A dainty cerise plant standing no more than 25cms tall is blooming in the fields of north Wiltshire. It is one of a growing multitude of wild flowers that are slowly creeping back across farmland wtih the help of a Wiltshire Wildlife Trust project working to restore the hay meadows of the Braydon Forest.
That this grass vetchling (lathyrus nissolia) (pictured, right) has established a presence is something of a surprise to Paul Darby, who runs the Trust’s Landscapes for Wildlife project.
“We started our grassland restoration in 2007 and are now working with 10 landowners. Every year since then we have sown wildflower seed into meadows where we have advised on cutting and grazing regimes designed to help them flourish,” says Paul.
“Common knapweed, bird’s foot trefoil (pictured, below right) and selfheal are among the plants we are helping to establish, along with meadow vetchling, the flowers of which are bright yellow. We think the seed of grass vetchling crept into the mix by mistake but it’s a nice surprise as it’s an uncommon native plant. Its delicate-looking pea flower and the grass-like leaves are very attractive.”
Every year the project carries out detailed surveys – a series of 50 quadrats (1m x 1m squares) laid out in set patterns across each seeded meadow. In this way the team can compare year on year the progress they are making.
As wild flowers increase, the insects that live on them return, along with the birds that feed on the insects. “Where there were few insects before we started restoration, there are some fields now where you have to raise your voice to be heard over the grasshoppers,” says the project’s Rob Nicholls.
“Farmers are saying they are seeing a lot more insects and birds since our reseeding work started. Common blue butterflies were spotted at a farm near Minety where few butterflies had been previously recorded, for example,” says Rob.
The five-year project covers the Braydon Forest area with Minety as a central point. Its patchwork of meadows, woodlands and hedges is a rich resource of wild animals and plants, but for the most part they are confined to small pockets of habitat scattered throughout the area. Landscapes for Wildlife aims to expand and link these areas within and alongside farming operations.
Apart from the restoration of hay meadows the project, which is funded by The Tubney Charitable Trust, the Hills Group and Wiltshire Council, has also overseen the restoration and planting of more than 4 km hedgerows. Nearly 4ha of trees have been planted, 2 km of water-course restored and 21 ponds created or restored on farmland.
Over the past four years the project also distributed more than £42,000 from its Capital Grant Scheme to help pay farmers and landowners for work that benefits wildlife and the landscape.
If you would like any advice please contact the Landscapes for Wildlife team on (01380) 725670 exts 237 and 299, email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.wiltshirewildlife.org