[T]he National Trust in the Lake District will be celebrating the unique hay meadow habitat with rangers carrying out demonstrations, talks and walks on National Meadows Day this Saturday, 7th July.
Now contained within a World Heritage Site, hay meadows have been an integral part of the Lake District’s cultural landscape for hundreds of years, providing feed for livestock during the winter months. The cyclical process of making hay; preparing the fields, moving livestock to allow grasses and flowers to grow and cutting and drying the hay grass was a significant event in the farming calendar and within the local community.
Very few traditional hay meadows remain in the Lake District today, and, due to changes in farming practices, Britain has lost 97% of its hay meadows since the 1930s. An increase in demand for food led to the intensification of farming, and a greater use of fertilizer meant that while grass thrived, wildflowers did not. Because of this, a number of bird species such as the corncrake, lapwing and curlew have also declined dramatically.
As well as their significance in farming, the vast mixture of wildflowers and grasses provides a huge food and nectar supply for bumblebees, birds and butterflies. The long grassland provides valuable cover for nesting birds like the endangered curlew and mammals such as brown hares.
Today, National Trust rangers work with local farmers to try to conserve hay meadows in the Lake District and create new ones wherever possible. By using the seed rich ‘green hay’, or in some cases ‘plug planting’ of hay meadow flowers to produce a new seed source, the Trust hopes to kick start this restoration. In reducing the use of fertilisers and waiting until late summer to cut the meadows there is more time for different flower and grass species to thrive and grow.
If you want to learn more about the unique hay meadow habitat, join a talk or tour this Saturday, 7th July. At Hill Top, Near Sawrey, visitors can join free guided walks and talks led by National Trust rangers at 10.30am, 11.30am, 1pm and 2pm. Walk through the very hay meadows where Beatrix Potter herself worked and discover the sights, sounds and smells of a traditional hay meadow.
At Ash Landing Nature Reserve, near Claife Viewing Station on Windermere’s west shore, visitors can drop in for free between 10am-3pm and learn more about the traditional skill of scything with demonstrations and talks about the history and significance of the British hay meadow.
In the Langdale Valley, guided walks to the Langdale meadows are taking place every Wednesday throughout July. Leaving Sticklebarn car park at 1pm, visitors will learn about the rich history of the valley and the conservation work happening in the surrounding landscape. Tickets cost £5 and include a drink at Sticklebarn pub.
At Fell Foot, Newby Bridge, there’s a free willow trail every day throughout July (drop in 10am-4pm), where visitors can discover the wildlife which thrives near to Windermere’s shore. On Saturday 7th July visitors can help to survey this wildlife in a bio-blitz conducted by the ranger team.
Elsewhere in the Lakes, and with support from generous legacies, volunteers and the Cumbria Wildlife Trust, the National Trust has begun a two-year conservation project to restore hay meadows in Grasmere, Borrowdale and Sizergh. For more information on the National Trust in the Lake District, please visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/thelakes