What is the meadow restoration project?
The aim of the project was to restore the field adjacent to the river back to a wildflower meadows as it would have been throughout much of Chester Farms history. The meadow was identified in 2014 as being a good potential site for meadow restoration, being situated in the Nene Valley and close to other reserves and protected wildlife sites.
The field had a good variety of grasses but due to a lack of management had lost the wildflowers that once would have been present. In spring 2015 the ground was prepared, through chain harrowing, opening up the grass sward, into which a native wet meadow wildflower seed was sown using seed fiddlers (traditional hand operated farm equipment). Reverting back to traditional management of hay cuts will allow the wildflowers to flower and once again flourish.
Why is it important?
Wildflower meadows were once common along the Nene Valley but many have been lost due to gravel extraction and intensive agriculture. Nationally 97% of wildflower meadows were lost through the last century, and the situation is no different in the Nene Valley.
As well as their aesthetic appeal wildflower meadows provide habitat for a range of wildlife, including a variety of insects, in particular pollinators such as bees and butterflies. Birds, dragonflies and bats feed above, while mammals such as hares, mice and voles can be found. They also function as natural flood defences and provide hay for local stock.
What will the end result be?
The end result will be a gradual colonisation of wildflowers across the site providing a greater variety of colour and plants and attracting a greater range of wildlife; butterflies such as Meadow brown and ringlet, bumblebees, pippistrelle bats, birds such as skylarks and swallows, hares, field mice (attracting owls in the evening) and grass snakes basking.
Each meadow is different depending on the location, soils, hydrology etc, but we have had some excellent results in other areas along the Nene Valley and hope to create something similar to Upper Heyford.
Across the Chester Farm site, you may spot:
- Grasshoppers and crickets and in the long grass
- Buzzards and sparrowhawks (and maybe owls at dusk)
- Grassland butterflies such as meadow browns, whites, skippers and gatekeepers
- Birds such as blackcaps, goldfinch and wrens
- Birds from the nearby gravel pit such as lapwing and swans
- Kingfishers and terns along the river as well as dragonflies and damselflies