In a preceding article I outlined how experiening a series of guided rammbles gave me an interest in wild flowers. Having begun to learn a little more about grasslands I was amazed to hear that our wild flowers were effectively under threat and this in turn was affecting the wildlife population.

Wildflower meadows are great places for a picnic or a Sunday walk but not very long ago they performed a vital part in the economy and way of life of Britain. Meadows provided fuel for transportation in the form of hay for horses; pasture fed the beasts which then became the meat and produced dairy items in the houses of town and country; and stock fed on grasslands furnished the manure that fertilised farm fields on which foodstuffs like wheat and vegetables were produced. Flowers and herbs supplied medicine and food long before modern day medicine developed. Traditionally farmed hay meadows was actually the mainstay of rural Britain. The grass and flower-packed fields were closed up and left to mature from spring to mid-summer, ahead of being cut and then dried out to supply fodder for farm animals during the freezing winter season.

Food rationing during world war 2 led to "the Great Harvest" when land which had not been farmed since medieval times, was ploughed up again. With the surprise of these food shortages, The british isles was determined to be self-sufficient in food stuff and land owners were paid to plough up more meadows and downs. Green silage grassland took the place of many of the ancient hay meadows. These fields incorporate only a few grass species, such as sturdy rye, which is grown, then cut and fermented to provide a wet feed for cattle. These coarser grasses grow very well on fertile grounds that receive an annual application of nutrient-rich farmyard manure otherwise known as muck. Applying artificial fertiliser or lots of muck to grasslands favours coarse grasses that then outcompete the fine grasses and flowers.

This reduction in hay meadows has a knock-on effect on all sorts of creatures, in particular pollinating insects such as bees and hoverflies. As meadows become less common so insects have further to fly to locate nectar and pollinate the plants we depend on for foodstuff. On account of lack of habitat and suitable food the insects grow to be weaker and far more susceptible to disease and hence they are also on the decline. A UK wide campaign is already happening in The UK to urge gardeners and open space and parks authorities to grow more flowers that support these vital invertebrates so as to strengthen their resistance and halt their decline.

Nearly all grasslands will need sympathetic management and need to have a bit of grazing; without this the fine grasses and herbs can be crowded out by the tallest plants and toughest grasses. However overgrazing stops plants from flowering and dropping seed. All year grazing by, for example, sheep or horses can harm and destroy grasslands. Tall flowering plants like Ox-eye daisy, Common knapweed or Common spotted orchids can not survive in overgrazed grasslands.

Land owners are now offered enticements to alter field management by spreading less muck and limiting mowing or grazing. Despite this it takes numerous years to transform land from being nutrient-rich to nutrient-poor but we hope, one day, we will see more silage fields changing to meadows buzzing with insects.

If you adore buzzing around meadows fly over to My Outdoor Store, the premier walking and hiking outdoor gear store.

Author's Bio: 

Bruno Blackstone is a freelance writer interested in all things to do with the outdoors and helping others get the most from the outdoors. Starting with a psychology degree his early career was as a social worker and family therapist working with families to help them achieve more positive and stable relationships. In his more recent career he has coached many senior executives in both small and large organisations in areas such as strategy, human resources, organisational design and performance improvement. He now continues his work in the business world but he is also co-owner of My Outdoor Store a price comparison site for outdoor enthusiasts.