Wherefore art thou meadow? The fight against the decline in UK wildflower meadows

As we celebrate National Meadows Day, we take a look at the precarious position of our native plants and wildflower species, and what we, and others, are doing to help through initiatives like the Magnificent Meadows Project.

Wild flowers growing in the meadow with a view of Bath in the background, at Prior Park Landscape Garden, Somerset. Set in a sweeping valley, Prior Park includes a Palladian Bridge and the nearby Bath Skyline, a circular walking route encompassing meadow and woodland. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

On Saturday 1st July, the National Trust is joining the celebrations in honour of our nation’s magnificent wildflower meadows.

As well as being both buffet and life-support for numerous endangered species, wildflower meadows hold a special place in our national culture; appreciated by the likes of Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Chaucer and many more.

“How does the Meadow flower its bloom unfold?
Because the lovely little flower is free down to its root, and in that freedom bold.”

William Wordsworth
Excerpt from “
A Poet! He Hath Put his Heart to School”

However, this source of inspiration for the poets of the future, and beautiful aspect of our countryside, is far from secure.

Wildflower meadow in June at Castle Coole, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. ©National Trust Images/Robert Morris

Fading splendour

Unfortunately, only 2% of meadows in existence in the 1930s remain for us to enjoy today. This equates to a loss of 7.5 million acres, with 75% still considered vulnerable.

The shocking rate of native plant species extinction, including the tragic demise of the downy hemp-nettle, was catalogued in Plantlife’s Our vanishing Flora report, which makes for grim reading.

The bank “where the wild thyme blows” for Shakespeare is likely gone, with wild thyme now extremely scarce in his native Warwickshire. Likewise in North Aberdeenshire, it is estimated a plant species vanishes every three years.

Thankfully, the response to this decline has been considerable.

The fightback for flowers

A number of high-profile initiatives have helped bring wildflowers to the fore.

The 2012 Olympic park enjoys a resplendent legacy of wildflower meadows, providing extensive environmental benefits alongside an aesthetic bonanza.

Such a site serves not only as a positive blueprint for the future of urban landscaping, but also a potent symbol of the centrality of wildflower meadows to our national heritage and culture.

Our Patron, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, launched the Coronation Meadows initiative back in 2013, led by Plantlife and in partnership with The Wildlife Trusts and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. The aim, to unveil 60 new wildflower meadows in honour of the Queen’s, then, 60 years on the throne.

Sown wildflower meadow at Hidcote, Gloucestershire, in June. Common Field Poppy, Ox eye daisies, cornflowers, corncockle. Papaver rhoeas, Centaurea cyanus are among the flowers. ©National Trust Images/Jonathan Buckley

How we’re playing our part

Fast-forward to the present, and we are proud to be part of the Magnificent Meadows Project, an initiative led by Plantlife in close partnership with ten organisations, including the Wildlife Trusts and RSPB.

The £3 million HLF funded project aims to transform over 74,000 acres across the UK, including practical conservation work across nine strategically important landscapes.

Crucially, the project also aims to raise awareness and appreciation of this vital habitat, notably through a series of events across the country for this National Meadows Day.

The National Trust is proud to be involved in hosting a number of events today and over the coming week, as well as through our practical conservation projects at sites across the country.

A woodland walk at Penbryn Estate, Ceredigion, with pink wild flowers along the path. ©National Trust Images/Joe Cornish

In Ceredigion we have led the way across nine sites, where we’re protecting precious plant species through fencing, education initiatives and spreading tailored grazing practices.

We continue to work together with our tenants to encourage improvements to the nature value of these special sites.

From mini-bug surveys and wildflower walks, to ‘have-a-go’ hand scything and much more, we’re working hard to promote awareness, appreciation and enjoyment of our wildflower meadows, including amongst the young, in order that they may be better preserved for the future, and continue to be enjoyed by future generations.

To find an event near you, please follow the following link and visit our website for more information.

Blog by Philip Box, Campaigns and Policy Volunteer, National Trust.

 

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