Meadow on 24 March 2006

Year One 2005

The lawn was allowed to grow without mowing. Several small areas of no more than a couple of feet wide were cut using hand shears during spring and early summer where there was a noticeably strong growth of grass. I cut down the whole area with Stihl FS280 metal-bladed scrub cutter in early July. After raking I mowed the turf even lower using a Flymo Turbo Lite 330 on lowest setting and again raked up all cuttings. The management strategy was aimed at removing the maximum amount of nutrients from the meadow, removing dead plant material and reducing the vigour of the over-dominant grasses by cutting them down when they were at peak growth. The area looked dead and quite bare after this. A period of dry weather did not help. I mowed the area again in September, raking away all the cuttings then finally mowed the lawn in a dry spell in November. I did not mow in October because many mushrooms were growing in the meadow. Through the winter and early spring the area looked like any other lawn in the estate.

Cutting the meadow and dealing with the cut material was the hardest part of the work. It was amazing how much vegetation such a small area generated. Cutting took me about 20 minutes and the raking a few days later took an hour or so. I composted the cuttings in two plastic bins and spread the compost the following spring on my vegetable plot, a place where I wanted to maximise the soil nutrients!

This was a rather ruthless management regime, which cut many plants down in their prime and turned my wildlife haven into a barren landscape in a day. I decided to bite the bullet and manage the meadow in this way to remove the maximum amount of plant material from the meadow. It was hoped that the soil nutrient level would drop and plant growth decline over the next few years which would allow the cut to be left later and later. I considered this harsh measure necessary for the good of the meadow in the long-term, being cruel to be kind! More wildlife friendly maintenance management would follow in the years to come with cuts left until September or October.

During the growing season, I cut a metre wide strip round the margin of the meadow with a lawnmower once every 2 or 3 weeks. Like putting a picture in a frame, this was to show off the meadow and demonstrate that it was a managed feature rather than a lawn that had been left to neglect. For this I used the Flymo Turbo Lite 330, raking the cuttings by hand.

Year Two 2006

Prickly Sow-thistle

Some plants grew that I did not want in my meadow, like the prickly sow-thistle shown above. It is an annual species of disturbed ground. About 20 of these grew until they began to flower, then I pulled them up. They had done a job for me by using up nutrients in the soil. I do not have any objection to the selective use of appropriate herbicides in the countryside (by qualified individuals). At Kenfig the careful use of Roundup Pro-biactive has been very effective in controlling the dreaded sea buckthorn, one of the biggest biological threats to the sand dune ecosystem. However, I did not use any chemicals on my meadow as I could deal with ‘problem species’ by hand!

New mower with its time saving collector box

In the spring I purchased the above Qualcast Easi-Trak 320 wheeled electric rotary lawn mower with grass collector box. This allowed more efficient picking up of cut grass round the edge of the meadow. Its purchase was a revelation to my gardening. Why had I struggled so long with the hover mower? No longer did I need to rake cuttings by hand.

For mowing the meadow in 2006, I tried using the Qualcast mower. I was amazed with how well the little lightweight machine coped with the long thick vegetation. I was very careful not to damage the machine by setting the cutting height to maximum and working slowly and steadily from the edge of the meadow coaxing the mower into the long grass not shoving it. I then set the cutting height to the lowest setting and cut over the area again to remove the thick brown thatch that had built up. I needed to make a lot of trips to the compost bins with the mower’s collector box but I still felt the task was fairly efficient.

Meadow during cut with new mower in July 2006

With the meadow cut short like this, there was a chance for wildflower seeds to germinate and grow before the grass took over. Prior to mowing I collected seeds from my yellow rattle, oxeye daisy, corncockle, cowslip, bird’s-foot trefoil and kidney vetch ready to sow back after the mowing had finished. I was concerned that many of my valuable wildflower seeds could have ended up in the compost heap with the meadow cuttings. Seed heads from some plants such as corncockle were not ripe at this stage so I cut the whole plant stem and put them in a vase of water to allow the seeds to slowly ripen.

Year Three 2007

By February, it appeared that a botanical problem was developing. Hundreds of prickly sow-thistles were growing all over the meadow. These had probably grown from seeds that had been dormant in the soil as none had been allowed to set seed from my meadow. There were so many that I reluctantly decided to carry out some weeding and spent half an hour pulling out the plant rosettes which ranged from about 5-15cm in diameter. This was carried out on 18 February. I hardly saw any after that and the few that were present in the summer were very weak and sickly plants so it was either an inspired management decision or I was worrying about nothing!

I cut the lawn once in late March then left the meadow cutting until 14 August, about a month later than last year. I did not cut the whole meadow in one go but did it in several stages with the final cut on 15 September. The mowing strategy was a little different this year. A section was cut with the mower set on its highest cutting level without a collector box attached. The cuttings were left on the meadow for a few days to shed their seeds before being raked up and removed. The final part of the work in September was cutting with the lawn mower set low with the collector box to tidy up. This was done on 15 September and involved 14 fillings of the box and took 45 minutes.

Meadow on 16 August showing cuttings drying in the sun prior to raking

The reason that I left the mowing until later was to help any insects that may have been in the meadow and to prolong the supply of nectar as several plants were still being visited by bees and butterflies well into September. I had always intended to ease off on the harsh management regime as the meadow developed. As I cut much later and allowed seeds to drop naturally, I did not need to collect seeds then resow them on the meadow as last year which saved me a lot of time.

Year Four 2008

I did not cut the meadow in early Spring this year. The meadow did well up to early summer with no problem plants this year. There was a noticable increase in yellow rattle, oxeye daisy and common cat's-ear all of which had seeded themselves. The small number of red campions introduced last year did not reappear and there was no sign of any of the new Icelandic poppies that I added last autumn although two plants from year two flowered well again. Many of the kidney vetch plants that I introduced last autumn did very well and were popular with the bumblebees. I changed the management from the first three years by not cutting a border round two thirds of the meadow. This increased the area of meadow as intended but did make the meadow look a little unkempt. By the end of June the meadow had become a popular sleeping place for our pet cats and three or so flattened patches made by them caused the meadow to look messy in places. Wet and windy weather in July and August caused partial collapse in some parts but lots of flowering black knapweed were great for attracting insects when the sun did come out. I started mowing on 21 August and cut small areas every few weeks using the same method as last year. I finished on 9 October.

Some yellow rattle seeds collected from the meadow on 21 August were sowed in October on the western side where not so many grow. I also sowed greater knapweed and kidney vetch seeds. In October I planted several musk mallow and Icelandic poppy plants that had been growing in pots.

Year Five 2009

I managed two cuts with the lawn mower and box during a fairly dry March to clear the winter's growth of grass. I planted two kidney vetch plants that had been growing in pots and cleared the odd cat mess that our pets deposited from time to time. Otherwise the meadow appeared to be doing well on its own heading into the spring.

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