An array of plants thrive in the meadows...
Meadow buttercups are one of the most abundant plants, giving a warm shimmer to the fields throughout the summer.
Bursts of purple and pink are provided by the various vetches, knapweed and selfheal whilst swathes of ox eye daisies form summer ‘snow’.
Delicate speedwell creeps amongst the other plants along with bold patches of the wonderfully named birds foot trefoil or ‘eggs and bacon’.
Bronze orbs of goat’s beard seed heads can be found dotted around the meadow after the flowers have faded.
Bobbing flower heads of different shapes and sizes, show the variety of grasses; early flowering sweet vernal to the characteristic crested dogs tail, grass is not simply grass.
Yellow rattle plays a key role in the meadow; being semi parasitic it weakens the grasses, giving other flowing plants more opportunity to flourish.
Adders tongue, not a flowering plant but a fern; although small, is unmistakeable, with its bright green, oval upright frond, and spore bearing spike. It is considered a good indicator species of ancient meadows.
Our meadows are not in open access land but you can walk past the meadow at Curbar following the path from Curbar Gap car park to Curbar edge.
You can also walk through our meadow at Totley, following a short section of footpath that crosses the field. If you would like to explore the meadows close up please check our events page as we have a number of events celebrating our meadows during the summer.
Upland meadow management
Each meadow will have it’s own character depending on things like pH of soil, aspect, dampness and past management. Even within the same field there can be a big variation. On the Eastern Moors our meadows are upland meadows and have plants which can tolerate acid/neutral soils.
Meadows have been created over time by human management and the plants and the wildlife they support depend on the continuation of this management. If these areas are over grazed then many of the plant species can be lost as they are unable to reproduce as they are not given the chance to flower. If abandoned courser grasses will out-compete the wild flowers and succession will eventually lead to development of scrub.
The general principles to maintain a meadow are pretty simple:
1. keep the livestock out during the spring/summer to allow the plants to flower.
2. cut the vegetation late in the summer so the plants can seed.
3. allow the hay to dry in the field so the seed can drop off.
4. remove the hay so that the land does not become enriched by the decomposing hay.
5. follow this with aftermath grazing in the autumn; trampling creates areas for seeds of annual plants to develop, grazing keeps the grass in check, while dung provides some low level nutrient cycling.
Modern agricultural practices have led to ‘improvement’ of fields regarding productivity. This generally requires larger field sizes so that machinery can be used, fertilizing and use of pesticides to increase yield, and replacing the meadow mix of plants with specially bred productive grasses. There has been a general move away from hay making to the harvesting of silage which allows multiple cuts in a year and is easier to store and feed in bulk. As such hay meadows are becoming an uncommon sight; estimates suggest that only 1000ha of upland hay meadow remain. However, we are lucky to have some excellent examples in the area and there are schemes to encourage land managers to maintain their meadows.
On the Eastern Moors we have brought the meadows back into the correct grazing and cutting regime. We have repaired the drystone walls and fencing so that we can control cattle. We also pull the ragwort to make the fields viable for harvesting for hay. Although ragwort is a fantastic species for wildlife, it can cause poisoning in livestock if eaten accidentally; livestock will usually avoid it when growing, but it should not be present in hay. We are also looking at other inbye fields to see if it would be possible to return them to meadows, for the latest on this project check current projects.