Wildflower meadows are certainly beautiful and vibrant to look at – but they are also vital for our countryside and play a crucial role in the ecosystem. 

They are important for: 

  • Biodiversity 

  • Soil health 

  • Carbon sequestration 

  • Farm resilience 

In fact, you can think of wildflower meadows as the bottom of the food chain. Flowers and meadow grasses are vital as a nectar source for many bees, butterflies, beetles and other insects. 

These insects are then a food source for so many other wildlife, from birds to hedgehogs and mice. 

At the CRT, we have lots of meadows across our farms, including flood plain meadows at farms such as Lark Rise, Bere Marsh and Turnastone Court .

Helena Darragh, head of conservation and land management

Helena Darragh, Head of Conservation and Land Management

The conservation team carry out grassland surveys

The conservation team carry out grassland surveys

These are situated by a river and typically flood in winter during high rainfall, which is how they get all their nutrients. We also have species-rich wildflower meadows on more acidic soils too, with some at Babers Farm in Dorset, for example, which are looking particularly beautiful now. 

Our vision

But our vision is to further diversify our meadows through tweaks to management or wildflower seeding, especially where they are predominantly made up of grass species, says Helena Darragh, the CRTs Head of Conservation and Land Management. 

“We want to reflower them. A number of the meadows and grasslands we’ve surveyed this year consist mainly of grasses, such as at Pierrepont Farm in Surrey. Bere Marsh Farm in Dorset is another property where we are keen to restore species-rich floodplain meadow habitat, a habitat which has decreased by 98%, using locally sourced native wildflower seed.  

“We want to make sure our flood plain meadows thrive. There’s limited botanical wildflower interest in them so we can enhance them by putting in wildflowers or making slight changes to management.

"If we manage them like a meadow, take an annual hay cut, and get them grazed, then ithe grassland will become more botanically interesting as you are giving the wildflowers the chance to establish themselves and grow, rather than letting the grasses outcompete the wildflowers each year," she says.

Our surveys

The CRT’s conservation team has a long-term plan to monitor the condition of our meadows. At Lark Rise, Pierrepont, Bere Marsh and Turnastone Court farms, they’ve taken baselines of the condition of the grassland. 

We’ve gone through every single grassland field and taken quadrats, which is a metre squared area, recording every species present and how much area it covers within that square. Then we know if it’s mainly grasses, and what grasses there are, which can give us an indication of how the grassland is currently being managed,” says Helena. 

“Then we will repeat the surveys every two to three years so we can start to see a quantifiable change.” 

A meadow is deemed species-rich if it has more than 15 plant species per square metre, says Helena.  

“The more plant species you have, the greater the number of animal species  you’re catering for. Some of our grasslands currently have only six plant species in one metre square but others are already supporting more than 15. The idea is to get as many different wildflowers and grasses as we can into our meadows to boost biodiversity.” 

meadows at Lark Rise Farm Meadows at Lark Rise

Key for soil health

A range of plant species is key for soil health as they all root differently, says Helena.

“Some plants have shallow roots that spread across the top of the soil, and some go really far down. That helps infiltration for water. If you have different roots percolating through the soil, it can act as a sponge so all the water is held within the soil, rather than hitting the top like concrete and rushing off. 

Healthier, crumbly soil enables plants to thrive because the plant roots are better able to access nutrients from a range of depths, improving the soil ecosystem in general. Soil can be considered as another habitat, there’s loads of organisms living in it, including all different sorts of worms and larvae too – also great for birds! 

Helping our meadows

A diverse range of species, and therefore rooting structures, additionally helps with carbon sequestration. Carbon dioxide is captured by the plants above ground and taken down into the soil via root networks, burying the carbon for long periods. Undisturbed grassland soils are vital carbon sinks. 

“And it helps with resilience for the farms too,” says Helena. “If you are only relying on a few plant species in your meadow to grow well and make a good hay crop for feeding cows and sheep later on in the year, there is likely to be less tolerance within that field to drought or extreme changes in weather conditions, impacting the growth of your crop. With a range of wildflower and grass species, your meadow has more resilience and is better at retaining moisture in dry summers, offering a higher quality hay crop going forwards.” 

Listen to Helena below talking about the importance of wildflower meadows.

How you can help 

We can’t do it without you. If you want to help us grow our wildflower meadows, you can support the CRT in any number of ways, from joining as a CRT Friend to volunteering on one of our farms and attending our events. You can also sign-up to our monthly newsletter 'CRT News' for regular updates from our farms, straight to your inbox.

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Published: July 2024