Unlike the top meadow, the lower meadow is not and ancient one. The soil hasn’t been left untouched, un cultivated and starved of nutrients. It doesn’t have the magnificent array of grasses, wild flowers and insects that denotes it as an ancient meadow.
That doesn’t mean to say that’s it wasn’t pretty, or useful. On a site that is predominately hilly and terraced, a large flat area is a premium. There were rumours (unproven) that it may have been a Saxon burial ground, it has definitely sheltered horses and other livestock, and it was the only access point for an army of bulldozers when the fish pass was built in 2013/14. Consequently, the ground suffered heavy upheaval and was left deeply rutted.
Over time it did blossom sporadically, but with nothing special or overly attractive, being filled with docks and butterbur. It was almost impossible to use as you were more likely to break your ankle walking across it than catch a glimpse of a butterfly. It was only used for the annual bonfire and accompanying campfire meal.
After receiving the grant from the woodland trust we were able to implement the management plan that we had long wanted to get started, and that would broaden the opportunities that we could offer at the centre. We enlisted the help of a local farmer who came over a period of five months to plough, level, rake and sow the meadow.
We consulted a specialist grass seed company as to what would be best suited to the area (alluvial soil, surrounded by woodland and a nearby river). We decided on two mixes; a general wildflower and grass mix for the whole field and a more perennial flowering mix for a two meter perimeter around the outside (hand sown by ourselves). The plan was to keep the centre cut down, but still keep its diversity, and let the outside flower (to be cut in late September). This would allow us to use the field for a variety of outdoor activities, sympathetic to the centres core values; green woodworking, outdoor cooking and pottery, wildlife studies and nature trails.
In time we hope to construct a simple roofed shelter, compost toilets and a permanent cooking area for more in depth activities.
The constraints of weather and seasonal demands on the farmer meant that the sowing of the field didn’t happen until late April, which delayed the use of the field for most of this year. However, this meant that we could work on other aspects of the Community Woodland plan, such as river clearing, path building and seating construction.
Over the last few weeks the growth has reached the stage of needed its first cut, if we were to keep the centre piece manageable. There was an infiltration of creeping thistle, which we carefully dug out, and an obvious poor distribution of some of the tractor sown wild flower seeds (must have settled in the bag and not been mixed up properly by the farmer). With the mowing regime that we were going to implement though, this wouldn’t really be noticeable and would remedy itself over time.
Working backwards, one team dug out the thistles, one cleared the ground of large stones, another strimmed the foliage down and the final team raked everything off. To finish it off the meadow was mowed on a high setting (using a couple of push mowers). The transformation has been incredible, and in years to come will be well used, beautiful and beneficial to man, beast, flora, fauna and insect alike!