• Coronation meadows in vital bid to aid wildlife

    6th June 2013 | News | Claire
  • See the BBC story here – http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/22766945 

    Sixty “Coronation meadows” have been identified across the UK as part of a Coronation anniversary campaign to restore threatened wildflower meadows.

    These habitats have decreased by 97% in the UK since the 1930s.

    The project, led by the Prince of Wales and three wildlife and livestock organisations, will take seed and green hay from these designated meadows to recreate new ones.

    One Coronation meadow will be named in each county by the end of the year.

    The 60 meadows identified so far represent some of the UK’s “outstanding” wildflower meadows, according to the team.

    As part of the campaign, people will be able to find out where their nearest Coronation meadow is using an online map. By the end of the year, 107 such meadows will have been identified to add to Prince Charles’ own wildflower meadow at his Gloucestershire home, Highgrove House.

    Meadows already given the “Coronation” accolade range widely in size and age: Loughborough Big Meadow in Leicestershire is the oldest of the group, dating back to 1762. And while Therfield Heath in Hertfordshire covers more than 400 acres, Hayton Meadow in Shropshire is confined to less than one acre.

    Cowslip Meadow in Surrey, named for its springtime flowers, displays a chalk flora bloom throughout the summer months, including salad burnet, common rock-rose and oxeye daisy.

    Plantlife, the Wildlife Trusts and Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) also aim to compile the first full inventory mapping all the UK’s remaining wildflower meadows as part of the project.

    The campaign, launched to mark the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s Coronation, follows reports of dramatic declines in many of the UK’s meadow flower species.

    For example, green-winged orchids, found in lowland hay meadows, have decreased by 50% over the last 50 years.

    Lesser butterfly orchids and greater butterfly orchids have also declined by 60% and 47% respectively.

    And 67% of distinctively-patterned fritillaries, which grow in meadows, have disappeared in the last few decades.

    Half the UK’s greater butterfly orchids have been lost in the last 50 years.  Green-winged orchids are also now a rare sight in the UK’s meadows.

    Even common hay meadow plants like yellow rattle are now in decline.

    The variety of flowers and grasses that are characteristic of wildflower meadows also support an array of wildlife, and are especially vital for many of the UK’s insect and butterfly species.

    Man-made wildflower meadows have existed in Britain for thousands of years and are managed using traditional farming methods such as seasonal grazing and hay-making.

    Today, meadows still provide hay and bedding for animals but the intensification of farming methods over the last century has been attributed to their decline.

    “Ploughing, drainage, reseeding, increased fertiliser and herbicide application… has all contributed to the loss of meadows,” said Wildlife Trusts spokeswoman Anna Guthrie.

    Victoria Chester, from Plantlife, said: “Many of the meadows have local significance. For example, Welsh farms often had a ‘cae ysbyty’ or ‘hospital field’, a flower-rich pasture where sick animals would recover from illness or injury.”

    The Coronation meadows will be used as “donor” sites, providing seeds to be used in other local meadows. The Wildlife Trusts says this method will help preserve the regional characteristics of each meadow, as different areas tend to host different mixes of plant and flower species and “cannot be reproduced with generic wildflower seed”.