Drive to restore precious lost hay meadows is on course

An ambitious fundraising drive to help restore the lost hay meadows of the Yorkshire Dales is on course to reach its target after raising more than £82,000 since a public appeal was launched last year.

Backed by locally based television presenter Chris Myers, the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust (YDMT) outlined how it intended to raise £150,000 over three years at an event held in April 2013, and almost halfway through the appeal has captured the imagination of supporters.

Wildflower seeds will have been sown on almost 67 hectares of farmland in the Dales by the end of the autumn this year, adding to the 60 hectares planted last year since the launch of the YDMT’s Hay Time Appeal.

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While the results of the work will take some time to be appreciated, it takes little imagining, with the renowned meadows of Muker in the north of the Yorkshire Dales National Park a striking example of the colourful spectacle that is likely to draw admiring visitors to new parts of the Dales.

Tanya St. Pierre, project officer for the meadows initiative at the YDMT, said: “Hay meadows are very special places. They are full of colour and bursting with life, bringing together different pollinators, insects and small mammals.”

Wildflower meadows can have 45 species of plant in a couple of square metres and up to 150 species in a single field.

Ms St. Pierre said: “It’s great to know this project is having a positive impact to conserve these landscapes for future generations to enjoy, especially when you think how close we were to losing them.”

Overall, across the UK, 97 per cent of wildflower hay meadows were lost in a 50-year period as a result of intensive grassland management to boost food production.

To create new meadows, seeds have been harvested from existing meadows such as those found in Muker. They are sown on farmland nearby, with the permission of farmers, many of whom are fulfilling environmental commitments by doing so as part of agreements linked to European subsidy payments. The proximity of the restored meadows to existing meadows means the YDMT targets areas that are known to offer the right conditions for these habitats to thrive.

For visitors, hay meadows are best enjoyed in full bloom during June and July. The types of species that can be expected include buttercup, pignut and clover.

In the Dales, a healthy quantity of wood crane’s-bill - a hardy, purple-flowering plant - has been recorded, unlike in other parts of the country, while the yellow globeflower has also made a strong return.

To assess the impact of the meadows, bumblebee surveys have been carried out and the YDMT has been encouraged by the results. At Colt Park at the foot of Ingleborough, the Mountain Bumblebee, a rare species, was seen feeding on red clover, white clover, yellow rattle and bird’s foot trefoil.

Ms St. Pierre said: “Since 2006 we have worked with farmers to help to restore the botanical diversity of almost 400 hectares of upland hay meadows to their former glory. By autumn that figure will stand at well over 450 hectares, but there’s still much more work to be done, and we would be very grateful for any donations to support the project into 2015 and beyond.”