North Meadow is Open

Natural England have re-opened the meadow which has now dried sufficiently to avoid compaction damage from visitors to the site.

If you visit, Natural England require you to stay on the path and keep your dog on a short lead. This is to protect ground nesting birds which are easily disturbed reducing breeding success. North Meadow NNR is home to over 100 bird species. Some nest on the ground such as skylarks, curlews, yellow wagtail others very close to the ground in the river and ditch margins such as reed warbler, reed bunting, grasshopper warbler and sedge warbler

Many are unaware, but the law says that you must keep your dog on a lead no longer than 2 metres between 1st March and 31st July, when on any open access land to protect ground-nesting birds.

North Meadow Closure Extended to 13th June

Natural England have extended the closure of North Meadow until 13th June. Ground conditions are still very soft putting the meadow at risk of compaction damage. River levels have dropped and the meadow is drying quickly. It  may be possible for the meadow to be re-opened in a few days.

Check back here to find out when North Meadow is open again. It will be re-opened as soon as ground conditions are suitable.

North Meadow Closure Extended to 30th May

Natural England have extended the closure of North Meadow until 30th May. Ground conditions are still very soft putting the meadow at risk of compaction damage. River levels have dropped and the meadow is drying quickly. Unfortunately it is now too late to see the snakes head fritillaries this year but it may be possible for the meadow to be re-opened in a few days.

Check back here to find out when North Meadow is open again. It will be re-opened as soon as ground conditions are suitable.

North Meadow Closure Extended to 16th May

Natural England have extended the closure of North Meadow until 16th May. Ground conditions are still very soft putting the meadow at risk of compaction damage. River levels are dropping and the meadow will dry over the next 3 weeks if the current forecast of limited rain remains unchanged.

Check back here to find out when North Meadow is open again. It will be re-opened as soon as ground conditions are suitable.

North Meadow Closed Until 2nd May

Natural England have extended the closure of North Meadow until 2nd May. River levels are dropping and the meadow will dry over the next 2 weeks if the current forecast of limited rain remains unchanged.

Check back here to find out when North Meadow is open again.

North Meadow Closed

Red Crested Pochard
North Meadow Entrance 4th April
North Meadow Entrance 4th April
North Meadow is closed
North Meadow is closed

North Meadow is still saturated and has been closed by Natural England until the 18th April to protect the grassland. It will be reopened as soon as conditions permit. There may still be an opportunity to see the fritillaries if we have a period of dry weather.

Rainfall over the winter months from 1st Sept 2023 to 31st March 2024 has been 51% above average over the last 10 years.

Check back here to find out when North Meadow is open again.

Fritillary Season Approaches

North Meadow Entrance
North Meadow Entrance 20th March

It is still too early to see the snakes head fritillaries and North Meadow is currently flooded and inaccessible. The picture of the entrance taken yesterday shows the current conditions.

It has been a very wet winter with rainfall 45% above average since September last year. Heavy rain at the end of October caused the meadow to flood and water levels have remained high since then.

As the flood water goes down the meadow is a great food source for birds. Large numbers of Little Egrets often 12 or more can be seen from the causeway road feeding in the shallow water. Great White Egrets and Cattle Egrets can also be seen but less frequently and in smaller numbers.

We need a period of dry weather and at this time of year the flooding will quickly recede. If you are planning to visit to see the snakes head fritillaries check fritillary watch again for the latest meadow conditions.

Plant Identification Course

Jenner Hall Presentation

Our course started with a welcome from our Cricklade Court Leet Town Crier Eric. We were delighted to have David Gowing as our tutor. David is the Professor of Botany at the Open University and director of the Floodplain Meadows Partnership. He has carried out research on North Meadow for 30 years.

Floodplain Meadows

David had prepared a fascinating presentation for us covering many aspects of floodplains with his deep insight into how they work and why this creates such  species rich plant communities. We were surprised to learn floodplain meadow soil stores huge amounts of carbon. One hectare of floodplain meadow stores 100 tons of carbon in the top 100mm of soil. David explained that research had shown we need to value the role of floodplains much more. Floodplains compare very favourably with peat bogs and woodland which receive  so much attention. This has led to tree planting on floodplains which actually releases carbon!

 

Many floodplain meadow plants are deep rooted as the above diagram shows (see explanation). His presentation generated many questions which David answered very fully with yet more new and interesting information.

North Meadow
Discussing the drainage channel

After a very enjoyable morning we set of to North Meadow to have our lunch, stopping on the way to discuss the plant communities in the central drainage channel.

Plant Identification

Next we looked at some of the plants characteristic of a floodplain meadow which are found on North Meadow.

 

We then headed to one of the most species rich areas of North Meadow and after splitting into groups attempted to identify as many plant species as possible with occasional help from David. We found the grasses challenging!

Recording a Quadrat
Examining our 1m by 1m quadrats

Soil Structure

David using an augur to obtain a soil sample

David explained the importance of soil structure in the morning session and used his augur to show us a soil core sample. We looked at the composition of the soil to a depth of about 80cm down to the gravel aquifer layer.

We headed back along the opposite side of the meadow. On the way we stopped to look at one of the dipwells used to monitor the water depth on the meadow at 6 hour intervals. Dipwells provide important data used to model meadow hydrology for the many research projects carried out by the Floodplain Meadows Partnership.

Meadow Restoration

Our final stop was in Priors Ham a restoration meadow adjacent to North meadow. David and Anita explained the restoration process which has been informed by David’s work. Much of this advice is available in the Floodplain Meadows Technical Handbook.

We ended our fantastic content filled day back at the Jenner Hall. We must thank David for such a brilliant course which everyone really enjoyed as can be seen from some of the many positive feedback comments below:

Well organised, friendly atmosphere – an excellent introduction to floodplain meadows. Has helped me to appreciate my local context and do more to support it. Thank you very much!

It was a really well structured day with context set by the talk , a lovely walk plus lots of helpful instruction in plant identification.

All very interesting. Not just plant identification but why the plants grew where they did.

 

Damselfly Identification Course

Damselfly Course
Jenner Hall Course Room

Our Damselfly Identification course started with a welcome by the Cricklade Town Crier and Court Leet member Eric. Sue Rees-Evans our tutor for the course then outlined the programme for the day to a full house of 12 attendees. The weather was very hot at 29 deg C with a thunderstorm forecast for the afternoon at the end of our field trip to North Meadow NNR.

Fortunately our room at the Jenner Hall was nice and cool. Sue explained the species of Damselflies and Dragonflies found in the UK using some stunning close up photographs. We then focused on the Damselflies we were likely to see and the key features used to identify them.

Emperor Dragonfly Female Egg Laying
Emperor Dragonfly Female Egg Laying © Charles J. Sharp, CC BY-SA 4.0

Sue followed this with some very helpful exercises using photographs to practice our newly discovered identification skills.

After a nice packed lunch siting in the shade around the Jenner Hall we set off for North Meadow. Surprisingly as we approached the meadow entrance we were delighted to see an Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator) ovipositing (egg laying) in Little Kent Close.

Field Trip to North Meadow NNR

We headed into North Meadow to find a shady place for our base out of the hot sun. On the way we saw some more Emperor Dragonflies which is the largest dragonfly in the UK with a wingspan of 10cm. Several course members also saw a Four-spotted Chaser dragonfly (Libellula quadrimaculata).

Inspecting Damselflies
Inspecting Damselflies
Black-tailed Skimmer Female
Black-tailed Skimmer Female

In the shade of some willows we closely inspected male and female Banded Demoiselles (Calopteryx splendens) and some of the many Common Blue Damselflies (Enallagma cyathigerum).

Red-eyed damselfly (Erythromma najas)

Sue explained how to carefully net and hold these beautiful insects without damaging them. As we headed back along the River Churn, in a stretch of open water with some lily pads, we noticed several Red-eyed damselfly (Erythromma najas). The bright red eyes are amazing.

After about two and half hours, with the sky darkening, we headed back to the Jenner Hall. Luckily the thunderstorm started just as we arrived.

Heading back through Priors Ham

Our day concluded with a session on sources of identification information such as Sue’s website Shropshire Dragonflies and how to submit records using iRecord.

We must thank Sue for such a brilliant course which everyone really enjoyed as can be seen from some of the many positive feedback comments below:

Thoroughly enjoyable and worthwhile experience. Delighted to be given a copy of Britain’s Dragonflies. Course tutor never less than enthusiastic and engaging, in short one of the best courses I have attended.”

I’ve had a really enjoyable day and learned a lot. I’m keen to put the knowledge gained into practice

A very enjoyable informative day. I learned a huge amount about damselflies and feel much more confident in identifying them. Excellent organisation, warm and welcoming atmosphere.

Aftermath Grazing

Aftermath Grazing on North Meadow

Aftermath grazing is a vital part of managing North Meadow National Nature Reserve. North Meadow is designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and a Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its rare species rich grassland. It is also the main research site for the Floodplain Meadows Partnership. Over the last 50 years 97% of this rare grassland habitat has been lost to agricultural improvement.

For hundreds of years the site has been managed as Lammas Land. This means growing a hay crop from mid-February to July followed by aftermath grazing.

Installing Electric Fencing

This year we started grazing with 55 cattle on 3rd September. Court members install 2.5km of electric fencing to prevent the cattle from escaping into adjacent fields or damaging the rivers,

Cow Drinking at a Pasture Pump
North Meadow, Pasture Pumps

To provide water we install 8 pasture pumps which draw water from the river Churn.

Court members check the fences daily. If the fence is turned off for any reason, such as a flat battery or electrical short, the animals can become tangled in the wire causing nasty leg injuries.

Why is Grazing Important?

Grazing cattle recycle the nutrients back into the soil. They create small areas of bare ground which allow seeds to germinate and keep vigorous grasses in check, allowing the rare wildflowers to flourish. Aftermath grazing maintains a rich plant species diversity of up to 40 species per square metre.

Cow pat covered in Yellow Dungflies

The cow pats are essential for many invertebrates. Many species of insect can be found in or on cattle dung and these in turn provide food for birds, badgers, foxes and bats.

Natural England have provided a fuller explanation of the merits of conservation grazing in this leaflet.

Duration of Aftermath Grazing

We try to graze for a minimum of 6 weeks with the cattle, during the window of time between hay cut and the onset of winter flooding. This year we are planning to graze for about 10 weeks. Up to 15 horses will be on until December weather permitting.

Grazing is progressing well this year and we can look forward to seeing a beautiful species rich meadow next year.