HORTON CUM STUDLEY PARISH
NATURE CONSERVATION ASSESSMENT AND OUTLINE MANAGEMENT ADVICE
Rod dAyala, Ecological Consultant, July 2009
Introduction Page 2
Millennium Green Page 2
Village Green Page 6
St. Barnabus Church Page 7
Copse Behind St. Barnabus Church Page 8
Grassland and Associated Habitats Next to Millennium Field Page 9
Overall Summary Page 9
Map 1 Millennium Green
Appendix 3 Meadow Creation
This report is based on a site visit to four main sites in the Parish of Horton cum Studley on 4 April 2009. The sites visited included the Millennium Field, Village Green, St. Barnabus Church and the Copse behind St. Barnabus Church. Two privately owned land holdings adjacent to the Millennium Field were also visited, on route.
Early April in general is not the best time of year to undertake habitat and/or species surveys and any information collected on the habitats or species on the sites should be considered as indicative. Visiting so many sites in a short time also restricted the amount of detailed information that could be collected. In all cases it is recommended that additional survey work is undertaken to ensure a more thorough understanding of the ecological value of the sites as they are - and inform the scale and type of management required to improve them. However, the survey in April 2009 was sufficient to allow for the provision of outline ideas of what management could be applied to each of the areas and begin the process of improving their value for wildlife - without any negative impacts on the other existing land uses.
The management suggestions in this report were drawn up taking into account on site discussions about the existing land use and any potential limits for change e.g. restricted land use, public access and public perception. All the four main visit sites have public access (official or otherwise) and thus the latter two factors are important considerations in devising future plans. Ownership and therefore management and access issues need to be resolved for one of the sites. An important component of any plan for improving any of the four areas, is the need to inform local people and site users about the purpose, type and extent of any proposed work. Work plans need to be clear and understood in easily available clearly written documents - to ensure the future continuity of management in the event of changes in people involved with the sites.
The rest of this report is divided into sections describing the current condition and possible management options for each of the sites visited. Where possible specific recommendations have been made, but it is not always possible to be very specific and in these cases a number of management approaches have been proposed. Final decisions will need to be made at local level and I would be pleased to advise further should this be required.
The Millennium Field is an area of short regularly mown
grass, approximately 215 metres long and 95 metres wide a total area of c.
4.4 hectares (11 acres). The Field is bounded to north
by the internal access road to Millennium Hall and beyond this road an area of
privately owned rough grass in the west and public tennis courts and car park
to east. Just off the access road in the
The whole of the field is mown on a regular basis, but for no clearly defined purpose that could be ascertained on the day of the visit. However, large parts of the field are used for parking, stalls, tents etc. in May for the Otmoor Challenge. For most of the year the use of the bulk of the field is limited to occasional informal access. All the boundary hedges are flail cut to 1 2 metres high.
Ecologically, as grassland habitat the field is apparently species poor, and would probably be classified as improved grassland if only by dint of the regular cutting. It should be emphasised that no formal survey was carried out. The hedges too were not surveyed in detail, but again were apparently not species rich with shrubs, or any associated ground flora.
(With reference to Map 1)
The scale and type of management adopted as a result of this visit and report will depend on several factors. One of the main controlling factors is the existing site use(s), especially its role as venue for the Otmoor Challenge event in May each year. Exactly how much of the field is required to host this event will be one of the main influences on how much of the field can be managed in a more wildlife friendly way. If all or most of the area needs to be short mown to provide the required car parking and other space then the wildlife value of the field will always be limited. Other controlling factors could include resources (labour or financial) however there could also be savings to be made if large parts of it were excluded from a regular mowing regime. Although, with perhaps the exception of one event a year, people use the site in a very extensive way, the public perception of any proposed changes could also be a significant factor in the success or otherwise of any proposals. Because of the uncertainty as to just how much of the field could be included in a more wildlife friendly management regime the following management suggestions can be adopted as a whole or in part.
Even if the bulk of the field will need to continue to be mowed at least once a year for the Otmoor Challenge - it should be possible to manage the margins of the site in a more wildlife friendly way without causing major problems for any events. It is suggested that the east, south and west margins of the field edge are allowed to revert to and/or managed as rough / taller grassland to create good cover habitat for animals. Even botanically species poor grassland if managed as longer grass can provide good structure for feeding, sheltering and nesting animals. To create further variety still, shrubs or trees could be planted, not as a uniform width strip but in groups or spurs away from the hedge to create a series of sheltered bays. The hedges themselves could be allowed to grow taller and thicker, providing a good source of flowers and berries for birds etc.
The grassland could be managed on different cycles to create a greater diversity of habitat. Nearest the existing hedge and any new shrubs alongside the hedge, the grass could be cut on a two or three year cycle - with half or one third cut each year in March. This management regime provides the maximum amount of over winter cover for invertebrates and small mammals etc. The next zone in (working out from the hedge) would be one main cut per annum (late hay cut in August / September) with an additional topping in March if required. It is suggested that these long grassland margins next to the boundary hedges should be at least 5 metres wide and along the southern hedge the line of an existing narrow shallow gully ditch could be used to define the edge of the strip. The southern boundary is long and thus has scope for many such grass and shrub bays. The shorter eastern boundary has space for a series of three or four grassland bays bounded by ridges of shrubs. These bays could be good sheltered and attractive locations for tents / marquees during Otmoor Challenge - as well as wildlife during the rest of the year. The western margin is furthest from the Hall and main parking area - and likely to be less used at all times of year. The width of the field edge habitats here could be increased to a minimum of approximately c. 10 metres wide and again managed as a mix of trees, scrub and longer grassland similar to the eastern margin. However, another approach could be to plant up larger blocks of scrub not just narrow spurs, using the existing line of well spaced hedgerow trees to define the margins of the scrub and grassland blocks. The grass would be managed on the same rotation as suggested for the southern boundary (above). The spoil mound in the south-west corner of the field could in part be included in the shrub planting, but part left open to provide good views across the field. The existing shape and dimensions of the bank could be retained, or it could be modified. A group of trees along the western edge of the mound would complete the shrub / tree shelterbelt between the road and field.
In addition to enhancing the boundaries of the site, the open expanse of the field could be enhanced by the planting of small scattered groups shrubs and small trees. These would provide smaller scale shelter, but cause no significant loss of useful space required for large events held on the field. One such area is the south east corner of the field, which has already been part planted up. This copse could be expanded in size by further planting into the corner of the site. For wildlife these copses would be better, if like the external hedges they too had a fringe of rough grass around them. Another area that could be improved by shrub planting is the overflow car park half way along the drive to the Millennium Hall, it is suggested a mixed species shrub belt is planted along all or part of its boundary with the field (but not road).
It will always be necessary for practical reasons to maintain an area of short regularly mown grassland adjacent to the Millennium Hall itself. However, depending on the actual need for space it may be possible to manage some of the main expanse of open grassland in a more wildlife friendly manner. Initially it is suggested that some areas are left longer to see what species may be present (these trial areas do not need to be large). If there are areas of greater species diversity, allowing these areas to flower and set seed into the adjacent selectively mown surrounding area would create short areas for them to seed into. However, if there is little botanical diversity (as is suspected) it may be better if the long term aim is to create a wild flower rich grassland, to enhance the species mix present. This could be achieved by deliberately introducing plants by sowing with seed, spreading green hay (e.g. from local unimproved hay meadows) and/or plug plants. Given the close proximity to some unimproved old meadows (e.g. those owned and managed by BBOWT) it may be possible to try the green hay option first, if necessary over a period of two or three years. If this is not possible, obtain as local seed as possible from a reputable supplier of wildflowers. The scale of work on site will need to be decided by several factors, including financial or equipment resources and the area of grassland essential for core parking or other functions during events. Large parts of the field could be retained for parking etc. and remain as short mown species poor grassland, by creating a series of linked wildflower strips (e.g. between the planted copses, as suggested above) or stand alone patches (e.g. areas around the margins of the planted copses). It would be possible to improve the botanical diversity of not just the main open meadow, but also the strips of proposed longer grass habitats around the margins of the site. It may be necessary to control some weed species e.g. nettle, docks, umbellifers (e.g. Hogweed). These species could be managed by selectively cutting them at an appropriate time if there are continuous patches of them, or by spot spraying. The time of year will vary with for example nettle control being achieved by cutting all year round or cutting in spring / early summer for umbellifers. More detailed information on creating wildflower meadows can be found in Appendix 3.
The shrubs and trees planted should include a selection of local native species, including those with attractive autumn foliage, flowers and seeds. A mix of these species will both encourage wildlife and provide autumn colour. Suggested species include Guelder Rose, Spindle, Dog Rose, Field Maple, Hazel. Tree species should be either smaller species and/or species that can be managed by coppicing or pollarding to maintain dense shelterbelts for the benefit of both people and wildlife (e.g. nesting birds). The trees species chosen could include Rowan, Ash and Goat Willow. Larger standard trees could include Black Poplar a characteristic species of the clay vale in Oxfordshire.
The existing boundary hedges should be left to grow taller and in places wider, rather than flailed short on a regular basis, as it is at present. The hedges will then have more flowering and fruiting shrubs and be a more effective shelterbelt for the field. If, in future years, neighbouring areas were to be subject of changes in land use (to less sympathetic regimes) and/or developed in anyway these bigger hedges would screen / protect the field better.
Other habitats that could be created could include one or more ponds designed with people and wildlife in mind i.e. shallow and in places easily accessible for the safe study and enjoyment of wildlife. Most species of animal in ponds are found in shallow water, e.g. most inverts will live in 10 cm. of water and a pond only 30 cm deep will be colonised by most common amphibians. A good location for the pond could be in the south west corner of the site, where it would benefit from the supply water running off the spoil mound and off the field in general (which drains in this direction). The pond could be screened using scrub to create a quiet wildlife habitat, and if desirable (other factors permitting) a hide / viewing area created to watch over it. A pond in this corner would complement, and benefit from, the presence of the existing pond (just off site) to the south in the corner of the adjacent field.
Any cut material generated by site management could be stacked as ongoing permanent habitats piles in strategic locations on site including both grass and woody material. These provide good sheltering, breeding and over-wintering sites for many species. Numerous small piles spread across the site would be best, part hidden away under trees or in long marginal grass areas.
Benches or other features could be incorporated into the
margins or built as stand alone features. For
example a dedicated picnic / play area for families. These
could include natural play features such as
In summary - Map 1 shows one possible management option. The western, southern and eastern hedges are allowed to grow taller and thicker and managed on at most a two-year cutting cycle. The hedges are enhanced by shrub planting to create sheltered bays with the grassland in these bays being either managed on a two or three year cutting cycle or as meadow type grassland (one or two curs per annum). Across the central part of the field are a series of belts of tree, shrub long and meadow grass habitats divided into blocks with access maintained across these blocks with mown paths. The management of the remaining six blocks defined by these strips will depend on the priority land use needs. They could be regularly short mown areas of limited wildlife value, shorter herb rich grassland sown with mowing tolerant herbs and/or meadow type grassland. The management of each block could vary from year to year. Each of the six areas could fulfil a different function e.g. the ones nearest the access road being used for parking cars with the others being where people can gather / meet in safety away from regular vehicular traffic even on a big event. The design includes a pond and viewing area (for the whole field) in the south west corner of the field. No changes in management are proposed for the areas immediately around and adjacent to the Millennium Hall.
Good botanical and to lesser extent other surveys are recommended to inform a more detailed management plan. It may be necessary to allow some areas to grow long and flower for the best surveys to take place and establish any existing areas of interest.
The Village Green is a small area of mostly open regularly mown grass, with some trees and shrubs. The area is part owned by the Parish Council and part owned by the adjacent properties - with the eastern and southern edges of the green being divided into plots adjacent to each property. The Council owned area is approximately 47 by 45 metres c. 0.25 hectares) out of a total area of 55 by 65 metres (0.35 hectares). A drainage ditch runs along the northern and western edges of the green, taking water from the green itself, road and pavements. There is a partial hedge / scrub screen on the south part of the western margin.
The Village Green appears to have no formally agreed function, apart from being an open green space in the centre of the village. There is a bench in the north-east corner but otherwise no formal structures or regular events that take place (as there is in the Millennium Field) and its management is apparently rather ad hoc. In places the edges of the green, have been enhanced by the planting of a mix of native and other plant species.
Being split into several ownerships would complicate any management proposals for the green. In total the green is only a small area and to be truly effective and create any significant gains any plans would ideally need to take in all of the site and thus require all the adjacent owners to either manage themselves, or agree to the site as whole, being managed to a unified plan. Indeed, the site is so small and opportunities for ecological improvements relatively limited that it may be better to concentrate efforts elsewhere, and for grassland habitats specifically in the Millennium Green. However, some outline management suggestions are offered below.
Management proposals could include improving all or selected parts of the area for wildlife. This may be possible by simply adopting a more sympathetic mowing regime allowing what is already present to flower - but may also require an element of improving the botanical diversity as well (see Millennium Field for methods). Short open access areas could be maintained alongside the existing eastern and southern paths close to the surrounding houses - as well as a path across the middle of the green. Longer areas could include the bank of the ditch, blocks between the paths defined above, under the trees and along the road edge to the west. Areas maintained as short grass could also be improved visually by the introduction of more wild flowers for example Cowslips and Fritillary have in the past been established on the green and Ragged Robin and Cuckoo Flower are also present (naturally).
More trees, ideally small stature trees or shrubs could be planted selecting the species form those already suggested for the Millennium Field. These include species with colourful attractive foliage that also provide flowers and berries useful for insects and birds.
The ditch is apparently primarily fed by run off from the road and/or houses and as such its water quality is very likely to be poor. Thus ecologically there is little point in trying to improve the diversity of aquatic and wetland species as the most important factor, for a good wetland habitat, is clean (unpolluted) water. However, to diversify the green there would be scope to create a small separate shallow pond (i.e. not linked to the ditch) which could be designed such that it would be good for wildlife and provide safe and easy for people to explore and enjoy. Ponds are common traditional features of many village greens in the past being important as sources of water for many purposes and now where they still exist more often maintained as village features. (Historically there was a pond on the green, which was either filled in and/or drained.)
Some local discussion will be required to establish the precise function and importance of the village green to local people and its wider role as a green space for those passing through the village. Only then could alternative plans to its current use be drawn up and agreed.
Good botanical and to lesser extent other surveys are required to inform any future management ideas. It would be useful to allow some areas to remain uncut, to record what species are already present. Improvements for wildlife do not need to be on a scale such that they significantly change the current structure and overall emphasis of the site management i.e. a simple informal open green space, if this is its defined purpose.
St Barnabus Church is set in a plot of land approximately 40 metres (north to south) and 50 (up to 60) metres (east to west) - including the church building itself. The churchyard is more or less open (i.e. few trees or shrubs) to north, south and east of central building but there are numerous trees in the south west and south east corners and scattering of smaller shrubs in the north part of churchyard. The church and churchyard are still actively used for services, marriages and burials. The churchyard is apparently managed by irregular cutting with some short areas including paths, and others cut less often which subsequently have longer turf.
No detailed ecological survey was carried out for this report, but even a brief visit showed that for its plants at least, the churchyard includes a much richer diversity of species than the other sites visited on the same day - and has a flora that warrants a better survey and due consideration when devising what management could be carried out.
Early in the year old woodland plants in the south west portion of churchyard are notable especially the good stand of Goldilocks Buttercup growing alongside at least two other ancient woodland species i.e. Early Dog Violet and Wood Anemone. However, the grassland species remain more or less unknown following this visit. Primroses are common probably because they have been planted and/or encouraged over many years. The longer turf areas are not as good as they might be botanically, because the cut grass has been left lying leading to thick mulch shading out some of the smaller plants.
Only outline suggestions are offered, in the absence of a good site survey and local agreement about the best management of the site. Firstly, whatever the management regime, it is recommended that all cut material is picked up and stacked on site as habitat piles, if space allows. For ease of access paths should be maintained through the churchyard and as well as an open short area at front of building around the entrance. The management of other areas will be guided in part by a site survey with perhaps either short sward areas mown regularly (but not as often as paths), or areas cut once or twice annually and in some cases where appropriate areas cut on longer cycle (every two or three years). No more trees and/or shrubs are required as ecologically there is a good balance of open and shaded habitats. One of the areas to take special care over is the stand of old woodland plants.
Any plan will require consultation with church officials, the congregation and with relatives of those buried in churchyard as well as any current manager(s). As with all recommendations they will need to be practical and affordable. The chances are that a regime designed in large part to look after the ecological (primarily plant probably) interest of the site will be less intensive and cost less.
The ownership of this area seemed to be in question and would need to be clarified before any further action could be taken.
The area is an apparently relatively species poor secondary woodland, dominated by trees and shrubs but with some open areas. These open areas are in part planted with garden plants such as Daffodills. Some clearance had happened in relatively recent times, with Brambles having been cut back in the open areas. Again, as with other sites visited, a good botanical and other surveys would be required before definitive recommendations could be made.
Despite the lack of information about the site some general observations can be made. Woodland habitats are not just important as stands of living trees just as important are the open areas (glades), dead and/or dying trees, with the lower layers of plants such as Bramble also being very important sources of food and cover for sheltering or nesting animals and birds and larval food plants and nectar sources for invertebrates. Small, secondary woodland habitats such as this are often rather simple habitats with less diversity of structure than would be found in older, larger long established woodland. Therefore, how such secondary woodland is managed depends on which approach is adopted either to allow time and natural succession to operate and create a greater diversity of species / habitat (if this is what happens) - or to intervene and speed the process up and artificially ensure a defined structure / habitat happens (the route much favoured by man). The latter approach may include, for example, felling some of the mature hawthorns and planting (either as seed or saplings) more typical woodland trees. Another way to achieve the same result could be to create the gaps in the canopy, but not actually plant but scarify the ground in the hope that trees will seed in from the surrounding area.
The overall suggestion in the absence of more information and a definite agreed objective for the site is to rely on benign neglect as a safe way to manage the existing interest of the site, while perhaps maintaining open areas for access if required. Whatever happens (relying on natural or artificial means) allow for plenty of time to sort out the final shape and species mix of the wood. Any planting schemes should be staggered over a number of years to develop a mixed aged and structured site. What is needed is a very clear vision of what the desirable species mix and structure of the wood is in order to devise a plan that will work.
Perhaps the main observations to make about the areas of grassy habitat adjacent to the Millennium Green is not to over manage. One, and perhaps their main value at present, is the mix of grassland, wet areas and overgrown hedges that they are one of the few un-intensively managed areas around. Benign neglect is beneficial for many species. If work is carried out try, to do so on small scale, with the effort staggered over several years. As plans are developed and agreed for other areas in the village, some currently intensively managed and generally poor for wildlife (e.g. Millennium Field) these neighbouring sites will act as a source of species to colonise the new wildlife friendly habitats.
Dont kill Bramble or other plants just because they are invasive and/or successful. Plants such as these are very valuable for a lot of other species as they provide cover, nest sites, flowers for pollen or nectar and food in the form of berries or leaves.
In wet areas dont just have permanent deeper water habitats. The seasonal wet bare mud and only just damp areas (such
as ruts and hollows) all provide different and important habitats. Shady habitats are good too, not everywhere has to be in
full sun. Old trees, such as the large sprawling
Of the areas looked at the Millennium Field offers the most
scope to provide the largest area of new wildlife friendly habitat as well as
enhance the appearance of the site and other benefits to people (e.g. more shelter from sun or wind). In all cases some discussion will be required to agree the
functions and extent of use for all the sites looked at informing the scale
and type of wildlife improvements that are possible. Resources
will be a key issue with grant aid being possibly available for many of the
suggested works (e.g. Trust for Oxfordshire Environment or TOE). For the smaller areas the best way forward may be to make
the most of what is already present, rather than make major short term changes.
Appendix 1 Species Records, April 2009
See attached spreadsheet.
Appendix 2 List of Recommended Plants
Recommended Shrubs and Trees
Hazel - Corylus avellana
Guelder Rose Viburnum opulus
Wayfarer Viburnum lantana
Spindle Euonymus europaeus
Field Maple Acer campestre
Dogwood Cornus sanguineus
Purging Buckthorn Rhamnus catharticus
Elder Sambucus nigra
Hawthorn Crataegus monogyna
Blackthorn Prunus spinosa - Will form dense stands, sucker and can be invasive. Very typical local species however.
All of the above have either, attractive flowers, fruits and/or autumn colours and will be used by a variety of wildlife. Some (e.g. Hawthorn, Hazel, Field Maple) will grow relatively large and may need to be managed (coppicing or pollarding) if smaller stature shrubs are required. Others normally do not grow very large (e.g. the two species of Viburnum) and if planted in suitable places may need no management ever again.
A few larger trees could be planted, to diversify the structure of the copses on site or as stand alone features. These could be chosen from the following species:
Crab Apple Malus sylvestris
Ash Fraxinus excelsior
Black Poplar Populus nigra
Rowan or Mountain Ash Sorbus aucuparia
Recommended local supplier:
There are many species of grassland plant, depending on the type of grassland (grazed downland, hay meadows) and soil conditions (neutral or calcareous). The following is a list of species is a small selection of plants mostly found across all types of neutral or calcareous grassland likely to be suitable for locations in Horton-cum-Studley. There may be truly local sources of seed or green hay that could be used in improving sites. If a commercial supplier is used the list of plants will depend in large part on what they can supply.
Note: Only finer species listed, avoiding coarser more dominant grasses, which are more likely to compete against the smaller species of plant. These coarser grasses will colonise in time naturally anyway.
Sweet Vernal Grass Anthoxanthem odoratum
Crested Dogstail Cynosurus cristatus
Smooth Meadow Grass Poa pratensis
Rough Meadow Grass Poa trivialis
Quaking Grass Briza media
Red Fescue Festuca rubra
Creeping Bent Grass Agrostis stolonifera
Lop Grass Bromus mollis
Meadow Barley Hordeum secalinum (Normally in neutral meadows)
Hairy Oat Grass Helictotrichon pubescens
Meadow Oat Grass Helictotrichon pratense
Yellow Oat Grass Trisetum flavescens
Note: This list only includes a small selection of species. Not all species will necessarily be easily obtainable from commercial suppliers.
Ladies Bedstraw Galium verum
Birdsfoot Trefoil Lotus corniculatus
Lesser Knapweed (or Hardheads) Centaurea nigra
Ox Eye Daisy Leucanthemum vulgare
Salad Burnet Sansgiusorba minor
Bladder Campion Silene vulgaris
Meadow Buttercup Ranunculus acris
Bulbous Buttercup Ranunculus bulbosus
Agrimony Agrimonia eupatoria
Creeping Cinquefoil Potentilla reptans
Common Vetch Vicia sativa
Meadow Vetchling Lathyrus pratensis
Red Clover Trifolium pratense
Lesser Trefoil Trifolium dubium
Black Medick Medicago lupulina
Musk Mallow Malva moschata
Yellow Rattle Rhinanthus minor agg.
Field Scabious Knautia arvense
Yarrow Achillea millefolium
Rough Hawkbit Leontodon hispidus
Smooth Hawksbeard Crepis capillaris
Ribwort Plantain Plantago lanceolata
Hoary Plantain Plantago media
Hedge Bedstraw Galium mollugo
Marjoram Origanum vulgare
Basil Clinopodium vulgare
Field Wood Rush Luzula campestre
Shade Tolerant Plants
These species could be used to under plant hedges or shrub areas, especially once the woody species are established and have started to shade out the existing (grass) ground layer.
Note: This list only includes a selection of species. Not all species will necessarily be easily obtainable from commercial suppliers. Several of the woodland plants (below) could also be used.
Red Campion Silene dioica
Lesser Celendine Ranunculus ficaria
Wild Strawberry Fragaria vesca
Bush Vetch Vicia sepium
Sweet Violet Viola odorata
Ground Ivy Glechoma hederacea
Hedge Woundwort Stachys sylvatica
Greater Stitchwort Stellaria holostea
These species could be used to under plant hedges or shrub areas, especially once the woody species are established and have started to shade out the existing (grass) ground layer.
Note: This list only includes a selection of species. Not all species will be easily obtainable from commercial suppliers. Several of the shade tolerant plants (above) could also be used.
Wood Anemone Anemone nemerosa
Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta
Primrose Primula vulgaris
Herb Robert Geranium robertianum
Wood Avens Geum urbanum
Dogs Mercury Mercurialis perennis
Common Dog Violet Viola riviniana
Sweet Woodruff Galium odoratum
Bugle Ajuga reptans
Enchanters Nightshade Circaea lutetiana
Appendix 3 Meadow Creation
Creating a species rich wildflower meadow was one of the options discussed during the visit.
Open (Meadow) Areas
One popular way to create flower rich grassland is to use seed, including both grasses and herbs appropriate for the site conditions. This will need to be sown into bare, preferably weed free ground. This bare ground can is normally created by two main methods:
The scale of creation needs to be decided. One or more large areas could be cleared - or multiple small or medium sized areas. The latter could include linear strips breaking larger areas into a series of more formal (short mown) spaces. Strips could be also created alongside and adjacent to the boundary hedges. Smaller scale creation could be carried out using scattered small or medium sized blocks (at least 1 square metre or more). These small areas when established would seed into the areas around them and in time achieve the same result as the larger scale option. However the management of small areas will be more fiddly - and thus whatever pattern is chosen the overall management of the site, especially in the establishment phase, does not want to be made too fiddly and impractical.
The creation of large areas of bare ground could be avoided, or reduced, by alternative methods of establishment, including:
Another method that is growing in popularity is the spreading of fresh cut green hay over a pre-prepared short mown area of sward the source of hay being a local wildflower rich meadow. There may or may not be a local source of such hay. Yellow Rattle is a useful plant in establishing grasslands. This plant is a semi-parasite the roots of which feed off adjacent plants. It is very effective at reducing the vigour of grasses and could be used on its own in advance of sowing seed or spreading hay or as part of the sowing mix.
Grassland wildflower seed is now available from several
specialist companies. Ideally it is best to find and
use as local a source as possible. Flower Farms are
one of the most local, with their plants being grown on the Berkshire Downs. Other well known
Seed will need to be sown in either autumn and/or spring. Some seeds germinate in autumn and some spring, some species may do both. The ground needs to be prepared prior to sowing, including if required a period when the worst of the larger more invasive potential weed species are controlled. With luck the apparent lack of larger annuals / potential weeds on this site will make such measures unnecessary or only required on a small scale. Seed can be purchased as standard mixes (usually designed for particular soil types) or made up as required with extra species added or some species not used at all. It is not uncommon for suppliers to sell the herbs separate from the grasses.
Once sown the grassland will normally need special management in its establishment phase, usually a period of one or two years after sowing. New sown areas will benefit from topping in the first year, and perhaps the second year as well, to encourage strong basal growth of plants and reduce shading out of smaller plants by tall growing plants, especially grasses, to a minimum. Topping may need to be done three times in the first year. If the cuttings are very fine and sparse they can be left on site - but if dense and heavy they should be collected. If in any doubt collect them. The cutting height should be set above the basal rosettes of the herbs, to allow these lower growing plants to thrive while the taller plants (especially grasses) are reduced. Weeds may need to be controlled with potential methods including hand pulling, cutting or spot spraying.
Once established it assumed the grassland will be managed by cutting. It is suggested that most of the new meadow grassland areas will be cut at least once or twice (and exceptionally three times) per annum. The first cut (mimicking a traditional hay cutting regime) would be in late summer - with the option for a cut later in the autumn if there was a lot of late summer growth (akin to aftermath grazing by animals). This autumn cut could alternatively be made in early spring. However, assuming the creation of hay is not the main priority, ecologically it would be better if some of the grassland could be left uncut each summer (say 25%) - to ensure good area of later summer habitat and over-wintering habitat (shelter and feeding areas) for wide variety of animal life. The area(s) left uncut would be rotated each year such that, over a four year period each area would left uncut in late summer, one year in four.
The areas of shadier habitats could be enhanced by introducing shade tolerant plant species. Species associated with shadier grassland and more closed habitats such as woodlands could be used depending on the level of light. See appendix for list of suggested species.
Once planted these more shady areas should need minimal management, indeed over management is likely to damage or kill many of the woodland species if they are used (e.g. Bluebell). Some control of strong growing plants, such as the common field margin Umbellifers, may be necessary. The best method would be to cut individual plants in the spring, removing the whole plant including the basal leaves or if using chemicals carefully controlled spot spraying.
Around the margins of the site, even if no specific measures are taken to enhance the species of plants, narrow strips adjacent to the hedges and/or trees could be improved for wildlife by simply allowing them to grow long and cutting them less frequently. They could be managed by an annual cut, or by a cut once every other year (half the designated area being cut in any given year). Even if they remained species poor for plants, or were dominated by a few common local species (e.g. Umbellifers) they would provide a useful and different habitat for insects and animals that are not catered for at present. Leaving as much of this type of habitat long over winter, and cutting in early spring (March), would create good all year round cover currently absent on site.
The material created by grass cutting and other activities would, if retained on site as habitat piles, provide very good habitat as well. It is recommended that several strategically located areas be designated around the margins of the site where cut material can be stacked as ongoing piles. If there are several of these piles no cut material has to be transported very far and the piles will not be so large as to become unsightly. They can be hidden behind or among the trees and shrubs or in the longer grass around the margins of the site.
It may be that a local market is found for some or all of the better hay cut in the summer months. One potential use for this hay would be to spread it elsewhere on site or on other Prish managed sites, to improve their plant communities. (After cutting it is spread over any target areas and left for a period to allow any seeds to fall out before being raked up and stacked as normal). Another more precise method would be to collect seeds from particular species or in general, which are then used to enhance other parts of the site. When the sward becomes really established, the improved areas could be used as a source of actual plants, which could be dug up and moved around the site, or between sites.