Bodmin Airfield in Cornwall has been recognized by scientists as having the largest natural hay meadow in the whole of the South West. Since the end of World War II, more than 95% of traditional hay meadows have disappeared from the British rural landscape due to modern farming methods, land drainage, industrial development and housing developments. The loss of this type of habitat has had a dramatic effect on the survival of pollinators, namely bees, which are increasingly recognized by scientists as an essential element in maintaining the balance of the natural environment.
Although its importance is now recognized, the preservation of the Bodmin Airfield hay meadow has come about mainly by accident rather than intention. The reason is that over the past decades no harmful herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers have been sprayed on it, and apart from runways and traffic lanes, the outer field is only cut once. per year. The cuttings are removed from the site by a local farmer to be used as silage and fodder for his livestock. Aerodrome operators also perform a complete site removal every year for tansy ragwort, which can be fatal to sheep, cattle and horses if ingested.
Experts began to appreciate Bodmin’s environmental importance two years ago, when Ian Benallick, a botanical scientist, conducted an investigation of the airfield. The study found more than 150 species of wildflowers, herbs and ferns and more than three thousand orchids of three distinct species. It was at this point that Benallick informed the aerodrome operators of the environmental importance of the site. The discovery led to Bodmin Airfield forming relationships with many interested organizations and academics to help study and protect the site. Investigations since then have resulted in a growing list of nearly 170 species of flora, and soil samples have shown that Bodmin is what the National Vegetation Classification lists as an MG5 grassland landscape, i.e. – say a traditional hay meadow, of which there are now less than six thousand hectares remaining in England.
Darren Fern, Chairman of the Cornwall Flying Club, explained: “We have an exceptional example of native English hay meadow, and the seeds of the grasses are highly sought after by farmers wishing to restore their fields to their natural state. This is an opportunity for all airfields to be recognized as environmental heroes, not villains. We have these resources because for about 40 years we have never used any fertilizer, we have removed invasive and non-native plants, and we have only cut grass tracks, leaving nature s ‘take care of the rest of the place. Botanists from across the country are now asking to visit our site. I encourage all airfield owners to contact their university ecology departments and local farm organizations, so that we can share our resource and be viewed in a positive light.
Bodmin Airfield recently received requests from several National Trust properties to obtain native grass seeds from the site, as the National Trusts seeks to return some of its sites to their natural state.