It’s summer, and the flowers of our open spaces and countryside have progressed from the primroses, dandelions and daffodils of early spring, through the bright bluebells, anemones and ramsons of woodlands, to the buttercups, cuckoo flowers and orchids which now fill our meadows. Although much is made of the huge loss of meadows, it is more constructive to celebrate that which have and how it can be increased.
The truth is that meadows and pastures (grazed meadows) were almost never natural, they have always been man-made. The agricultural systems changed that gave us flowery fields alive with butterflies, bees and birds, and heady with the scents and sounds of summer. Modern farming methods are more about silage than hay, and coarse grasses rather than delicate mixtures of traditional grasses and flowers.
There is, therefore, no reason why we should not have meadows whenever and wherever we can. They are one of the few valuable habitats that can be created quickly from scratch. Success depends on the seed source (the more local the better) the soil (often the poorer the better) and subsequent management, usually by mowing but sometimes by grazing. This is what many conservation bodies are doing. For example, the sixtieth anniversary of the Queen’s coronation was celebrated by creating 60 new ‘Coronation Meadows’, at least one in every county.
The Birmingham and Black Country’s Nature Improvement Area Partnership, led by the Wildlife Trust, has created 40 meadows in the conurbation. The places you can enjoy these include Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Walsall Arboretum, Haden Hill Park and Sedgley Beacon. (For the full list go to http://www.bbcwildlife.org.uk/nia for details.) The countryside was literally brought into the city when hay from remaining traditional meadows in Worcestershire was strewn on some of the new sites, the seeds it contained bringing the new meadows to life.
Even at the smaller scale of traffic islands and city streets mixes of cornfield annuals, such as corn marigold, corncockle and poppies, very successfully provide bright splashes of colour in the summer months. Such displays are now seen around Birmingham, Kidderminster and other local towns.
These new meadows give great pleasure to people, but also serve valuable nature conservation ends. They help pollinators and other insects, these attract small birds and mammals, and they in turn attract larger predators. It all helps to keep nature ticking over.