True Wildflower Meadows are a stunning sight in full flower but unfortunately now a rarity in our countryside.
They are a diverse species rich habitat providing food and nesting oppurtunities for all manner of mammals, insects and birdlife. In times past they were a much more frequent sight when hay meadows were cut, quite often by hand with scythes, once a year in late summer. The cut grass was left to dry in the fields then gathered up as hay and stored as animal fodder and bedding for the leaner months.
By the time the meadows were cut the wildflowers would have flowered set and dispersed their seed thus ensuring the continuation annually of their growing and flowering cycle.. The meadow during spring and summer would provide a banquet of food in the form of pollen and nectar from the wildflowers for bees, butterflies, hoverfies and much more. It would provide foodplants for the catterpillar stage of our beautiful butterflies and moths and would be alive with wonderful beetles on the hunt and many other insects species. This in turn would ensure an abundant hunting ground for our small mammals, such as mice, and our native shrew.. Again in turn, these smaller animals would provide food for our larger predators such as stoats, foxes and birds of prey such as our majestic barn owl, kestrels, buzzards and more.. The continuous long grass and wildflower cover all during spring and summer would provide a fantastic habitat for nesting birds like the skylark and meadow pippits, The dropped seed and winter stubble after the meadow was cut for hay would provide a winter food source for a myriad of birds and mamals.
This wildlife rich habitat that is a wildflower meadow is unfortunately a rare sight nowadays in our intensively farmed landscape, A countryside landscape which has become a tapestry of desert like fields,, hosting a monoculture of commercially grown grass. These fields are now almost completely devoid of wildflowers and as such a very poor habitat for most of our wildlife.
The species rich wildflower meadow which is a nature friendly way of farming, unfortunately today is not viable for the farmer who is under ever increasing pressure to produce more and more produce at a lower cost. Untill they are properly rewarded for their output, incentivized to farm with nature in mind, and to allocate a percentage of their land to allow our wildlife to flourish, we are going to see even more catastrophic declines in our native Irish wildlife. Today it is standard for fields in grass production to be cut two, if not three times a year. The fields are heavily fertilized to promote grass growth, which is cut, gathered and baled for silage as a winter fodder for livestock.
Under this regime wildflowers do not stand a chance of becoming established, they are outcompeted by the vigourous strains of commercial fodder grass grown, such as perenial rye grass. Any wildflowers that do exist in these fields are cut before they have a chance to set and disperse their seed. Also fields intensively farmed like this are a disaster for our ground nesting birds and small mamals with the regular cuts giving them no chance to breed sucessfully.
Our Goals at Wildacres.
To create true wildflower meadows using Irish wildflower seed on our nature reserve as an optimum wildlife habitat.
To manage these wildflower meadows to best practice on a continual basis.
To ensure the species of wildflowers grown are those most suited to the soil conditions prevailing and most beneficial to the local wildlife.
To collect wildflower seed from this meadow for distribution.
To monitor and record the plant and animal life of the wildflower meadow.
To encourage where possible others to reinstate such species rich wildflower meadow habitats.
Creating New Wildflower Meadows .
As part of the first phase of this plan we have a four acre field, as shown above, that will be planted in spring 2021 as a native wildflower meadow. For the past two years we have let this field grow ungrazed and it has been cut only once each season, at the end of the summer and the land has not had any applications of fertilizerin in any form.
This single late cut of grass allows our birds, mammals and insects to nest and breed, and wildflowers a chance to flower and set seed. In addition it vitally removes nutrients thus reducing vigour in grass growth in preparation for the sowing of the wildflower meadow.
We greatly look forward to the day when we see the first wildflowers in bloom in this large field and hearing the buzz of our wild bees and the sight of butterflies fluttering across the meadow. And to see the heartwarming sight of swifts, swallows, sandmartins and housemartins weaving and skimming above the meadow hunting for the abundant insects. In relation to migratory birds such as these and the many more that visit our shores, it is the least we can do for them. Many have undertaken an incredible journey of over three and a half thousand miles from southern Africa annually to breed, here.
We plan in the near future to create more of such aesthetically beautiful and wildlife focused habitats on our lands.