The Clune (Gaelic for meadow) on the south shore of Loch Ore, has acidic soils, favouring plants that can cope with a lower ph level, such as heath bedstraw, sheep's sorrel, blueberry and grasses including sheep's fescue and heath grass. The site is also home to two species of meadow ant, which only survive on sites with a long history of grazing.
What is a meadow? Before the Second World War, meadows awash with wildflowers and humming with insects would have been a familiar sight across lowland UK. But in recent years, over 95% of our lowland meadows have disappeared. Wildflower meadows are a rich and varied habitat which have been part of the UK’s landscape for thousands of years. Wildflower meadows are ‘unimproved’, not intensively farmed, but managed in traditional ways through activities such as grazing and hay-making. The variety of plants this produces attracts lots of insects and, of course, the creatures that feed on them.
Why are they important?
Less than 15,000 hectares of unimproved neutral grassland remains in the UK – an area roughly the size of Dundee. At Lochore Meadows Country Park we have around 12 acres of traditional meadow spread across 6 sites, and many areas of grazed grasslands, both acid and neutral, each giving rise to a differing range of plants and animals.
No two areas of meadow are the same, but the one characteristic shared by traditionally managed lowland meadows is the high number of herbs and grasses – they can frequently boast up to 30 grasses and 100 or more wildflower species. Grasses include Sweet Vernal-grass, Crested Dog’s-tail and Meadow Fescue, while flowers such as Meadow Cranesbill, Meadow Vetchling, Ox-eye Daisies, Tufted Vetch, Northern Marsh and Greater Butterfly Orchids may be present. Bees, Carder Bees and Butterflies, such as Meadow Brown, Common Blue, Ringlet and the small dark green Pearl-bordered Fritillaries, are among the hundreds of insects which probe the grassland flowers for nectar. In turn, these attract Pipistrelle and Brown Long-eared Bats and many declining farmland birds, including Skylark and Reed Bunting.
When to see them
May to July sees the meadows at their very best, a riot of colour which changes through the season, starting off with the acid yellow of Primroses along the field edges, gradually followed by the purple of Northern Marsh Orchids, then more yellows of Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Meadow Vetchling, Yellow Rattle and Common Cat’s Ear.
Are they threatened?
Without care and suitable management meadows become rank, as vigorous grasses shade out delicate wild flowers and brambles and scrub take over, or suffer a decline in species as modern agricultural practises bring about nutrient enrichment. This makes the soil too rich for most of our native wild plants and encourages the more robust species at the expense of the finer grasses and flowers.
How are we looking after them?
As part of the Living Lomonds we are committed to improving the botanical diversity, wildlife and landscape values of unimproved grasslands through use of traditional meadow management techniques. We are also committed to sharing our knowledge and raising awareness of the decline of the meadows and we are delivering a free educational programme to promote positive action in the wider community. Conservation groups are working to prevent further loss of our traditional meadows by looking after grasslands as nature reserves. Encouraging the use of traditional management techniques, such as hay-cutting and grazing at the right time, can help them to continue their colourful yearly cycle. By ensuring that the land surrounding our reserves is looked after sympathetically for wildlife, we can create A Living Landscape: a network of habitats and wildlife corridors across town and country, benefitting both.
What to look out for:-
Found more along the meadow edges and common on roadsides, this member of the pea family is easily recognised by the dense ‘tuft’ of rich purple flowers and many leaflets. It scrambles up other plants, securing itself with tendrils that wrap round stems and leaves, making use of the more robust neighbours in order to reach the light.
Growing 25–50 cm tall, it is an herbaceous annual plant that gains some of its nutrients from the roots of neighbouring plants, particularly grasses. This reduces their vigour and gives other meadow plants the chance to grow and flower. Its other name is hayrattle. The large seeds are held in a papery capsule and when ripe ‘rattle’ when shaken. This is used as a sign that the hay is ready for cutting.
Growing to about 60 cm, this plant can be found along road verges and old railway banks, but is one of the plants that most people have in their mind when thinking of ‘old meadows’. Also known as ‘Gowans’ in Scotland and featuring in Burns’ poem ‘Auld Lang Syne’:
We twa hae run about the braes,
and pu’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin auld lang syne.
Meadows provide a valuable habitat for Field Voles (also known as the Short-tailed Vole). Field Voles eat seeds, roots and leaves, and further up the food chain, form an extremely important part of the diet of many predators, such as Kestrels, Weasels, Tawny Owls and Barn Owls. They spend much more of their time in runs and burrows than Bank Voles, so are less likely to be seen. Field Voles can have three to six litters a year, of up to seven young each.
The Barn Owl (Tyto alba) is a stunningly beautiful bird with golden/buff coloured upper parts laced with silver grey and white underparts. It has a distinctive white heart shaped face and when seen in flight the overall impression is of a silent, ghostly, large white bird. Barn Owls hunt mainly from the air (rather than from a perch) and have some amazing adaptations enabling them to find and catch small mammals hidden in deep vegetation in the dark. They forage over any open habitat that supports a population of small mammals. They can often be seen in open country, along field edges, riverbanks and roadside verges. Preferred prey species are mice, voles and shrews, which are readily available in the grassland found at Lochore Meadows.