Twitter LinkedIn

Guiding the restoration of our rare wildflower meadows

Honor Eldridge, Policy Lead (Farming) at Plantlife introduces their new Meadows' Hub after National Meadows Day.

July 2021

This year, National Meadows Day fell on July 3rd. Hundreds of people went to visit their local wildflower meadows to experience their beauty and serenity. Plantlife research shows that one typical 3 acre field can host 9 million flowers on a single summer’s day, producing enough nectar to support over 300,000 bees. With up to 50 different plant species per metre square, species-rich meadows have a greater botanical diversity than any other habitat. Beyond their incredible biodiversity, they also provide a multitude of other ‘public goods’ that benefit us all:

  • The un-tilled soils of meadows are vital carbon sinks and stores;
  • Floodplain meadows capture and hold back water, providing a natural flood defence;
  • Species-rich pasture provide a healthier range of minerals and amino acids for livestock;
  • Surviving ancient meadows are irreplaceable and iconic landscape features;
  • The sights, smells and sounds of wildflower meadows provide well-being benefits.
However, these critical habitats are under threat. Since the 1930s, over 97% of our meadows and other species-rich grasslands - a staggering 7.5 million acres - have been ploughed, agriculturally ‘improved’, or built on. This loss is a key driver in the declines of the wildlife meadows support, especially invertebrates such as pollinators. The remaining areas of species-rich grasslands are increasingly fragmented – covering less than 1% of UK land – making it difficult for species to travel between them.

We need to reverse this trend. We need to create and restore species-rich meadows and grasslands on a massive scale to repair the damage. As part of the UK Government’s 25 year plan, Plantlife has suggested an ambitious, but achievable, target of 120,000 hectares by 2043.

When it comes to creating and restoring flower-rich meadows, it can be difficult to know where to start or what the best methods are to ensure success. In order to help, Plantlife is drawing on years of meadow making experience and has just launched a new Meadows’ Hub – a one-stop-shop with everything you ever wanted to know about creating and caring for meadows. The website offers practical advice for all types of grasslands and land managers – whether you have a 100acre estate, a small patch of community land or even a tiny garden, and will be actively updated to ensure that the latest advice and guidance is made available.

The initial stages of meadow creation and restoration are only one part of the story. Species-rich grasslands need to be actively managed through grazing or hay-cutting. Again, the Meadows’ Hub can help guide land managers through all the available options. However, as critical the advice component is, funding is just as essential. In order to ensure the success of grassland restoration, governments needs to ensure that the future agri-environment schemes across the UK. In England, that means that the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme would be designed to support restoration and maintenance of species-rich meadows. Plantlife is urging the Government to deliver funding for both restoration and maintenance within the introductory level of the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) since this will make it accessible to all farmers and land managers and will encourage a high level of uptake.

On Saturday, people embraced the opportunity that National Meadows Day brings and went out to enjoy the beauty of wildflower meadows and other grasslands in your local area. But now, we’re encouraging people with some land or some access to land to take the next step, and see how they might be able to help increase the species-richness on the grasslands under their care. That might be a small urban park, the lawn in your garden, or the field on which you graze your beef herd. Our new Meadows’ Hub has now launched and we are exciting to share our experiences and advice with meadow makers across the UK.

Honor Eldridge is Policy Lead (Farming) at Plantlife. Follow @hmeldridge and @Love_plants

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.