Sarah Shuttleworth (Wildlife Sites Surveyor, Warwickshire County Council) explains the importance of our wildflower meadows in this extract from the Autumn/Winter 2018 edition of the FOAF Newsletter.
I have visited this place so many times it feels like an extension of my garden. I have seen it transform from the sharp white of winter to the dewy crispness of spring, the rippling summer heat and the burning shades of autumn. The rolling hills and lime trees stand to attention like a military parade, and the views across to the castle beyond are as familiar to me as my childhood haunts on the South Downs. Abbey Fields is more than just fields to me. It is the green heart of Kenilworth.
Several years ago, parts of the grassland were allowed to flourish as hay meadows and have been managed as such since then. These are not fenced off, kept secret and private, but open for all to enjoy. I can almost feel the hills breathe as the grass grows longer in spring. Pinks, purples, yellows, and whites scatter across the scene like an impressionist painting. The drama that unfolds with the tracking of the sun transfixes the audience. The bouncing butterflies across the surface and the humdrum of the grasshoppers that part like breaking waves as you walk. The pollen-laden bees collide in the wind on their journey home.
The meadow areas have been created to provide an essential addition to the generally declining habitat for wildlife but also for people. The opportunity to feel surrounded by nature has become a rare occurrence for most people. Our youngest generations are becoming increasingly disconnected from the natural world, to the extent that common words such as acorn, conker and dandelion, to name but a few, have been removed from the children’s dictionary through disuse. Therefore, to have an easily-accessible wild area on their doorstep is an exceptional resource. My children love to run into the long grass, hear the grasshoppers, chase after butterflies and point out the colourful flowers. I have even used the meadow areas to take home-schooled children out for botanical identification sessions.
The importance of having natural areas to immerse yourself in has been proven to be essential for physical and mental health. This doesn’t mean manicured gardens and featureless lawns, it means hearing the birdsong and grasshoppers, watching butterflies and dragonflies in aerial antics and the long grass and flowers blowing in the wind.
A lot of these experiences would disappear without the meadow areas as the insects need the long grasses and wildflowers and the birds need the insects. Warwickshire and beyond has seen a massive decline in semi-natural grasslands, therefore the creation of any of this habitat is always a positive for wildlife. Species that are now present in Abbey Fields because of the meadows include Marbled White butterfly, Broad-bodied Chaser dragonfly, Betony, Harebell, Lady’s Bedstraw and a total of twelve butterfly species.
WDC and partners have achieved Local Wildlife Site status for the whole of Abbey Fields after several years of surveys and partial designations. Botanical surveys and detailed site reports were presented to the Local Wildlife Sites panel in support of the Fields’ application. Local Wildlife Sites need to meet a significant number of both scientific and community criteria for example Diversity, Ecological Position, Naturalness, Aesthetic Appeal, Education Value and Accessibility. The recent designation will mean that the site is recognised for its ecological value when Local Authorities are making planning decisions and future development plans.
This is a place my children are carefree and frolic like fawns amongst the tussocks. Words like ‘dandelion’, ‘starling’ and ‘acorn’ are not lost here. We cannot lose this essential feature of Abbey Fields. We must instead embrace its hustle and bustle of nature that it brings and the enquiring minds it delights. These meadows should remain a part of this historic site for all generations to enjoy and explore.
Sarah Shuttleworth, 2018
In the Autumn of 2003, Friends of Abbey Fields started planting wildflowers. Using £200 from our funds we bought a range of wildflower bulbs and plants to plant some trial areas in the Fields. We started with 200 bluebells near to the bridge in Bridge Street, then crossed the Finham Brook to another site where we planted 200 anemone bulbs and assorted wildflowers including primroses, celandine and lords and ladies. We then moved to the northern end of the lake, planting a grassy bank with wood cranesbill, yellow archangel, white deadnettle, lesser celandine, red campion, common violet, ox-eye daisies, cowslips and scabious. Our plan was to increase the range and quantity of wildflowers in Abbey Fields to improve the habitat for wildlife and to make the Fields more attractive.
The following spring we bought 300 wildflower plug plants and nurtured them until they were ready for planting in October 2004. We completed the task in two planting sessions firstly alongside the hedge which runs towards Forrest Road/Castle Road, and then on the banks of the lake on the High Street side. These plants included ox eye daisy, greater knapweed, self heal, white and red campion, foxglove, betony, field scabious, musk mallow and primrose. In the spring of that year we had also planted some donated cowslips among the rough grass under the trees going up the slope to High Street.
In 2005 we purchased 100 native primroses which were planted on the banks of the stream in the bare ground under the trees. Unfortunately not many of these plants survived.
In the following years we cleared areas of brambles and spread wildflower seeds but with little success. However in 2009 we did plant an area at the Ford End of the Lake with Snakeshead Fritilaries. These were donated by Sarah Elliston in memory of her parents Audrey and Brian Knapp. They do show a lovely display every spring.