Monday, August 25, 2014

A hay meadow going to seed

Monday's Guardian Country Diary is an account of a wonderful hay meadow at the eastern end of Hawthorn dene, a Durham Wildlife Trust nature reserve on the Durham coast. 

Most of the Pennine hay meadows are cut at around the third week of July, which allows the farmer to take a decent hay crop but also allows key meadow wild flowers - like hay rattle - to set seed. This meadow is managed entirely for its glorious native flora and so was still uncut when we visited in late August. There were still plenty of species in flower, including knapweed, meadowsweet, field scabious, devils bit scabious and hemp agrimony, but all the plants here were also producing masses of seed. 

This view was taken looking northwards .......

.......... this one is from the coast side, looking towards the wooded dene ...

.......... and this is the view to the south. In spring this field holds thousands of cowslips, together with early purple orchids and wood cranesbill. In summer meadow and bloody cranesbill are prominent. When I walked across here I counted about fifty species without even bending down to have a close look - I suspect that there are least twice as many here. 

Although it's cut very late, it still must be cut and a hay crop taken, because there is a constant rain of seeds in autumn from the wooded dene and without the mower it would soon become ash, sycamore and hawthorn shrub - last autumn's tree seedlings were already well established. 

Field scabious flowers produce these attractive hemispheres of bristly seeds after pollination

The late flowering hemp agrimony is a great attraction for butterflies like this comma.

Devil's bit scabious, one of the most attractive late summer wild flowers in this limestone grassland, and so called because the stumpy root looks like Old Nick himself has taken a bite out of it.

Although vast quantities of seed are produced by the plants here only a small minority germinate in any single year and become mature plants, simply because there is so much competition in a dense sward with so many species. The best germination sites are mole hills like this, which provide a perfect vacant seed bed for any seed fortunate enough to land on them. Every hay meadow needs mole hills.


  1. Hi Phil,

    Thanks for this - it is a beautiful area and I think that in the past a place called Hawthorn Hall used to be in this vicinity

    1. Hi Ian, Thanks - that probably explains why there are some interesting garden escapes nearby - e.g hardy fuchsia, montbretia and hellebores

  2. This is a lovely looking field, with a good range of flowers by the looks of it. They cut the wild flower meadow near me at the end of July..
    Amanda xx

    1. Hi Amanda, there aren't many meadows that are cut this late.

  3. Replies
    1. Especially in early summer, when it's in full flower!