Cut it , Collect it, Spread it!

Meadow restoration with Sissinghurst Gardens by Weald Warden, Matt Hayes

Marden Meadow is Kent’s Coronation Meadow, part of a wider project involving the Wildlife Trusts, Plantlife and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust to create and restore meadows as well as raising awareness of the scale of habitat loss we have had in recent decades. More information on the project can be found here .

Species rich grassland and meadows have declined by around 97 % since the 40’s and 50‘s. That leaves us with only around 3% remaining! A dramatic figure that is used regularly, what this translates to on the ground is a few, (usually small) sites that have been spared agricultural improvement and are usually difficult to manage, spread out and not connected or linked up.
All meadows or grasslands need active management, hay cutting or grazing or a combination of both to prevent the inevitable encroachment of scrub and eventual succession into woodland.

Part of my recent work on meadow restoration has involved working with the National Trust staff at Sissinghurst Castle Gardens.

Sissinghurst

The garden team at Sissinghurst approached me early this year looking for help and advice with some grassland / meadow restoration work they wanted to do. Sourcing seeds and the provenance of seeds is very important, it is best to use seeds of local provenance for restoration projects. The garden team knew about Marden meadow, and were hoping to work together using Marden's seed resource.

Every summer we try and utilise the seeds from Marden Meadow to help create or restore meadows and grasslands. So this year we decided to use the seeds from Marden to take to Sissinghurst and help get the meadow projects underway at the gardens. The main area they wanted to focus on this year was what’s known as the orchard area of the gardens. There are a small number of traditional fruit trees in the area with meadow / grassland

The preparation was done by the garden team and volunteers. Cutting the area and taking away the hay (part of which was done the traditional way with Sythes!) Next came preparing the seed bed, scarifying the area to create bare ground to receive the Marden seeds. Lastly the green hay. 

Meadow restoration at Sissinghurst Gardens

One of the best , and easiest methods to transfer meadow seeds is to cut and spread green hay. Harvesting seeds other ways requires a lot of time or expensive seed harvesting equipment. Green hay is literally cutting an area of meadow or donor site (a site with high diversity with species you want to collect) and collecting it up carefully straight away and taking it to another site (receptor site) spreading it out and allowing the seeds to drop out of the hay into the prepared ground. 

With appropriate long term management, hay meadows or species rich grassland can be restored over time. I hope to continue working with the team at Sissinghurst and other local landowners to restore and create meadows, along with spreading the message! Over time hopefully, we will be able to reverse some of the 97% decline. In the mean time I look forward to seeing what comes up in the orchard area next year.