Real action needed to save our vanishing meadows

30 / June / 2017

Real action needed to save our vanishing meadows

Meadow View? Most streets with names containing "Meadow" aren't actually near one.

New Plantlife study of road names shows cultural and social significance of meadows... but most people living on Meadow View can't view a meadow, even with binoculars.
#NationalMeadowsDay (1 July 2017) has over 115 events across the UK: learn how to scythe like Poldark, spot orchids or make a scarecrow
The under-reported decline of our meadows - 97% lost since the 1930s - is one of the biggest tragedies in the history of UK nature conservation
UK's largest grassland partnership is creating or restoring 6,000 hectares of wildflower meadows in just three years

Nearly 2,000 roads in Britain include the words “meadow” or “dôl” (Welsh for meadow), including Meadow Road, Meadow Lane and Meadow Way. Yet the flower-rich fields they were named after - once a feature of every parish - are increasingly rare.

Plantlife research released today demonstrates meadows' special place in our social and cultural history: frequent names include references to the size of the meadow (e.g. Long Meadow and Little Meadow) or past owners (Church Meadow, King’s Meadow and Castle Meadow). Other rare names include references to people who were probably associated with the meadow in the past (Barbara’s Meadow, Hob’s Meadow and Lawrence’s Meadow) and to wildlife (Buttercup Meadow, Sandpiper Meadow, Badger Meadows). The three most common names are Meadow Road (4.7%), Meadow Lane (2.8%) and Meadow Way (2.7%). Meadow View is 6th at 1.9%.

The earliest evidence of haymaking in Britain comes from second century Gloucestershire. But meadows' steep decline means the sight of a wildflower meadow in bloom, undoubtedly one of the delights of summer, could slip beyond view for future generations unless urgent action is taken, says Plantlife, Europe's largest charity dedicated to wild flowers and other flora.

Staggeringly, over 97% of our meadows have been eradicated since the 1930s - that's an area one-and-a-half times the size of Wales. As a result, many iconic meadow flowers such as ragged robin, harebell and field scabious are now hurtling towards becoming threatened in England.

Dr Trevor Dines, Plantlife Botanical Specialist, said: "The steady, quiet and under-reported decline of our meadows is one of the biggest tragedies in the history of UK nature conservation; if over 97% of our woodland had been destroyed there’d be a national outcry. Without the roar of chainsaws or the sound of mighty oaks crashing to the ground, meadows with undisturbed floral histories going back generations are being ploughed up in a single afternoon. But the tide can be turned. As we approach an exit from the European Union, government must ensure the few remaining meadows are properly protected like our ancient woodlands, and farmers better supported to manage our magnificent meadows."

National Meadows Day is dedicated to celebrating and protecting our vanishing wildflower meadows and the wealth of wildlife they support. Over 115 events including wildflower and orchid hunts, barefoot walks, pollinator picnics, scything workshops and wildlife hunts will take place across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on Saturday, 1 July 2017.

National Meadows Day is the headline event of Save Our Magnificent Meadows, the UK’s largest partnership project transforming the fortunes of vanishing wildflower meadows, grasslands and wildlife. Led by Plantlife, the partnership is made up of 11 organisations and is primarily funded by the National Lottery. Through the project, 6,000 hectares of wildflower meadows in the UK is being created and restored.

Commenting on the Plantlife study, Dines said: "The sheer number of street names relating to meadows speaks of a time when the meadow was the beating heart of the community, providing grazing and hay for livestock as well as employment and food. Sadly, the lion's share of people living on modern-day Meadow Views can't view a meadow, even with binoculars. While meadows are an increasingly fragile part of our national heritage, all is not lost. Plantlife and partners are working to save and restore existing meadows and also to create new meadows. National Meadows Day is the perfect way to explore and enjoy the petalled paradise that is a meadow in high summer."

Turning to meadows' value to wildlife, Dines noted: "Beyond being a quintessential sight of summer, meadows' value to our wildlife is hard to overstate - a single healthy meadow can be home to over 100 species of wild flowers, such as cuckoo flower, yellow rattle, over twenty species of orchids, knapweed and scabious, compared to most modern agricultural pasture which typically supports under a dozen species. In turn, these flowers support meadow wildlife. Common bird’s-foot trefoil alone is a food plant for 160 species of insects, which support mammals and birds such as skylarks and lapwings."