This year’s National Meadows Day, celebrated on July 1st, encouraged us to recognise the value of our local biodiverse grasslands.
What is a Meadow?
Meadows are defined as large open areas, covered in grasses, herbs, and non-woody wildflowers. There are two types, natural and man-made:
Natural meadows are perpetual, and exist as a result of environmental pressures that prevent the growth of woody plant species. These pressures occur for a variety of reasons, including:
- Coastal meadows formed from high salt.
- Alpine meadows formed at high altitudes.
- Prairie meadows formed with low moisture and dominated by large game animals.
- Wet meadows formed with high moisture.
- Desert meadows formed from low rainfall and low nutrients.
They are also influenced by the species of plants and fungi around them, which helps to sustain or transform them into a completely different ecosystem.
In day-to-day life, we are most likely to see agricultural or urban meadows:
- Agricultural meadows are fields without livestock, where the grass is allowed to grow and be harvested as hay. This hay is used as animal feed, particularly in the winter when the grass doesn’t grow. Some farmers will periodically release animals onto the them instead of harvesting the hay as an economically efficient way to manage this space.
- Urban meadows are an inexpensive management method and ultimately provide a blank canvas for nature to thrive. Many individuals and corporations have chosen to make their own in place of traditional lawns.
Why are they Important?
Meadows are important for both people and businesses, and can be a low-cost maintenance solution that benefits nature as well.
Cost: They are cheaper to maintain than lawns, and generally require less maintenance.
Food: Pollinators rely on them, and a third of the world’s food relies on these pollinators!
Flooding: They can often be found on flood plains, and help to prevent the damage caused by heavy rainfall.
Medicines: Many drugs that we rely on today were discovered in the plants found in them, such as foxgloves (to treat heart disease), poppies (to create morphine), and wormwood (for malaria).
Other advantages include tourism, honey production, and biodiversity improvements.
Meadows and Biodiversity
In the UK, we see the importance of meadows to biodiversity all around us, from nesting birds, pollinating insects, food gathering, and sheltering young deer, field mice, and rabbits.
A single field could have 100 different wildflower species, and each species could provide food or building materials for 100 different animal species.
Grasslands develop deep root systems, which store carbon and help to prevent against damage from disasters such as flooding or landslides.
However, while the UK was once covered in meadows, now 97% have disappeared. Pollinator numbers have also dropped by a third, with butterflies down by 17% and moths by 25%.
The increased global temperature, changing weather patterns, and reduced snow with earlier melting are all causing flowers to bloom at the ‘wrong’ time of year. More extreme weather, sudden heat waves, prolonged flooding and unexpected droughts can all have serious long-term impacts on the stability of these habitats.
They are commonly viewed as empty spaces with no use or purpose to humans. Consequently, they are prime targets for new build housing and other developments.
What can you do to Help?
- Change grass lawns for lower maintenance wildflower areas.
- Mow only after flowers have bloomed – No Mow May is a great place to start!
- Remove the clippings, or place them in a separate area of create an alternative habitat.
- Avoid fertilisers to prevent large, energy-hungry species from taking hold.