A thousand acres of wildflowers – on Dartmoor and beyond

Donna Cox in wet meadow on her land near Buckfastleigh

A community wildflower conservation group started on Dartmoor in 2015 is celebrating its 1,000th acre of new or restored wildflower meadow.

Inspired by the enthusiastic response of landowners and gardeners on and around Dartmoor, similar groups of meadow-makers elsewhere in Devon are now being encouraged.

Moor Meadows was co-founded by Donna Cox of Buckfastleigh along with a small group of local people living on Dartmoor. They wanted to help each other conserve, restore and create wildflower-rich grassland to help turn around the declines in wild plants and wildlife in recent decades.

After five years of sharing advice, equipment and wildflower seeds and with support provided through expert talks and practical workshops, the number of meadow-makers involved in the Moor Meadows group has grown to more than 800.

In total 1,088 acres of wildflower-rich meadows have been restored or created by the group’s members in and around Dartmoor.

Some of these are very small, including garden mini-meadows, encouraging orchids in the front lawns of South Brent, or single-acre meadows in churchyards like St Mary’s at Throwleigh. At the other end of the scale the 78 acres of species-rich meadows at Deer Park Farm, near Chudleigh, has won a national meadow-making award.

Lost from the landscape

Traditional wildflower meadows have disappeared from most of the English countryside. Nationwide, a staggering 97% of flower-rich grasslands have been lost since the 1930s.

With the loss of diverse flowering plants came an associated decline in bees, butterflies and other insects that depended on those plants as food and nectar sources. And impacted by that disappearance of insects, many birds, bats and small mammals were also lost from the countryside.

Although some wildflower meadows have been destroyed by built development, the majority have disappeared due to changes in land management, especially the intensification of farming after the Second World War.

But in recent years, techniques have been perfected to re-create wildflower-rich grasslands. Groups such as Moor Meadows are sharing such knowledge and helping to bring back colour and life to the Devon countryside. Increasingly farmers are joining the group and restoring traditional hay meadows as more land owners recognise the importance of meadows for carbon capture as well as wildlife.

Restoring Dartmoor meadows

Co-founder of Moor Meadows, Donna Cox of Buckfastleigh said: “When we moved to Dartmoor it took us several years to discover how best to manage our 70 acres of pasture to increase wildflowers and benefit wildlife.

Four fields that looked promising were put into hay meadow management – cut and baled each year – which has added to the diversity of wildflowers. We also have a wet meadow which had been drained in the past.

‘By blocking the underground pipes and bringing in ponies to graze in late autumn, the summer months see this meadow rich with a thousand orchids and alive with bees, butterflies and moths.”

Donna credits the inspiration for restoring wildflower meadows to a childhood memory of growing up next to a traditional mixed farm in Surrey and walking through flower-rich fields. During the process of learning how best to manage her Dartmoor land it became clear that other people shared her enthusiasm for returning colour and wildlife to their fields.

She adds: “In 2015, I organised a talk at our local village hall on meadows. The level of interest that came from that, with 130 people turning up, made me think about the possibility of forming a group, where we could all learn about meadows and share knowledge and information.”

With Moor Meadows members recording 933 acres of wildflower-rich grassland on Dartmoor, and a further 155 acres elsewhere in Devon,
it is clear there is an appetite for meadow-making outside the
national park.

More Meadows across Devon

Now, thanks to a grant from the Devon Environment Foundation, the scope will be extended well beyond Dartmoor. The Moor Meadows community group will be encouraging like-minded individuals in other areas of Devon to use this model to create local groups of their own.

The new county-wide concept – More Meadows – is being led by Devon ecologist Tracey Hamston. Tracey will aim to support the creation of other local meadows groups this winter, with strong interest already registered from people in the South Hams and the Blackdown Hills and the first new group established in West Devon.

Tracey said: “I have been a member of Moor Meadows for some time and jumped at the chance to expand the work of this highly successful community wildlife group through the More Meadows initiative. I’m a big fan of community-led conservation and believe we can really achieve long term success, from the roots up.”

A new online forum has been created by More Meadows as a resource for budding meadow-makers. The forum is now live, aimed both at people who currently manage wildflower meadows and anyone who wants to create wildflower-rich grassland of any size, anywhere in Devon.

Users can find or share resources and advice on managing a meadow – including where to source wildflower seeds – and find help identifying the wild plants and creatures in their meadows. There are also opportunities to join or even start up local groups of meadow makers in different parts of the county. The forum can be found at
https://forum.moremeadows.org.uk

With more potential meadow makers hoping to create local groups on the Moor Meadows model, Tracey added: “I’m looking forward to seeing the groups develop and hope to see the creation and restoration of more meadows across Devon, each filled with thriving wildlife.”

That has been the motivation behind so many people’s action to restore the 1,000 acres of Devon meadows already associated with the original Moor Meadows group. Donna Cox summed up the appeal of the wildflower meadow: “It’s so enjoyable to see the way native plants succeed one another, coming into bloom at different times, the changes in colours from the yellows to the blues and whites and so on.

‘I especially love that a meadow is alive with the sounds of crickets, grasshoppers and bees. Insects bring in birds and there’s nothing better than seeing swallows, swifts and house martins swooping down in search of food. It’s a wonderful wildlife spectacle, and really lifts the spirits, and can be right on our doorsteps almost anywhere in Devon.”

Stories from individual Meadow Makers and a map of Devon meadows can be found at https://moormeadows.org.uk
The Meadow Makers online forum is at
https://forum.moremeadows.org.uk

Laura White

Author: Laura White

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