Restoring Norfolk's ancient meadows - using rare wildflowers found by the roadside
PUBLISHED: 12:12 28 August 2019 | UPDATED: 13:07 28 August 2019
Henry Walker / Norfolk FWAG
Ancient wildflower meadows are being brought back to life using seeds harvested from Norfolk's roadside verges - often the last strongholds of declining plant species.
The restoration project uses green hay from the county's 112 "roadside nature reserves", cut at a time when there is a high proportion of seeds in the flower heads, and then forked onto farmland in a bid to recreate lost wildlife habitats.
Although meadows are valuable for wildflowers, bees, butterflies, birds, reptiles and small mammals, they are one of the most vulnerable habitats in the UK, having declined by more than 95pc in Norfolk since 1945.
The hay-cutting and spreading project is a joint effort by Norfolk Wildlife Trust (NWT), Norfolk County Council, which manages roadside nature reserves, and Norfolk Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG), which has worked with farmers to find suitable sites.
They said green hay from road verges has a greater variety of seeds than commercial wildflower mixes and, as they are being redistributed locally, there is a better chance of meadows being colonised by nationally-scarce species which can be found on the roadside, including sulphur clover, restharrow and dyer's greenweed.
NWT conservation officer Helen Baczkowska said: "Traditional hay meadows resplendent with colourful wild flowers, alive with bees and butterflies, were once common across Norfolk. Sadly they are no longer and today many of their associated plants, including cowslips, yellow rattle and meadow saxifrage, have become much rarer.
"This partnership project is redressing the balance in south Norfolk. It is not a 'quick fix' - creating the new meadows has taken several years and collecting seed by hand and hay is labour-intensive - but we are creating new sites for threatened meadow species in less vulnerable locations."
Last week, the hay and its seeds were spread on seven sites across south Norfolk including on fields at Wreningham belonging to Vic Long and his sister Rachael, who have been taking the hay for 10 years to restore ancient meadows on their farm, which was once an intensive arable business.
Other sites to benefit include the Earsham Wetland Centre near Bungay.
Henry Walker from Norfolk FWAG said: "By utilising the valuable seed source preserved in our roadside nature reserves we are working to expand these rare local plant communities on to new sites. Because they have developed over such a long time, they are perfectly suited to the local soils and support our farm wildlife right through the year, so much more effectively than 'off the shelf" seed mixtures.
"These roadside nature reserves have plants in flower in any week of the year from February to October, and so are really valuable for bees and other pollinators."
Andy Grant, Norfolk County Council's cabinet member for environment and waste, said: "We've been working hard over many years to protect the rare plants, animals and fungi that call our 112 roadside nature reserves home.
"This project means that these special habitats can be used to increase biodiversity elsewhere in our beautiful county and I'm very proud that we are able to play an important part in making that happen."
The work has been funded for the last three years by the Barbara Barlow Trust under the Seeding the Future project.