The hidden promise of the winter wildflower meadow – the role of grazing in management

It’s officially Spring, yet at this time of year the wildflower meadows are keeping the glory to come well hidden. A combination of autumn grazing by our two cows, followed by winter grazing by our flock of  sheep has left the vegetation short. It looks unpromising now but it is all ready to grow away with the warmer weather.

Sheep winter grazing on Top Field Wildflower meadow

The role of grazing in the management of wildflower meadows

Autumn and winter grazing is an important part of the management of wildflower meadows. Grazing animals improve the sward structure, open up gaps with their hooves and remove excess vegetation. If the meadows are left ungrazed after the hay cut there will be a long regrowth of vegetation going into the winter. This tends to collapse and over time builds up a thatch at the bottom of the sward. The thatch makes mowing with a scythe more tricky come haying time and, as it prevents access to the soil, is detrimental to the establishment of wildflower and grass seed.

Mari Jone winter wildflower meadow molehillsCare must be taken to avoid excessive poaching of the ground (breaking up of the surface by animal hooves). Small areas are somewhat unavoidable and can be beneficial in that they create opportunities for plants to establish in bare ground. Large areas however can cause damage to vegetation, compaction and allow the establishment of weeds such as docks.

Alternatives to grazing

Whilst grazing is the prefered management option, it is possible to get some of the benefits by carrying out additional cuts of the meadow after the removal of the hay crop. Philip and his scythe manage a small meadow for a neighbour in this way.

Late summer and autumn cuts can be used to remove aftermath growth, aiming to leave a short sward going into the winter. One cut would be the minimum, more will be more beneficial. When working out the timing of the last cut on a meadow it is worth bearing in mind that there is usually a strong flush of growth in the autumn. An early spring cut can also be used to control growth on a high fertility site or if you didn’t manage to get the meadow short in the autumn.

Looking Forward

Loki eating handmade hayThe moles have been busy too, adding to the generally unpromising view over the hay fields. Soon it will be time to flatten out the hills, clear off the remains of fodder fed to the animals and generally tidy up. The livestock is being moved off the meadows to allow the vegetation to grow and a beautiful flush of green is appearing.

Meanwhile, the cows are still enjoying the hay cut from these very meadows last summer, whilst they await turnout and their first bite of fresh, green grass.

 

 

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Sharpening up for the Scything Season

It’s International Peening Day on 2nd April, the perfect time to get your blade ready for the busiest months of the scything year.

If you want some help to start pPeening a 75cm Profisenseeening or to improve your skills come along to our Peening Workshop on 2nd April.

We like to keep numbers small on this course so participents get as much one to one help as needed. The workshop is almost full, so please book soon if you want to come!

More information on peening, including some useful videos, can be found here.

 

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Seedy Saturday 2017

We’ll be taking scythes along to this lovely community event in Carmarthen this Saturday, 4th March. Come along and say hello!15977123_1876372559262825_5229640590244977449_n

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Carmarthenshire Meadows Group

If you own, manage or are looking to create a wild flower meadow in or near Carmarthenshire, however small or large, or simply have an interest in meadows, the Carmarthenshire Meadows Group may be a useful source of information. Their next meeting is on Saturday 25th March, see more details in the poster below.Carmarthenshire Meadows Meeting

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Mowing Reed in Norfolk

At the end of January Phil and I travelled to the winter meeting of the Scythe Association (SABI). This year the meeting was hosted by Richard Brown in Norfolk. As well as attending to the business of the Scythe Association the group spent two enjoyable sessions mowing in the wetland nature reserve that Richard helps manage.View over The Saltings
Called “The Saltings”, the approximately 8 hectare reserve is dominated by common reed. Areas of reed are cut annually to maintain a diversity of age and cover and therefore a diversity of habitat. While some areas are cut in rotation at intervals of several years, the area we helped cut is mown annually using scythes.

Attaching bow 1Simple willow cradleAttaching bow 2Before we went out to mow we all equipped our scythes with a simple willow or hazel cradle. The reed is very tall and the bow is needed to catch and carry the tall reed as it is cut and deposit it in a neat windrow to the left of the mower.

With a strong ditch type blade the stiff reed was very enjoyable to cut and the group soon cleared a sizeable area. It was great to have the opportunity to do a couple of good mowing sessions so early in the year, and with good company too.
Mowing Reed in NorfolkMowing reedSharpening in the reedsReed cutting - progress

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Forging a Peening Anvil

If you are looking for a project to see you through the quieter scything season, how about forging your own peening anvil?

Here is a well presented guide by Rowan Taylor.

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Christmas Scythes

If you would like a scythe before Christmas, please place your order before 4pm on Wednesday 21st December. This will enable us to meet UPS’ last Christmas shipping date.

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