A lot can change in a year, and Ross Meadow at the eastern end of Cod Wood is almost unrecognisable from 12 months ago. Last summer the crescent shaped meadow had just been cleared of Douglas fir, birch scrub and fenced to allow a small herd of cattle to graze but, at the time, the vegetation was patchy. Scattered between some areas of recently opened up ground, a few signs of green could be seen; the meadow restoration project was underway and a venture into the unknown had begun. The plan to bring back a wildflower and invertebrate haven was given a helping hand by the National Trust volunteer team who spread two patches of green hay, cut from an adjacent field. The plan was to reintroduce some of the seeds from the riverside meadow that was known to be here in previous times. Would this work boost the wildflowers’ success?
On a warm summer day this year, a team of ecologists was at work on a botanical survey. Looking across the meadow, a transformation had surely taken place. They were standing up to their knees in an ocean of swaying grasses and wildflowers. Their task was to record the species; a standard NVC (National Vegetation Classification) survey would show just how many species of wild plants had re-established themselves after lying dormant during decades of forestry plantation. Quite surprisingly, the restoration had made an impressive start. One of the surveyors, Kitty, reported that “there are 42 species now but there’ll probably be 50 or 60 by the time we’ve finished”. Reeling off a list, she continued “there’s hemp agrimony, cornflower, mullein, foxglove, red campion, birds foot trefoil, sheep sorrel, soft rush, lesser stitchwort and remote sedge. There are a lot of grasses including Yorkshire fog and sweet vernal grass and you can see the areas where the green hay was laid, that’s where the yellow rattle is growing”. Yellow rattle is an important part of the wildflower mix as it can reduce the vigour of the more dominant grasses, creating more opportunities for other flowers to flourish.
Taking a short walk with Kitty’s colleague, Tom, he explained how the NVC survey uses small marked plots or quadrats which are studied in detail. “This is repeated five times across the meadow to get an accurate record of the plants growing there”. He demonstrated how to identify the leaves of the perforate St John’s wort. “By holding a leaf up to the light, you can see the pattern of tiny perforations” as a short tailed vole scampered through the vegetation a few paces away.
In fact, the whole meadow was filled with an abundance of life. A constant chirruping of crickets and grasshoppers blended with the soft sound of the breeze through the grass while the continuous movement of butterflies, moths, spiders, bees, dragonflies and wood wasps caught the light, not to forget the most ubiquitous residents of the Teign valley, the ever present wood ants were building their mighty cone-shaped nests.
Meadow brown and skipper – two species in the meadow that use sweet vernal grass and Yorkshire fog as essential food plants
You can easily enjoy the species-rich scene at Ross Meadow by taking a walk alongside the river and see the early results of the restorative work that has been going on in Fingle Woods. Meadows as diverse as this one are generally in serious decline and this is an excellent example of what can be done to restore wild places.
A Fingle Woods blog from last summer explains how Ross Meadow looked a year ago
LINK to Ross Meadow blog from last year
Words and images by Matt Parkins