Creating floral diversity at Rutland Water Nature Reserve

LRWT

Reserves Officer Fran Payne teaches us how to increase floral diversity in a meadow at Rutland Water Nature Reserve through green hay strewing.

At Rutland Water Nature Reserve, red and yellow clover rattle along the bottom half of one of our meadows. Unfortunately, the top half does not mirror the beauty of the clover and has very little floristic interest... So we thought we would try to change this! 

Harvesting green hay from a donor meadow and strewing or spreading it onto a recipient meadow is a tried and tested method that has been used to increase floral diversity within grasslands and meadows, it is cost effective and guarantees the source of your seed.

Ground preparation was very important to succeed in our task! Our Trainee Reserve Officers Ben and Jonny used a flail mower on its lowest setting to remove as much vegetation as possible from three 20m by 2m strips at random intervals within the meadow.

The unused vegetation was then raked and removed from the site. By removing the mown vegetation, nutrients are not leached back into the soil, thus creating better conditions for wildflowers.

The meadow surface was also scarified to expose the soil. We did this to ensure that the seeds from the green hay contacted the ground to guarantee germination. 

We base the method of doing three random strips within the meadow on a ‘slot seeding’ method. It will increase floral diversity within these strips and over time, seeds will be dispersed onto the rest of the field.

We used a Rytec ‘Cut & Collect’ machine to gather material from a species-rich meadow area. Once the material was collected, it was important to spread within an hour, so that the seeds did not degrade as the vegetation warmed up.

We then laid the green hay onto the meadow where it was spread thinly over the prepared strips of ground. The hay was laid through a manual flicking and shaking action, this action disperses seeds evenly as the turning action does when haymaking takes place.  

And then, in perfect timing, the sun came out to dry the hay!

Ideally, cattle would be placed in the field to press the seeds into the ground, but instead, a roller on the back of the tractor was used. 

In time, our work on the meadow will succeed in increasing floral diversity and will become a rich habitat for wildflowers to grow.