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.

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.

Moth and Butterfly Course 2022

Inspecting Saturday Morning Moth Traps

We were delighted to welcome back David Brown to run our 2 day moth and butterfly course last weekend. The course started with the inspection of moth traps run during Friday night. The taps where placed in 7 locations around Cricklade including on North Meadow.

Our inspection revealed a total of 64 moth species. This included two of the largest moths the Poplar Hawkmoth and Elephant Hawkmoth. Many of the moths are stunningly colourful and beautifully marked such as the Burnished Brass and the Spectacle. Others resemble butterflies such as the Treble Brown Spot or hide by looking like a twig such as the Buff Tip.

Field Trip to North Meadow

Small Eggar Larva Web

After lunch we headed to North Meadow to look for butterflies. We were pleased to find 7 species and  watched a mating display of Small Tortoiseshell over some nettles.

Most were familiar farmland butterflies. The meadow was looking amazing in the warm sunny weather. A highlight was the discovery of a larva web of the rare Small Eggar moth.

Inspecting Sunday Morning Moth Traps

On Sunday we started the morning by inspecting 3 moth traps from Saturday night. We found a further 12 species raising our total to 76 moth species. They included a Privet Hawkmoth, a Small Elephant Hawkmoth and a rare Small Seraphim.

Field Trip to Edge Common

Small Blue

We climbed aboard the minibus and headed to Edge Common for lunch overlooking Stroud valley. During our walk around edge we added Small Blue and Small Heath to our butterfly species list, Five Spot Burnet moth , Six Spot Burnet moth Larva and Rivulet were added to our day flying moth total.

Field Trip to Daneway Banks

Daneway Banks
Daneway Banks

On to the Gloucester Wildlife Trust Reserve and location of a Large Blue re- introduction after this butterfly  went extinct in the UK in the 1970s. After much searching one of our members had a brief sighting of two Large Blues. Small Copper and Marbled White were added to our butterfly total.

Marbled White
Marbled White

We must thank our tutor David for his vast knowledge and boundless enthusiasm for making our weekend so enjoyable. We found a total of 80 moth species and 12 butterfly species.


We had some lovely comments on our feedback forms here are a couple of examples:

“Thank you for all of the organisation that has gone into making this such an enjoyable and valuable event. It is hugely appreciated and has contributed enormously to my learning”

“Just a big thank you to David, Anita and John for such a wonderful event. It was GREAT!!”

Lovely group size, organisation super, opportunity to ask questions and learn. Thank you, I will be looking to see what other courses I can register for”

Bumblebee Identification Course

Our Bumblebee Identification Course yesterday was a great success. The Heritage Lottery sponsored our course which allowed us to invite Dr Richard Comont Science Officer for the Bumblebee Conservation Trust to run the day for us.

Bumblebee Identification Course Jenner Hall
Jenner Hall Cricklade

We started the day in the Jenner Hall with two presentations. The first covered bumblebee ecology in which Richard used his incredible depth of knowledge to explain how bumblebee populations have changed in response to habitat changes. Species rich meadows like North Meadow are ideal habitat for bumblebees. The second presentation was a logical and very clear explanation of how to identify the commoner species and split them between queen bees, worker bees and male bees. We also learned about how to send in records using the Bee Walk Scheme.

North Meadow National Nature Reserve

Field Trip

After lunch we walked to North Meadow to see if we could find and identify any of the bumblebees we discussed during the morning. On arriving at the meadow we enjoyed the spectacle of meadow buttercups glowing yellow in the bright sunshine. We soon found some bees on the large patches of flowering red clover.

We attempted to use our newly acquired identification skills and were pleased to find a red tailed cuckoo bumblebee queen. Cuckoo bumblebees are parasitic and  this one takes over the nest of the red tailed bumblebee. It was good to see as they are usually hard to find and are an indicator of a heathy host species population.

Richard Comont

This was quickly followed by queens and workers of the buff tailed and garden bumblebees. We were able inspect them closely in clear specimen pots.

In all we found queens and workers of 5 species only the early bumblebee and tree bumblebee were missing from the species around at this time of year.

Garden Bumblebee Queen

Very satisfied with our relaxing and enjoyable field trip we made our way back to the Jenner Hall for a final cup of tea and chat. We felt we had learned a great deal thanked our tutor Richard for sharing his passion, knowledge and enthusiasm for these fascinating insects.

Recording bumblebees is a very important part of their conservation and quite a few of our 15 course participants are now thinking about taking part in the Bee Walk Scheme.


Our feedback on the day was overwhelmingly positive with so many very nice comments about how much everyone had enjoyed the day. Here are some examples.

Time flew by-the sign of a great day. Very knowledgeable and informative tutor, and the guided walk really helped cement our learning

Thank you. Well organised, welcoming, interesting, well pitched, motivating to protect meadow and get involved in conservation

I love how passionate of all of the contributors were about not only the bumblebees but the wildlife and history of Cricklade – You have a real gem here!


New Courses for 2022

New moth and butterfly course for 2022

Three new courses for 2022 are now available for booking. We are delighted to have 3 highly experienced tutors all specialists in their fields. The courses are:

These courses are sponsored by the Heritage Lottery and are highly subsidised. If you would like to attend any of these new courses for 2022 we advise early booking as we expect they will book up fast.

Moth and Butterfly Course

New moth and butterfly course for 2022

Our Moth and Butterfly Course on Saturday identified 58 species of macro moths and 5 species of butterfly on North Meadow and the surrounding area. The course was  sponsored by the Court’s Heritage Lottery Grant.

Comma Butterfly with clubbed antenna

Our course tutor David Brown started with an explanation of the differences between moths and butterflies. Butterflies usually have ‘club-shaped’ antennae while most moths have feathery or tapering ones. Also butterflies normally hold their wings vertical at rest and moths hold them flat. It is largely an arbitrary distinction we use in the UK as they are all Lepidoptera, a family of insects with 2 pairs of wings covered in often very colourful scales. Continue reading “Moth and Butterfly Course”

Scything Returns to North Meadow

Scything on North Meadow

Scything returned to North Meadow on Saturday for probably the first time for 100 years or more. This was made possible by Cricklade Court Leet’s Heritage Lottery Fund Grant which enabled the Court to purchase part of the meadow.

Horse drawn mower introduced around 1825

Cricklade Court Leet has been involved in the management of North Meadow for at least 800 years and for most of that time the scythe would have been the main tool for haymaking. The agricultural revolution in the 19th century resulted in  the introduction of first horse drawn mowers and later equipment powered by tractors.

On Saturday 10th July we held a practical scything and meadow management course on the land purchased with the help of the Heritage Lottery. Our course started with an introduction by the Court Town Crier Eric. Continue reading “Scything Returns to North Meadow”

North Meadow in Flood

North Meadow is in full flood this week. The National Nature Reserve is part of the floodplain for the River Thames and River Churn. Floodplains take the excess water when river levels are high and can extend over a wide area. It is quite normal for the floodplain to be inundated during the winter months and is one of the features which creates this species rich for lowland hay meadow habitat. Continue reading “North Meadow in Flood”

Conservation Grazing Vital for Biodiversity

Conservation grazing is about to start on North Meadow National Nature Reserve . Grazing with cattle following the hay cut is of vital importance to maintain biodiversity. North Meadow is a species rich lowland hay meadow habitat which is now very rare in the UK. The Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) estimate that less than 1500 ha of this habitat remain in the UK today. Continue reading “Conservation Grazing Vital for Biodiversity”