Hay Time is an ambitious project that aims to save our disappearing species-rich hay meadows, grasslands and the wildlife they support.
How does meadow restoration work?
Hay meadows are nationally important as high nature conservation value areas, but over the last seventy years 97% have been lost, largely due to changes in farming methods. The Yorkshire Dales contains about a sixth of the UK’s remaining upland hay meadows, but even here fragmentation of these habitats into small isolated sites has resulted in a dramatic loss of biodiversity.
The Hay Time project was set up to co-ordinate hay meadow schemes in the Yorkshire Dales and Forest of Bowland using locally-harvested meadow seed to restore ‘degraded’ meadows to their former species-rich condition.
How to restore a meadow
Green hay is the preferred method of restoration as it collects a large quantity of seed from the widest range of plants, and is least affected by wet weather – a key factor in our corner of the world! Other methods of harvesting and spreading are also used depending on the location and nature of the donor and receptor meadows. We use our own seed harvesting and spreading machinery which is operated by a specially-trained local agricultural contractor.
Here’s our step-by-step guide to green hay transfer – which is a common method used to harvest and spread seed.
Step 1: We start off by matching a species-rich ‘Donor’ meadow with a ‘Receptor’ meadow that needs to be restored.
A Receptor meadow: A more intensively managed meadow where species numbers have declined
A Donor meadow: A species-rich, traditionally managed meadow, where seed can be harvested from
Step 2: The receptor meadow is cut, cleared and harrowed
Step 3: A cut of green hay is taken from a specified area of the donor meadow by contractors using our own machinery.
Cutting green hay from the 'donor' meadow
Step 4: The hay is transported immediately to the receptor meadow and spread. Seeds then fall as the hay dries, introducing a variety of traditional meadow species.
Spreading green hay onto the 'receptor' meadow
Hay meadow management
Traditional, low-input meadow management maintains the botanical diversity of hay meadows. So once seed has been added the ‘receptor’ meadow it is returned to traditional management, which means:
- It is cut once annually in late summer to allow characteristic meadow plants to set seed
- It is used to make field-dried hay rather than silage, which allows more seeds to be shed
- Grazing with cattle or sheep during autumn and spring keeps the sward low and helps to disturb the ground with their hooves, creating spaces for new seeds to germinate and seedlings to emerge
- Removing livestock in April to early May allows the hay crop to grow and plants to flower and set seed
- Not applying chemical fertilisers means that traditional meadow species are not competing with fast growing species.
Has it worked?
Meadow restoration can take several years, but with seed addition and traditional management the meadows should become more botanically diverse over time.
A year after restoration the receptor meadow will be surveyed, where we hope to see new species like yellow rattle, eyebright, red clover and meadow vetchling, which are often the first colonisers. Perennial species like ribwort plantain, common sorrel, sweet vernal-grass and selfheal are slower to establish.
Studies have confirmed that our efforts are having a positive effect on treated meadows, with highly significant increases seen in species richness, species diversity and meadow composition. In other words, the flowers are coming back!
Yellow Rattle Eyebright Red Clover Meadow Vetchling