A well known piece of the British landscape that had become depleted of flora and fauna because of years of intensive farming is alive with wildflowers, butterflies and birds this summer.
Since the National Trust acquired fields on the top of the white cliffs of Dover two and half years ago after a £1m national appeal championed by Dame Vera Lynn, it has worked to restore the area to rich grassland.
The charity is excited at the results, reporting an increase in birds including skylarks, corn buntings, partridges and meadow pipits. Peregrine falcons are benefiting from an increase in wild pigeons, a main source of prey.
Fields have been vivid with poppies, ox-eye daisies and buttercups, and staff hope the new habitat will in time support chalkland butterfly species such as the adonis blue and the dingy skipper, as well as continuing to provide a home for more common marbled whites and red admirals.
The fields are part of a 178-acre plot that the Trust bought in 2017. It immediately set about reversing the effect of seventy years of intensive agriculture that began after the second world war, which resulted in 97% of flower meadows being lost. In 2018, barley was sown to remove some of the nutrients from the well-fertilised soil, preparing it for a wildflower and grass mix. Wildflower meadows do need cutting, but conservationists usually advise to do so in the autumn, after flowers have seeded and invertebrates are hunkered down for the winter. The new site is an important link with existing holdings creating a continuous wildlife corridor.
Wildflower meadows are among our most culturally important and best loved habitats
At Ashridge there is nothing to match this vivid display as the meadows are self-seeded from the wild without management intervention. Meadleys meadow which is cut for silage in mid July is a carpet of yellow buttercups and the 70 acre permissive access field on the Aldbury road (SP955152) is awash with yellow ladies bedstraw. This arable acreage was set-aside some ten years ago for re-wilding and connects Pitstone Hill with Steps Hill, an important link in the wildlife corridor which now runs from Tring to Dunstable.
Known as B- lines these wide strips of meadow and pasture join up to create a network of habitat across the country established by the charity Bugline. allowing wildlife to repopulate isolated areas.
Flower rich grasslands need regular “aftercare” – important in restricting long grasses and scrub from stifling important arable weeds – fumitory, sanfoin, pimpernel, kidney vetch and bird’s foot trefoil.
Since the grazing cattle were removed two years ago, hawthorn, bramble and dog rose have started to proliferate. If it is left uncut and without cattle grazing it will develop by natural succession into secondary woodland – long live the flowering meadow!
Credit to Steven Morris