It’s not all woodlands here; for the last month I have been popping up to Chelfham to work on a new fence, so that we can reintroduce grazing to some old meadows. Species rich wildflower meadows have declined steeply since the Second World War, as intensive farming, with short term leys, fertilisers and herbicides have transformed agricultural productivity. Unfortunately modern ryegrass fields are poor for wildlife, and species rich meadows have declined by over 95%.
Under their previous ownership, the old meadows at Chelfham had not been grazed for quite a few years, except by rabbits and passing deer, and had begun to disappear under a mix of bracken and brambles. The solution is a new fence and some help from the friendly neighbouring farmer, Richard, who is happy to put in his sheep and cattle. I should be finishing the fence this week, and we are then swiping the bracken and brambles, ready for Richard to bring his stock in. They will need to graze the site hard to knock back the brambles and help the grass spread back.
Wild flowers can last many years in the soil’s seed bank, and some remain in the more open areas of the meadows. While not as productive as modern reseeded meadows some farmers swear by the quality of hay and grazing afforded by the greater diversity of flowers. Thus the meadows include red clover and bird’s foot trefoil (both nitrogen fixers) and among others is Field Scabious, a food plant for the rare marsh fritillary butterfly.
We have agreed to sell the meadows to Rosanna, the new owner of the woodlands adjacent, so I hope she relishes a challenge. Still, in some ways we have done the hard work for her, with the tractor swiping and the fencing!