Somerset Wildlife Trust

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Wild Flower Meadows

Common spotted orchid Cath ShellswellHay meadows and old pastures can contain a rich array of wild flowers, including several scarce species. They provide a home to many butterflies including the marbled white, mammals such as brown hare, and farmland birds like the skylark. They are highly valued for their aesthetic appeal and treasured as a typical image of the traditional rural English landscape. Wild flower meadows have been an inspiration to many writers and painters. Most fields have been ploughed and reseeded at some point, but remnants of traditional wild flower meadows remain in fields that are difficult to cultivate. This could be because they are steep or contain archaeological features such as ridge and furrow. These meadows have developed over hundreds of years of traditional farming methods.

Wild flower meadows can form part of a sustainable farming system providing grazing and hay as winter feed for livestock. Changes in agriculture over the last century, including increased fertiliser use and the re-seeding of meadows with quick growing grasses, have altered conditions leading to the loss of much of this habitat. Cutting meadows before June for winter silage has increased production but prevented wild flowers from seeding and speeded up their disappearance. Today we are striving to strike a delicate balance between profitable farmland management and nature conservation.


Small hay bales - Kate Lawrence

Grasslands need to be managed; if neglected, the vegetation goes through a process of transformation, changing to tall, rank grassland, then scrub and eventually woodland. This process results in the loss of the grassland wild flowers and all associated wildlife. Wild flower meadow management aims to allow flowers to set seed and then remove 90% of the year’s growth to keep nutrient levels low and allow seeds to germinate. This can be done in a number of ways:

Hay meadow management

• Allow the vegetation to grow from early spring without any management
• Take a hay cut from mid to late July onwards.
• Graze any re-growth from August onwards - ‘aftermath grazing’

Pasture management

• Graze at low stocking densities all year round - this will allow some of the flowers to set seed, or...
• Graze at a higher density from mid July onwards
Fertilisers should not be used on wild flower grassland as it will cause more vigorous grasses to out-compete the flowers.

Taking hay will strip nutrients from the soil which eventually lowers the productivity of the grassland. If grassland productivity decreases to a level where wild flowers start to decline, then a low application of well rotted farm yard manure is acceptable every couple of years.

Wild Flower Species

Common (black) knapweed

Knapweed is a sure sign of good quality wild flower grassland and is very noticeable for its purple thistle-like flowers. They attract fritillary butterflies and are a great nectar source for visiting bees. They once had a medicinal use as a tonic and wound healer.

Common Knapweed - Cath Shellswell

Oxeye daisy

Oxeye daisy is typical of flower-rich meadows and is easily recognised as a large headed daisy, sometimes called moon daisy. It stands at around 40cm tall but can reach 70cm and flowers between May and August, the dried up heads can still be seen late in the year.

Oxeye Daisy - Cath Shellswell

Yellow rattle

Yellow rattle is an early flowering plant, from May to August and produces flattened yellow flowers sprouting just above the leaves. The fruit is a dry capsule which, when ripe, contains loose, rattling seeds, giving the plant its name. It is a sign of healthy wild flower grasslands of high conservation value due to a special characteristic - it gains some of its nutrients from the roots of neighbouring plants, restricting grass growth and allowing other rarer species to thrive.

Yellow Rattle - Cath Shellswell

Devils-bit scabious

Devils-bit scabious has rounded, pincushion-like violet to blue flower heads that appear from July to October. They are a good source of nectar for late flying butterflies, bees and hoverflies. You have to examine the roots to understand their name as it appears that they have been bitten off. The plant was used to cure almost anything, so it is said that the Devil got angry and bit off the roots out of spite.

Devils-bit scabious

Lady’s bedstraw

Lady’s bedstraw creates distinctive dark green patches of wiry leaves. It flowers late in the season between July and August and their small flowers form bright yellow clusters. The name lady’s bedstraw originated from its use in bedding as a lice deterrent. It also has a variety of other names including Maid’s Hair, Petty Mugget and Cheese Rennet, possibly referring to other historic uses.

ladys bedstraw