Wild-Flower Meadows in Stratford upon Avon – Elizabeth Coles

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Elizabeth Coles, one of the Liberal Democrat councillors on the Stratford upon Avon Town Council, begins a journal of an attempt to ‘rewild’ Stratford upon Avon. Not completely of course, but beginning with some of the verges. She will keep us up to date with progress in sowing banks where wild thyme blows, and who knows what else. Here is the first episode. Ed.

The town council has declared a climate emergency and we have been working on various plans to address it.

Obviously the COVID-19 crisis has slowed much of our work and diverted our attention to the immediate worries that our residents have. However, it has been ticking over in the background and we have been talking about it regularly. One of the things that really caught our imagination was the rewilding and wild flower projects that a lot of other councils have been doing. We thought that it fits in really well in Stratford. There are are many groups of people in Stratford who have eco projects on the go and several have started in recent months in part because of the lockdown and people spending more time gardening.

We started looking for potential plots of land within Stratford town that would lend themselves to wild flower planting. That was relatively straightforward; what then slowed us down was finding the owners and convincing them to let us use the land for planting. This is still ongoing but it was disappointing when we really wanted to get going as soon as possible. Then we realised we could begin by using the grass at the front of our own house, which we suggested to the council as a pilot site.

Catherine Coton is an ecologist and biologist who worked with Councillor Cohl Warren-Howes on the St Peter’s graveyard which has been turned into a nature reserve. She carried out a biodiversity survey for us on the two grass areas which is fascinating to read. It is mainly Rye Grass with Turf Moss and a range of other plants such as Cranesbill, Self-Heal, Yarrow, Common Ragwort and White Clover. We are pretty new to this and apart from the moss saw nothing but grass!

The report recommended that we get a soil analysis as, if the land were quite nutrient-high, it would be better to go for a more ornamental planting with native bulbs and flower beds. If it were low-nutrient, then meadow planting would work better. So my next job is to arrange to get a soil test sent off.

What we would like to do (and what Catherine recommended) is to have several different areas along the road. If it all works out we are going to have at least three areas. The first, nearest the house, will have ‘plugs’ of perennial and bee-friendly flowers. We will probably put in more planting along the whole length of the wall at the back where the daffodils are.

The next area would be Yellow Rattle. If we rake out the moss and a lot of the grass, we can seed the area with Yellow Rattle, a grass parasite that will help prepare the ground for meadow-seeding in the years to come. Catherine recommends mowing at least once in summer, and a follow-up mowing in autumn while the grass is still growing, and early spring.  We would have to stop mowing from late spring (April/May) until as late as possible (June/July to August for some sites) to allow flowering and seed development. The mown hay can be used to seed the area for following years.

We would also like to create a  meadow area of Cornfield annuals but we would have to ensure that the soil nutrients are not too high. To do that we would have to create bare ground before sowing by taking the grass out and probably some of the top soil – the soil analysis would tell us if that was necessary. Once seeded, we would need to weed out ​​undesirable species (thistles, bindweed) while the new plants were growing. The ground would need disturbing in late summer/autumn to help re-establish the same plants for the next year.  Possibly we will also need fresh seed, but this can be collected and re-sown each year.

The work is hopefully going to start in March with clearing grass, moss and seeding the two different meadow areas. As it is a Town Council project, their Outdoor Team are going to carry out the work or supervise volunteers.  They want to have a good look at the site so they know  what they are taking on. I’m going to report back on suppliers of seeds, plugs and bulbs of wild flowers to the  council so we can make the final decision on what we will put in each plot. I also have been looking at a selection of very low-growing wild flowers which could be included in a lawn that could be kept mowed at 5/6 cm. Some people might find that much more acceptable than a very high meadow.

So before March we intend to get a soil analysis and create a report of what seeds and plants can be purchased from reliable suppliers. Then we can finalise the three areas and what is to be planted. We are going to keep a careful record of everything we do to show other landowners when we discuss their land and to ensure a comprehensive archive for the Council. I will take photographs of the area every week so that we can have a visual record of our work.

We are really looking forward to getting started!

by Elizabeth Coles

Elizabeth in her Council robes