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Stotfold Nature Reserve – Management of the Wildflower Meadow

Some of the greatest delights in the Mill’s nature reserve this Spring and Summer have been the sights and sounds in Meadow 2 – our wildflower meadow. The wildflowers themselves put on a dazzling display of colour earlier in the year and this duly paid dividends attracting a huge range of busy buzzing pollinators, butterflies, moths, dragonflies and damselflies all going about their hectic insect-business. This year was one of the best in recent memory for pollinators and other winged insects, with our very own Stotfold Reserve as good a place as any around to take it all in. The many fantastic pictures posted by our very talented local photographers proved that point.

The Wildflower Management Process

A successful wildflower meadow requires careful management to achieve the right balance of wildflowers and grasses. A crucial part of that management is the cutting process and regular visitors will be aware that our meadow was cut several weeks ago. The wildflower meadow at the reserve is still very much in the “infant” stage of its development as we seek to achieve a greater proportion of wildflowers and keep the grasses at bay.

Summer is a prime time for cutting wildflower meadows, especially developing ones (it is known as the “hay cut”) as many of the spring flowers have finished and less desirable plants such as burdock and field bindweed are in flower and can be controlled along with the grasses. We also have a natural ally in a plant called Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus Minor) which acts as a partial parasite on grasses.  Fortunately, there is an increasing amount of Yellow Rattle in meadow 2 (the seed pod rattles in the wind – hence its name).

When the cutting is undertaken we aim to remove as much of the material as possible to reduce the nutrients in the earth as wildflowers prefer poor quality soil whereas grass would thrive in richer ground.

Expert opinion advises that the cutting should ideally be completed by the end of August and failure to do so, especially with a developing meadow, can lead to the loss of the richness of the meadow as a source of pollen and nectar. So cutting now is undertaken for the long-term benefit of the meadow and the species which feed upon it.

In the future when the meadow is fully established we may be able to leave small patches uncut (in rotation) so that late flowering species can seed and to provide winter refuge for insects. However, in the meantime we hope that our efforts this year will “bear fruit” next Spring and the wildflower meadow will return in even greater glory and with an even richer abundance of wildlife to see and enjoy.

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