Since losing the opportunity to purchase Bury Farm in Herefordshire The Grasslands Trust is now in a position to bring forward the development of several other new and exciting projects. One of these is the Weald Meadows Initiative.
This highly acclaimed local grassland project has been operating for fifteen years and was originally set up by the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Unit, the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) and Agrifactors (Southern) ltd. Its original aim was to pilot methods for harvesting wild flower and grass seeds, and provide a first class advisory service to land owners wanting support to either restore existing lowland meadows or create new areas. Its remit today is to support the management of wildlife-rich meadows through sustainably harvesting wild grass and flower seed; enhance damaged meadows and create new meadows. It does this through the use of Weald Native Origin Seed (WNOS) and the Beech Estates whole-crop landscape-scale method, developed by Keith Datchler, manager of the Beech Estate, and Trustee of both The Grasslands Trust and High Weald Landscape Trust.
In a nutshell the project provides practical support to landowners with the management, enhancement and creation of lowland meadow across the Weald – an immense area of countryside which spans the counties of Surrey, Sussex and Kent – from Haslemere to Hastings. Meadows Officer Dawn Brickwood undertakes all contact and carries out surveys, produces plans and advises on grants, runs events and promotes the service. In addition she maintains full landowner records, updates the Weald grassland database and GIS system, advises The Royal Botanic Garden Kew Wakehurst Seed hub, liaises with meadow owners, agents and Kew to co-ordinate the wild harvesting of seeds for banking, projects and supply of the Weald Native Origin Seed.
Demand for the advice and seed has grown steadily and its achievements over 15 years have been exemplary. The project has:
- Made contact with 863 grassland owners.
- Given advice and habitat management support to owners of 1428 ha of lowland meadow.
- Surveyed 141 meadows from the public rights of way network to assess grassland condition.
- Placed 454 ha of lowland meadow in long term appropriate management.
- Entered a further 450 ha of the most valuable lowland meadow into Countryside Stewardship Schemes/ Organic – Entry Level Stewardship/Higher Level Stewardship Schemes.
- Supplied 2882 kg of wild harvested seed to 522 sites covering 707 ha, of which grassland enhancement totalled 527 ha and 180 ha grassland creation.
- Established a partnership called the Weald Meadows Group made up of the Weald Meadows Initiative, The Royal Botanic Gardens-Kew, Sussex University – Centre for Community Engagement, the National Trust and the Sussex Wetland Landscapes Project.
- Launched a successful ‘Vanishing Meadows’ exhibition.
- Through the Weald Meadows Group developed trial and research projects, including enhancement plots at Wakehurst Place and on washlands meadows in Sussex, which are supported by Kew’s Restoration Ecology Team and the Millennium Seed Bank.
- Embarked on a research project with meadow owners and Kew which involves hand-collecting high quality samples of wildflower and grass seed from local meadows.
- Utilised specialist support from the Millennium Seed Bank to unravel the secrets of, and disseminate key facts about optimum wildflower seed germination.
- And lastly, negotiated and been awarded an invaluable Memorandum of Collaboration with the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, based on its valued practical experience. The project is now contracted to support the UK Seed Hub to 2013.
The Grasslands Trust is absolutely delighted to be involved in this wonderful project and looks forward to keeping you all informed about Dawn’s work over the coming months.