We’re enjoying a wonderful show of wildflowers this autumn (yes, it’s autumn!).
But new patches of wildflowers don’t just appear from thin air. In fact, experts say 97% of the nation’s meadows have been eradicated since the 1930s, with popular species like wild strawberry, ragged robin and harebell facing steep declines.
Campaigners say the collapse of these meadows, which act as powerhouses for the nation’s ecosystems, has also contributed to the downward spiral of Britain’s butterflies and bees.
This type of meadow is not self-sustaining. Instead, wildflower meadows require annual maintenance to allow the more desirable species to flourish and reduce the vigour of the more rampant species. This usually involves mowing and some judicious weed control.
At Escot, in preference to arable crop rotations we have concentrated on ditches, hedge banks, ‘wild corners’ and more permanent pasture. It is a transition that some farmers find hard to adapt to, having been brought up to farm with maximum efficiency and spray every undesirable weed.
But the results are there for all to see. In the last few years, we have seen an increase in our butterflies – this July we counted 100 individuals of a variety of species in just over an hour of a roaming count.
Increasing the insect life helps bats. Escot has recorded 12 of the 16 species of British bat on the Estate. Managed grasslands mean more small mammals and as a consequence, more varied and regular raptors. We’ve occasionally spotted a barn owl, which is not resident on the Estate – but we hope to change that!
We are currently trying to raise funds for a 12 acre meadow restoration. This is different to ‘rewilding’ where scrub and trees are encouraged to re-establish. So long as they are not overgrazed or fertilised, meadows are important habitats for our native flora and fauna.