22 December 2011

Season's Greetings

The sheep have finished aftermath grazing and have now left the meadows. However, whilst at Martin's Meadows they took advantage of the peace and quiet to make some preparations for the festive period. Some of the sheep are quite musical and have formed a 'Baa Baa' shop quartet and produced their own unique rendition of 'We wish you a Merry Christmas'. My blog and uploading skills are not yet sufficient to bring you the full 'a cappella' sound and lights version - but hopefully the picture will give you an idea of their "we don't just eat grass you know" attitude and talent. I have been impressed by the progress they have made in just a short time. One is a particularly good Baa-ritone!
I should just point out that figgy pudding is not a suitable food source for sheep and is mentioned in the context of the song only. In addition, there are restrictions on supplementary feeding on many of our sites - so demands for figgy pudding should not and will not be met!
On a more serious note - Happy Christmas from the Five Meadows Blog and thank you to all who have helped with the meadows' management and care during 2011 - I could not have done it without you. Here's to a good 2012!

14 December 2011

Visiting the meadows in winter is a very different experience from the summer.
No longer the heat of the sun accompanied by the whirr and buzz of a myriad of insects. The Panama hat and shirt sleeves have given way to a thick winter hat, coat and gloves and one is less inclined to linger!
However, the more muted quality of the meadows in winter makes me look for some of the subtler features which are easily overlooked during the 'heady' days of grassland summer.
The presence of lichens, mosses and fungi becomes much more obvious - and features like deadwood, fencing, gates and leafless hedges seem to reveal the 'skeleton' of a site. The oak gate post in the picture shows one of the lichens, but I was really pleased with the picture of an old tree trunk.
It is always good to be reminded that these features are just as much part of the character and ecological interest of the meadows as the wildflower rich grassland for which they are perhaps best known.

13 December 2011

A bit rough around the edges

Hay meadows can often be quite uniform in structure, particularly immediately following cutting. Mowing the majority of the meadow is of course a vital part of conservation management; but it is also important to leave some rough edges and uncut areas to provide refuges for wildlife. These 'rough' areas help insects, birds and small mammals, particularly if left to overwinter when they provide shelter and foraging.
On every site there are always corners that are awkward for machinery and these make ideal areas to leave rough. We also try to leave uncut strips at hay cutting time, to leave a source of nectar and seed. The strips that are left uncut are rotated each year, so that we do not lose hay meadow to scrub.
I was struck by the value of these rough areas on a cold windswept December day. The open grassland was exposed and distinctly bracing, but at the edge of the meadow conditions were much more equable. As I walked along the edge, I watched a wren busily foraging amongst the long grass and blackthorn suckers, a group of long-tailed tits flicking along in the hawthorn hedge and could hear the reedy fluting of bullfinch. There were numerous vole tunnels visible in the base of the grass and a collection of rosehip and hawthorn seeds left presumably by a mouse that had eaten the fruit.

6 December 2011

Air miles

I visited the orchard at Martin's Meadows the other day. As I walked amongst the apples and hazels the leaves were gently falling, carried on a light breeze. One of the leaves that fell by my feet had carried a passenger to the ground - a ladybird tucked beside the leaf's midrib. At this time of year I imagine the ladybird had chosen the leaf as a hibernation place, so I carefully placed the leaf at the base of the hazel coppice, ladybird side down in the hopes of providing the winter shelter it had sought.

1 December 2011

The exceptionally dry season we have had this year is illustrated well by the picture of the ditch at Fox Fritillary Meadow taken earlier this month. Normally in November, the ditch has some water in it and in previous years it has not been unknown for water to over-top the banks during this month. This year the ditch has been dry since the early spring and the sheep have been able to walk across and along it, rather than using the bridges at either end.

As can be seen from the photograph, the ditch banks have had a particularly good show of teasels this year and the sheep left them ungrazed. The stems and heads of teasel are very spiny so are probably not the sheep's favourite meal. Instead, the striking seed heads have provided a welcome source of seed for charms of goldfinch.

In the past, the seed heads of teasel were used for 'carding' wool in preparation for spinning and were also used for fluffing up or 'teasing' cloth, hence the name teasel.

22 November 2011

November is generally a quiet month on the meadows, the hay long since cut and the sheep finishing off the last of the aftermath grazing. Light levels are low, with dawn almost merging with dusk on gloomier days and grass growth has more or less stopped. November steadily eases the meadows into winter. But in contrast to the often grey skies and fading grasses, the autumn leaves seem to gleam from the hedgerows - a final encore before they fall.

21 November 2011

In recent months, the SWT sheep have been carrying out the important task of aftermath grazing some of the meadows - Fox Fritillary, Martin's and Mickfield. The term 'aftermath' refers to the grass growth that takes place after a meadow has been cut for hay. The amount of aftermath varies from year to year - this year it was quite strong as July and August were damp. The sheep also do a great job trimming up the fence lines by eating off any encroaching woody growth.

The sheep need to be checked regularly to make sure they are all OK and it is an aspect of my job I really enjoy. It means that I call in at the meadows very regularly and at different times of day.

After the first hard frost this autumn, I checked the sheep just as the sun was coming over the hedge. As the sheep moved out into the sun, the dew on their fleeces turned to steam, making the sheep resemble hot spring geysers!

At the end of another day I called in at Martin's Meadows just as the sun was beginning to set. I was fortunate enough to see a barn owl hunting in the dusk and the sheep with their eyes resembling a string of fairy lights. Hopefully, their eyes are visible in the picture above. If not try clicking on the picture.

16 November 2011

Fieldfares and Redwings

Visited Martin's Meadows today (16th November) and the flocks of fieldfares and redwings have descended to feast on the plentiful supply of fruit in the orchards and hedgerows.

A definite favourite seems to be shepherd's bullace. Although past it's best, the combination of the yellowing leaves and almost translucent pinkish fruit seems to glow in the autumn sunlight, acting like a beacon to the birds. The white berries of the snowberry near the entrance also seem to be high up on their menu - my arrival on site is greeted by a flurry of wings and fieldfare chattering as they leave the base of the snowberry bushes to watch me from the safety of the tops of a nearby ash .

9 November 2011


Here is my meadow companion Ellie brushing up her wildflower identification skills.