Where have all the wildflowers gone? For some reason hay meadows, or rather the lack of them and the consequent lack of variety in our wildflowers have been hitting the news in the last few weeks. So last weekend it was a pleasure to be teaching mowing by scythe and grassland management in one of the traditional wildflower meadows on top of the North Downs near Guildford.
The part of the meadow we use for the course is managed by Transition Guildford with support from Surrey Wildlife Trust and used to grow local produce. Over the last year they’ve been busy extending the orchard as well as managing the polytunnel and vegetable beds but that still leaves a lot of grassland to be managed. Somehow I could sense that everyone on the course was keen for me to get the health & safety and the scythe setup out of the way so they could get to grips with the grass.
This is the third year we’ve been running the course, cutting on the site and the sward ( the mat of grasses and flowers making up the turf) is responding to the management by getting less dense and easier to mow.
You may be wondering why we’re cutting the grass in late June whilst the wildflowers are still at their height and some of the annuals have yet to set seed? Unlike a modern industrial farming operation we can’t cut all of the meadow at one go, in fact we’re only cutting a small patch for the course. We’re starting early but we won’t finish the job until early September when we hold another course and we’ve left most of the meadow and all of the areas with annual flowers still to set seed – particularly the Yellow Rattle. Yellow Rattle is now rare but used to be widespread and as it’s parasitic it weakens the grass in the sward allowing the wildflowers to compete more effectively.
Despite our keen scything team the most important part of the job is not the mowing, it’s the raking, forking and barrowing the mown grass away from the meadow. Removing it helps to reduce the level of nutrients in the soil and now more wildflowers will be able to take advantage of bare patches and less aggressive grass to seed and thrive. Rachel supervised the growing mound of grass and slowly moulded it into an enormous sculpture. The mown grass will be used as a mulch for the vegetable beds and orchard trees so the nutrients are removed from one area and then used where they will be of more value in producing fruit and vegetables.
It can be hard on a course to finish a job but this group seemed to have no problem making a neat finish to the work and the rain even managed to hold off for us. Next stop is Wimpole Hall this weekend for the Eastern Counties Scything championships.