Like many NWT staff, I am still working from home. As I write this, looking out of my window, I can see swallows feeding their young; they are swooping low over the nearby common, a County Wildlife Site
meadow, scooping up insects and ferrying them back to fledglings perched on a telephone wire.
The birds are a good reminder of how important flower-rich meadows are for the biodiversity of Norfolk. Many species of insect rely on the open sunny habitats of grazed pastures and hay-meadows and the decline of these habitats in the twentieth century has been a major factor in the loss of bees, butterflies and other pollinators.
Once evening comes, the birds will be replaced by bats hunting moths and other night-flying invertebrates – further evidence of the wealth of life that lives in these unimproved grasslands. I may not see them every day, but I know there are voles and shrews and grass snakes out there too.
NWT’s work on meadows extends far beyond our own nature reserves; many County Wildlife Sites are meadows and together with fellow Conservation Officer Sam Brown, I support the owners in managing these sites in a way that benefits wildlife. This can include help with management plans, or finding contractors or grazing animals. Similar advice is offered to churchyards
, which are sometimes the best example of old meadows left in a parish and were often cut for hay or grazed in the past. As well as caring for old meadows, we have been creating new ones through our work in Norfolk’s Living Landscapes
; for this we use hay from Roadside Nature Reserves
, which are often fragments of meadows and commons along roads and can be rich in wild flowers like the nationally scarce sulphur clover, cowslip and pyramidal orchids.
You might have been able to create your own garden meadow over the summer. However small they are, these are vital for many insects and make wonderful ‘stepping stones’ for wildlife in villages and towns alike. If you have made a meadow, you can cut it in September, rake off the cuttings and then, if it grows a lot in autumn, cut again in October. If you want to add more plants, scuff up the soil a little and add seed in September or next April, then sit back and wait for the wildlife to come to you.
Helen Baczkowska is a Conservation Officer at NWT
Header image: Brimstone butterfly by Elizabeth Dack