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BylineMaryGreen

Village Nature Diary with Mary Green

Walking in the meadows

Posted on April 17 2010 at 6:09:04 0 comments

Eades meadow, May

Mary Green suggests a stroll in Eades meadow, where flowers and birds abound in May.

At last there has been some warmer weather and nature has begun to unfold. It wasn’t until the very end of March, though, that the fields stopped looking straw-coloured and began to be green. About the same time primroses appeared, and the very first cherry plum blossom. Then, of course, it went cold again!

I heard my first chiffchaff on Easter day – one of our early summer visitor birds – while leading the April Alvechurch Village Society walk. Then we saw the swallows arriving over Bittell reservoir. Spring at last! The first part of the walk took us up The Birches near Withybed Green, where the wood anemones had suddenly appeared.

Two days later I walked up there again, and there were 120 new birch trees planted. It’s so good to see woodland being managed this way, and I will write about it I more detail in a future article.

As I write, it has turned really warm and springlike, and cherry-plum blossom is everywhere. I have just seen two butterflies: one an overwintered peacock, as on last month’s cover, and the other a brimstone, that pale-yellow delightful sign of spring.

Of all the places I write about, the one people ask me about most is Eades meadow. So this month I will describe how to get to that and some other meadows in the area, and what to look out for there.

Eades meadow is one of the best of its kind in the country. It isn’t a deliberately created wildlife environment, though is now a deliberately conserved one. Rather, it is just the way people used to do farming, and still do in parts of some countries.

First of all, how to get there. I use the 1:25,000 OS map no 204 (Worcester & Droitwich). The grid reference for the entrance gate is SO 982646. If you don’t know how to find a grid reference, it is explained on the map. The gate is on Tyrrell’s Lane, near Tyrrell’s Lane Farm, and the field is crossed by some pylons which show you when you are near it.

The simplest way (not the shortest, which is via little lanes from Tardebigge!) is to take the Hanbury road from the A38 round Bromsgrove (B4091). Turn off this to the left just before the Jinney Ring Craft Centre.

After just over a mile on this road you come to a crossroads and take the left turn. This takes you under the pylons, and the gate for the meadows (with a notice and stile) is a few hundred yards on the left. You can park in the gateway (if no-one else has) or look around for verges a bit further on to pull on to. There is no actual car park.

There is a public footpath through the meadow, which you can follow, and in the flowering season this is usually mown along with a path nearer the edge of the field. You shouldn’t wander off the paths, as this is a nature reserve. But it is perfect for a short walk, and even more for a picnic.

When you get to the far end of the meadow, there is a stile through which the footpath continues, and you can carry on through some other fields. These are all part of Foster’s Green meadows, not quite as “meadowy” as Eades, though still a pleasure.

There is a good network of paths round here if you want a longer walk. You can park at the Jinney Ring, walk a little way along the road opposite and then take a choice of footpaths across the fields to come in at the far end of Eades meadow. The general countryside is very attractive round here, quiet and hidden away, with some lovely trees and hedges.

So, what exactly is a meadow? We often use the word just for any old field, but it has a more specific meaning. It is a field used for grazing animals for the winter part of the year, with the vegetation left to grow through spring and usually harvested for hay later in the summer. It is not ploughed or artificially fertilised, though the cattle or sheep will fertilise it with manure.

Lowland meadows such as Eades are usually grazed by cattle: Alpine meadows found in many European countries are often grazed in the winter by sheep, which then move into the higher mountains for the summer. Of course, the problem with a lowland meadow is that the cattle have to go somewhere else in the spring and summer, so you can’t really have all your land as meadow!

Many people have created “meadows” in their gardens, or in other places like parks and churchyards. These are not usually grazed, but will be cut by hand after the growing season. In managed heritage meadows like Eades, the grass and flowers may be cut for hay or may simply be left for cattle to graze.

The best times to go are between May and August. In early May, the star plant is the green-winged orchid. This is quite rare, but abundant locally in damp meadows like these. It is very variable in colour, from dark purple to pale pink and even whitish, and is usually the only orchid here in early May. The hood of the flower has green veins.

Accompanying it you should also see cowslips, bluebells, bugle, meadow buttercups and birds foot trefoil. The apple and pear trees in the old orchard part of the meadow should be in flower too, pink and white. You will also see some big strappy leaves that you might not recognise – more of these later! In the wet part, you may find kingcups (marsh marigolds) – big bold yellow flowers.

Later, in June, the green winged orchids are replaced by common spotted orchids – a more consistent pink with spotty leaves. You can also find twayblades, though you have to look for them. They are like orchids, with big rounded leaves, but with greenish-brown flower spikes.

You will also find yellow rattle, sometimes called hayrattle, which I described last month. This parasitic plant is a true marker of old meadows.
Buttercups and birds foot trefoil will be abundant, as well as hogweed, pignut and pepper saxifrage (all umbelliferous plants), moon daisies, sorrel, medick and goat’s beard. There is a lovely frothy pink flower spike called hoary plantain.

Over on the right hand side of the meadow is a wet bit, with yellow flag irises and some lovely ragged robin. This used to be common in my childhood, but is quite rare now. It is like a red campion, but with ragged petals. 

The whole meadow smells like sweet hay on a sunny day. All around in May will be hawthorn blossom, with its pungent musky smell. I have heard the cuckoo there too. One very noticeable thing in these meadows is that the common persistent weeds like dandelion, dock and thistle, so common in rough pasture, hardly exist here. They are kept in check by the other plants, I suppose, showing the benefits of true biodiversity.

As summer moves on, other flowers come and the meadow changes. Knapweed, devils bit and scabious, with composite heads of purple and blue, are predominant, along with yellow bedstraw and goat’s beard, and the orchids go. Betony is a good marker of old meadows, a strong purple colour, and St John’s wort too, in yellow spikes.

This is the time to see good insect life, especially butterflies and moths. I particularly noticed common blue butterflies and red-and-black burnet moths. There will also be a murmuring of bees among the flowers.

Then, in late August or September, the next treat comes. Where those big strappy leaves were, and have gone, you will now find meadow saffron or colchicum. It grows quite near the main path. It looks like autumn crocus and you can only tell the difference by a close up study of the stamens.

This is a very poisonous plant, and must not be confused with the true saffron crocus from which the spice comes. It is quite rare, and the photograph in Richard Mabey’s famous book Flora Britannica is from Eades Meadows. At this time you will see the apple and pear trees covered with beautiful red and gold fruit, and with mistletoe boughs.

There are other local meadows with similar vegetation, though none quite as spectacular. One series of meadows is Penorchard meadows, between Romsley and Clent. You will find these near St Kenelm’s church, where there is a car park. It is on the OS Wolverhampton and Dudley map at SO 945807. Walk through the churchyard and follow the public footpath into the fields.

Like Eades, Penorchard is looked after by Worcestershire Wildlife Trust. The fields have a good scattering of meadow flowers and some good pond plants like fringed water lily. If you are in this area in June, call in at Romsley where the village green has been kept like a meadow. Its flowers include bee orchids, common spotted orchids and moon daisies.

Not far from here too are the Illey Pastures I described in last month’s walk. These have a slightly different range of plants, starting in late May or June. There are also quite a few meadow-like fields scattered around the area with some of the plants in them, but of course the fields are not necessarily managed the same year on year, and you may not be able to find public footpaths through them. There is a good walk through the meadow-like Old Orchard near Barnt Green, which I will describe in a later article.

Wherever you walk, May will be one of the best months of the year for flowers and birds. Enjoy it!

The poem this month comes from my journeys in Malawi and Zambia, and my walks in Worcestershire.

African roads

The road is straight ahead, straight as a ruler
Ruled by us on to Africa like the Romans ruled it on us
We knew how to rule
When you don’t see the land owned, you
Don’t need to bend round boundaries

There are few cars
Land cruisers with tourists
Lorries and luxury coaches
Hundreds of minibuses packed to the roof

Alongside both sides, another road
Dusty, dry in this season
Full of people walking
Women elegant in bright clean fabrics
Children barefoot or in English school uniforms
Men with shaven heads
Everyone carrying something, on heads, in arms
Bicycles full of people, sugar cane, reeds, suitcases
Bullock carts and donkey carts
Cattle, chickens, little black pigs

Every mile or so, a village
Inscrutable houses
Lines of washing
Church or mosque and primary school
Stalls selling tomatoes and bananas
Small children walk unchaperoned through the bush

When the land bites back and the tarmac falls away
Land cruisers, trucks, minibuses switch to the dirt track
Driving comically beside the empty tarmac
With the bikes and goats and children

Back home my own roads turn and twist
Following the green hedges of the enclosers

There is no room to walk beside them.


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