Bringing to life spectacles of natural wonder on our doorstep
An English Hay Meadow in summer full of beautiful wild flowers may be gentle and understated but it's still one of summer's glorious spectacles. One fine example is alongside the Thames just north of Oxford. It’s a traditional hay meadow. with a whole variety of grasses and flowers.
In the North Oxford meadow it’s possible to find around 60 different varieties of flowers and grasses in a five metre square area.
Many of the flowers you can find in such meadows have glorious traditional sounding names like:
Rough Hawkbit (Leontodon hispidus) - a member of the daisy family, which grows to about 35cm high with a yellow flower, easily confused with a dandelion.
Devil’s-bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis) – which has a dome shaped flower-head with pinkish-lilac to violet-blue flowers with tiny mallet-shaped anthers projecting from it.
Lady’s Bedstraw (Gallium verum) – with its tiny yellow flowers, which smell of honey, on thin stems which grow to about 60cm high. In mediaeval times it was believed that it had formed part of the bedding in the stable at Bethlehem and it was know as Our Lady's Bedstraw.
Fairy flax (Linum catharticum) – is a delicate plant which grows up to 15cm tall and has white flowers with five petals.
Janet Sumner visits a flower meadow in North Oxford and finds out just how many species are packed into a small area:
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The reason ancient meadowland looks like it does is because it’s been managed pretty much the same way for 1000 years. The land in North Oxford for example, has been owned by a group of people with each allocated an area by drawing lots, and from that land they could take the hay crop and graze animals afterwards. This system has been around since medieval times at least. Fifty or 60 years ago such meadows were common but now it’s thought that 95% of them have been lost because of changes in farming methods.
There have been a number of projects to revive meadowland landscapes around the country for example some of the National Parks have hay meadows you can visit, along with projects to preserve them.
Parts of Hampstead Heath in London are meadowland, and in the South Meadow you can see scores of different types of grasses.
In Dorset there are Kingcombe Meadows near Dorchester.
In Kent advice being offered to landowners about how to manage the land includes advice about meadow grasslands.
You can also find information about hay meadows near you on the Natural England website.
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