flowers over the course of the project.
Ms Cornish said: "The data collected from each site will be used to create a management plan for the meadow, which the landowner will use as a guide. The data will also provide the basis for future conservation work on hay meadows in the area, creating a guideline for site quality and a list of flower seed donor sites, which can be used in restoration projects."
As well as finding and assessing sites, the project will also work with farmers, Natural England and environmental consultants to turn management plans in to practical action on the ground. Bunty Wright, Hay Meadows Project Adviser, will visit farms to discuss the potential for upgrading any Tier 1 land within the Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) which meets the criteria for Tier 2 meadows and will also draw up Environmental Stewardship Higher Level Scheme applications on behalf of farmers.
The data will also provide the basis for future conservation work on hay meadows in the area
Claire Cornish - Hay Meadow Ecologist
Ms Wright said: "As well as getting out and visiting farms I will be holding some demonstration days on hay meadow restoration for farmers who would like to know more. There will also be a newsletter, a hay meadow plant identification guide and we will be offering other related events over the duration of the project."
The first year of the project will target the Orton area where the twite, a small brown finch, is still thought to be breeding. It is one of the last known sites in Cumbria. The decrease in numbers, thought to be 80% since 1990, has been attributed to the reduction in the number of hay meadows. These are vital as they provide seeds, especially those of dandelion and sorrel for twite chicks. The project is particularly interested to include hay meadows within 3km of the moorlands around Sunbiggin Tarn and Ash Fell.
Any farmers or smallholders with traditional hay meadows who are interested in having a free botanical survey and advice regarding the opportunities for maintenance, restoration or enhancement should call Bunty or Claire on 01539 816300.