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Wild Flower Meadows

WILD FLOWER MEADOWS

 

 

 

Wild flowers meadows are fabulous places to be in the early summer – that’s so long as you aren’t a hay fever sufferer!

 

The Humber Bridge Country Park has some great wild flower meadows and also several smaller woodland glades. These meadows or grasslands are typically defined as open habitats with less than 30% tree or shrub cover in which grasses dominate. So no surprises there!

 

What these grassy places look like depends upon the environmental conditions of the area, such as how wet or dry it is, and what sort of soil is under the grass (in the country park the soil is alkaline – just look at all that chalk!),  The type of meadow also depends on how it is looked after, i.e. how often the grass is cut, and whether it is improved with fertilisers.

 

 

DIFFERENT MEADOWS

 

In the country park some areas of the grass have been seeded with an amenity grass seed mix and receive intensive management with frequent cutting through the summer. This provides grass that is great for playing games, sun bathing or picnicking on. These areas have little biodiversity value because of the low number of plant species that are interesting to wildlife, i.e. you won’t really see many butterflies flying over these lawns!

 

Other grassy areas are made up of many different species of grass and flowering plants, and are cut far less frequently. In fact they are cut only once a year, and then all the clippings are removed so that the soil is not enriched with nutrients. It is crucial to remove these cuttings to ensure that many species are able to grow together rather than one or two of the stronger more vigorous species taking over.

 

 

A WALK THROUGH THE MEADOWS

 

As you wander through the meadows stop in the first one after walking through from the Foreshore. This is looked after as a wild flower meadow, and yes there are lots of different grasses and flowering plants here – at the moment the green sward you see is in fact not grass, but crow garlic. Go on, get down on your hands and knees and have a sniff to see what I mean! This meadow is also home to cowslips in the late spring and vetches later in the summer months, which are both well suited to growing on these chalky soils.

 

Further along the path you’ll find the  meadow with much shorter grass, which although features less flowers at least you can enjoy a spider-free picnic! Have a look however at the edges of this meadow and you’ll see wide verges of longer grass which are now left uncut. These verges are great for butterflies, and several species including meadow browns and gatekeepers lay their eggs here from July to September. Their caterpillars emerge shortly after and not only munch through some of the grass (it’s their larval food plant), but they also overwinter in the grass before pupating next spring.

 

 

HIDDEN CLEARINGS

 

Common spotted orchidThere are some secret pockets on the reserve where even more flowers grow. The woodland glades are looked after like the meadows to encourage as many plants to flourish as possible.  Here the purple heads of thistles, knapweed and vetches are joined by the stunning purple flower spikes of common spotted orchids (see photo to right) and green spikes of twayblade orchids.

 

We count over 1000 orchids here each year, and in order to conserve them, the clearing is cut at the end of the summer and a team of enthusiastic volunteers rake up the cuttings into a large grass pile. However, in recent years it has been noticed that one of the plants growing here, the rose bay willow herb is starting to take over. Rose bay willow herb is a vigorous plant which spreads its seeds easily by being blown in the wind. So now each year, before the flowers turn to seed, another team of volunteers pull out some of these plants.

 

If you fancy taking part in this conservation project, you are welcome to come along and give us a hand at one of the conservation activities over the next few months. You’ll be rewarded with enjoying your visits through the summer being able to see the wild flowers and butterflies thriving in these beautiful meadows and clearings.

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