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Pastoral paradise: in the past 70 years, the UK has lost 98 per of its meadows and, in doing so, placed much of its flora and fauna on the verge of extinction. But on a farm in the Cotswolds, conservationists have developed a model hay meadow that could help with the widespread restoration of this valued and beautiful habitat.

PREVIOUS PAGE: a rabbit peers through grasses and buttercups at Clattinger Farm in Wiltshire, where the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust has worked since 1996 to create a 60-hectare traditional hay meadow. Clattinger is part of a larger project to restore a mosaic of woods and meadows across the landscape and is today recognised as a site of special scientific interest; LEFT: one of the best-loved wildflowers in the UK, the snake's head fritillary is also one of the rarest. The widespread drainage of floodplain meadows coupled with gravel extraction, urban and industrial development and water abstraction have confined it to fewer than 30 river-basin sites in the Midlands, East Anglia and Southern England. Only a handful of these support significant populations: North Meadow in Cricklade, not far from Clattinger, contains 80 per cent of the remaining wild population; TOP: one of 180 species of plant at Clattinger, ragged robin is a perennial wildflower distinguished by its delicate pink flowers, which appear in May and June; ABOVE: detail of a cowslip, thousands of which carpet the meadow in May

ABOVE: a common on blue damselfly perches atop a yellow flag iris, one of the few iris species native to the British Isles. Populated by grasshoppers, beetles, froghoppers, butterflies and numerous other species of insect, hay meadows are famous for the throbbing drone that appears to eminate from the earth beneath them. Just as in a tropical rainforest, a hay meadow supports a variety of plants and animals, most of which depend upon each other for their survival through a complex system of interaction. For example, the marsh fritillary butterfly will only feed its young on devil's bit scabious, a tall, wire-stemmed herb with violet-blue, pincushion flowers, and only on those individual plants that are larger than the surrounding vegetation. The butterfly's larvae will, in turn, become food for skylarks, cuckoos, swifts and other birds; RIGHT: yellow bedstraw, common knapweed and hawkbit appear in the hay meadow during the summer months. The profusion of flowers in Clattinger Farm's hay meadow is astonishing: these habitats can hold more than 80 species in a square metre

In June, clusters of yellow rattle start to appear among the stems of knapweed and meadow oat grass. This semi-parasitic plant plays a vital role in maintaining the meadow's diversity. As a perennial, it produces seeds from which the following season's plants will grow. Once established, its roots feed on the rhizomes of the more dominant grasses. In doing so, it suppresses their vigour and allows more delicate, less aggressive species of wildflower the opportunity to prosper. Not only is the meadow at Clattinger Farm thriving in its own right, it's now playing a vital role in the restoration of biodiversity farther afield, by supplying seed that's used to re-create other hay meadows around the country. This work forms part of the Wildlife Trusts' Living Landscape proJect, which aims to establish interconnected habitats of woodland, marshland and moorland, as well as grassland, that will allow a broad range of native species to flourish--not lust in designated protected areas, but also on private land and in the green spaces of Britain's villages, towns and cities

The Meadow: An English Meadow through the Seasons by Barney Wilczak, published by Frances Lincoln (RRP 16.99 [pounds sterling]), is available to Geographical readers at the special price of 12.74 [pounds sterling] (including free UK p&p). Please call 01235 827 702 and quote reference 46TMGE. Allow 28 days for delivery Offer ends 15 November 2012, subject to availability. For further details, visit www.franceslincoln.com
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Title Annotation:Photostory: Hay meadows
Comment:Pastoral paradise: in the past 70 years, the UK has lost 98 per of its meadows and, in doing so, placed much of its flora and fauna on the verge of extinction.
Author:Wilczak, Barney
Publication:Geographical
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 1, 2012
Words:593
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