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Meadow Successes

Written by John James, posted on Friday, June 25, 2021

Following on from my article last August on flood plain meadow restoration it is time for an update on how the work has progressed and to review how successful it has been.

Initially, things were quite discouraging as, although growth around the edges was quite strong, the area in the centre of the meadow became the focus of attention for a family of badgers who treated the area as a new fast food restaurant, feverishly digging for grubs, worms and other tasty delights in the freshly disturbed soil. This disturbance meant that very little was able to establish in the central area.

As if this was not bad enough, the area then disappeared in February under floodwater for several weeks leading to some anxiety as to whether or not the seed would survive or might be washed away.

Luckily, nature is a wonderful thing and with patience, we started to see a few plants germinating in the central area. At this point Catriona Bass from the Thames Valley Wildflower Meadow Restoration Project thought it might be worth spending an afternoon raking up and removing some of the clods of old turf churned up by the badgers which were hampering things from germinating. To this end, Catriona managed to find a number of volunteers who were joined by the garden team to rake up and remove several trailer loads of old turf.

It now turns out that the badgers may actually have done us a favour, as the clearer areas have given some species a better chance to germinate because of the reduced competition, this includes Great Burnet which is one of our target species to reintroduce and one which is more challenging to re-introduce.

Single Adder’s Tongue Fern plant.During a recent visit by Catriona Bass and Kevan Martin from Longmead Local Wildlife Site and Charles Flower, a Christ Church alumnus, who is a pioneer of meadow restoration and establishment, the exciting discovery of Adder’s Tongue Fern (Ophioglossum vulgatum) was made. This is a truly ancient species of fern, which is a great indicator of ancient unimproved meadows and must have been growing here all along, but could not be seen due to the density of the vegetation, so again the badgers have done us a favour. Adder’s Tongue Fern looks nothing like most ferns, and only grows a few inches high. It takes its name from the spore-bearing stalk that supposedly resembles a snakes tongue, and holds the record for the plant with the most chromosomes (around 1260).

Now that full summer is upon us, the success of the green hay spreading can be seen, particularly in the re-introduction of Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor) which is now very abundant. This is very important since Yellow Rattle is a hemi parasite of many grasses, which weakens them and gives the wildflowers a greater chance to thrive. The difference in height of grasses where there is abundant Yellow Rattle is obvious to see in this video.

The slightly raised area in the north-west corner of the field was left uncultivated because of the strong population of Cowslips, but was mown down very short and had green hay spread on it. This area now has some Yellow Rattle, although less than the cultivated areas, but we have also spotted Pyramidal Orchids which must have already been there and we have also recently seen some specimens of Broomrape. Broomrapes are parasitic plants with little or no chlorophyll which derive their nutrients from the roots of other plants via small sucker like roots. View a video of unrestored meadow here.

Overall, it looks like the green hay spreading has been a great success and will only improve over time and I am confident that in the coming years more and more species will become evident.

In order to boost the species that have been re-introduced by seed from the green hay, we have also sown some species in cell trays and are now at the staging of potting them up to grow on, these will then be planted out next spring once they are big enough to have a good chance of survival.

The success of this project is not alone, as we have spotted more wild orchids in other areas such as the Dean’s Ham and the Cherwell Path than ever before. This is simply due to the passive measure of not mowing and strimming on a weekly basis. The ones we have seen so far are largely solitary specimens, although that should change over time as the plants hopefully self-seed. We have even found a Pyramidal orchid in the Deanery Garden and in the Cloister Garden.