Hay meadow walk 1

Sunday 2nd July

The PAWS and WOTHABS Hay Meadow walk, organised by WOTHABS and James Norman was well attended, and the weather was warm and sunny. About 30 people of all ages arrived at the Meadow off Sheepwash Lane, and while they were waiting for the walk to start, were able to see a wonderful display of grasses set out on tables, and test their knowledge using a quiz that matched butterfly names to photos on an ingenious battery operated electronic 'buzz' board.  Sally and Peter Woolhouse and friends provided cakes, tea, cool drinks and flower check lists. Botanists Sandra Parkinson, Sue Sandford, Romilly Swann and James Norman took groups of people on different routes through the meadow after an introductory talk.

James explained that The Meadow is rare because it has been there for about 100 years, and not been ploughed, or had fertilizer or herbicide sprayed on it. This means that the underlying soil is healthy and well structured, and incredibly rich in species. 200 species of plants have been recorded, and these include some that are now very rare in Britain. As a result a wide variety of butterflies, insects and birds are attracted to it.

The hay is cut in late July or August, which allows the flowers and grasses to set seed for the following year. After the hay has been cut, James pastures his cattle on it for a few weeks. The field is beside the River Thames and floods in the winter and spring. James explained that the hay he gets from the field is extremely nutritious and organic, and so can be fed to beef and dairy cattle that provide organic meat and milk.

One of the interesting things we found out was that silage making, which other farmers do, diminishes the variety of plants that grow in  fields because they do not get a chance to set seed, and the resulting 'silage,is  pickled' grass, and not so nutritious for livestock. During the walk previously unseen plants were found, including a bee orchid. Bee orchids take five years to grow from seed, and when they die, only grow again from seed. They like 'bare-ish' patches of ground. Another plant, found in abundance on the meadow is Yellow Rattle, which is much in demand for those wanting to reseed and restore ancient meadows, and so James collects seeds from it. Yellow rattle is parasitic ion grass roots, and so suppresses over -abundant grasses, so that other flowers get a chance to thrive in the meadow mixture.

Co-incidentally, in The Times yesterday (Monday July 3rd) there was an article headlined 'Fields with a wide range of crops don't need fertilizer', and included this : 'fields with more species were more resilient to dry weather and natural pests such as insects because a range of deep root systems connected by a wen of invisible fungi meant the soil was healthier and the plants could draw on a wider range of minerals'. I have copied and pasted the link here.

PAWS members might also like to read this article:

Katharine Syfret

July 4th 2017

walk 18 June 2011
walk 18 June 2011 2

The early summer weather had encouraged most of the plants on the advertised route to flower early, leaving lots of seed heads but few flowers. However the dozen intrepid participants changed the route to an ancient hay meadow on the Whitchurch side of the river, where there were flowers in profusion; yellow rattle parasitising grasses, clovers in red, white and yellow, three different species of bedstraw, buttercups and oxeye daisy to name but a few.

The weather was forecast to bring heavy showers, and one duly arrived, heavy indeed. Shelter under an unknown species of the walnut family provided psychological but inadequate physical protection, so as the rain eased, we dashed for home.

For those who missed this opportunity, WOTHABS is repeating this hay meadow visit on Sunday 3 July. Join us then at the black iron entrance gates of the Hardwick Estate at the junction of Hardwick road and Sheepwash Lane.

Martin Parham

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