Hay meadow survey

Recent years have seen a decline in traditional hay meadows by over 90% in the U.K.

This decline has occurred due to changes in meadow management with ploughing, drainage, reseeding and the addition of fertilisers as primary factors.

County Wildlife Site at Kilnmire in Ravenstonedale, Cumbria – © Kath Jolly

County Wildlife Site at Kilnmire in Ravenstonedale, Cumbria – © Kath Jolly

What is more this resource has become fragmented, isolated and is often found outside the current farming context in areas such as road side verges, stream sides and even church yards.

Hay meadow restoration

Thankfully however this decline has started to change due in part to three years of hard work by Cumbria Biodiversity Partnership’s Hay-Day Project.

This summer will see the final push for the project in the Lake District National Park and Orton Fells areas of the county.

Cumbria is nationally recognised as an important resource for hay meadows, however even here this priority conservation habitat amounts to less than 500 hectares.

By the end of the summer project staff and volunteers will have surveyed nearly 400 meadows, which is essential to determine the best possible way forward for their conservation.

Working with local contractors, farmers and Natural England staff, the project has used these surveys to restore over 20 hectares of hay meadows through the introduction of local provenance wildflower seed.

Final year for hay meadow project

As this is the last year of the project, staff have been looking to share lessons learnt with other individuals and organisations in the conservation, scientific and farming communities involved in restoring hay meadows through practical action or research.

This July saw some of Cumbria’s foremost conservation professionals including representatives from Cumbria Wildlife Trust, The National Trust, Cumbria County Council and United Utilities gather in Orton to view restored hay meadows and talk to project staff.

Neil Harnott, Senior Conservation Officer at Cumbria Wildlife Trust said, “It’s vital if we are not to lose the skills and knowledge developed over the past few years that we have the opportunity to meet and talk to the staff, volunteers and farmers who have made this project happen.”

Further restoration is in the pipeline for August and September

Sharing the knowledge

The project has also provided talks, and demonstration days for farmers and small holders to promote good management and restoration of hay meadows. In addition management leaflets and plant identification guides have been produced along with producing a bi-annual newsletter.

Specialist training has been provided for local communities to enable them to take part in meadow surveying.

This, along with guided farm walks through species-rich hay meadows encourages people to visit and enjoy this colourful part of the farming landscape in Cumbria.

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