A meadow in the making

Something the pandemic has shown us is that increasingly people are turning (or re-turning) to nature for inspiration and sustenance at a difficult time. At a different and much broader global scale, nature is taking a more centre stage as countries come together to address the twin crises of biodiversity loss and climate change – the recent G7 meeting and the Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) hosted by the UK in Glasgow in November, are examples of this.

The pandemic has caused a big drive on gardening, and we have jumped on this bandwagon willingly. Our focus has been to try and make a wildflower meadow. Native wildflower grasslands have been lost across England at an alarming rate over the past three or four decades with only 2% of this important wildlife habitat remaining. These places are important not just for the flowers, but also for the pollinating insects they support, and a wide variety of other flora and fauna. They are mini-ecosystems too, offering us a range of services for ‘free’ – capturing carbon, retaining water, improving the soil, not to mention inspiration for art in all its forms.

Our little meadow is in its early stages – its first year in fact. In November 2019 we began to clear deeply rooted scrub, keeping some for habitat mosaic and heterogeneity. In October 2020 wildflower seed, of East Anglian provenance, was sown, and by June it was looking gorgeous with a beautiful range of annual flowers as a nursery crop for the later mix of perennial herbs and sensitive grasses that we are hoping for next year. We have experienced a sea of colour, starting with poppies (red), moving to corn chamomile (white), then cornflower (blue) and finally corn cockle (pink) and corn marigold (yellow).  The meadow is bounded by a (failing) hedge of Holly on one side – not all our efforts work at first – and a beech hedge separating us from our neighbours.

The results, so far, are not just about looking nice. We have monitored the wildlife that is using our space, and we use a light-trap to catch moths overnight and identify them the next day before letting them go unharmed – moth diversity is already increasing.

The video below shows the changes we have witnessed over the year. The musical accompaniment is by The Fitzwilliam String Quartet together with Lesley Schatzberger. They are quartet in residence at Clare Hall, Cambridge and will be performing there on Sat 8 Jan 19:30 by live stream, no ticket is required just follow this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mxId-Hj8eU8. They will be performing again at the college on Saturday 5th February (for details see: https://www.clarehall.cam.ac.uk/events/fitzwilliam-string-quartet-february-concert .