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Community conservation group celebrates 1,000 acres of restored wildflower meadow

A community wildflower conservation group established on Dartmoor in 2015 is celebrating its 1,000th acre of new or restored wildflower meadow.

Inspired by the enthusiastic response from landowners and gardeners in and around Dartmoor, similar groups of preparers elsewhere in Devon are now being encouraged.

Moor Meadows was co-founded by Donna Cox from Buckfastleigh with a small group of people living on Dartmoor. They wanted to help each other conserve, restore and create grasslands rich in wildflowers to help reverse the decline of wild plants and wildlife over the past decades.

After five years of sharing tips, equipment and wildflower seeds and with support from expert lectures and hands-on workshops, the number of preparers involved in the Moor Meadows group has grown to over 800. A total of 1,088 acres of meadows rich in wildflowers have been restored or created by members of the group in and around Dartmoor.

Some of them are very small, including mini garden meadows, cheering orchids in the lawns of South Brent, or acre meadows in cemeteries like St Mary’s in Throwleigh. At the other end of the scale, the 78 acres of species-rich prairie at Deer Park Farm near Chudleigh won a national prairie creation award.

Lost of the landscape

Donna Cox in a wet meadow on her land near Buckfastleigh

The traditional wildflower meadows have disappeared from most of the English countryside. Nationally, 97% of flower-rich grasslands have been lost since the 1930s.

With the loss of various flowering plants, there was an associated decline in bees, butterflies and other insects that depended on these plants as sources of food and nectar. And impacted by this disappearance of insects, many birds, bats and small mammals have also disappeared from the countryside.

While some flower meadows have been destroyed by built-up development, the majority have disappeared due to changes in land management, including the intensification of agriculture after World War II.

But in recent years, techniques have been perfected to recreate meadows rich in wildflowers. Groups like Moor Meadows are sharing this knowledge and helping to bring color and life back to the Devon countryside. More and more farmers are joining the group and restoring traditional hay meadows as more landowners recognize the importance of grasslands for carbon capture as well as wildlife.

Restoration of the Dartmoor grasslands

Mary’s meadow Buckland in the moor

Moor Meadows co-founder Donna Cox from Buckfastleigh, Devon said: “When we moved to Dartmoor it took us several years to figure out how best to manage our 70 acres of pasture to increase wildflowers and benefit the wildlife.

“Four fields that looked promising were put into hay meadow management – cut and baled each year – which added to the diversity of the wildflowers. We also have a wet meadow that had been drained in the past.

“By plugging underground pipes and grazing ponies in late fall, the summer months see this meadow rich in a thousand orchids and bustling with bees, butterflies and moths.”

Donna attributes the inspiration for restoring wildflower meadows to a childhood memory of growing up next to a traditional mixed farm in Surrey and walking through fields rich in flowers.

During the process of learning how to best manage his Dartmoor lands, it became clear that other people shared his enthusiasm for the return of color and wildlife to their fields.

She adds: “In 2015, I organized a conference at our village hall on the prairies. The resulting level of interest, with 130 people in attendance, made me think about the possibility of forming a group, where we could all learn about the grasslands and share knowledge and information.

With members of Moor Meadows recording 933 acres of wildflower-rich grasslands on Dartmoor and an additional 155 acres elsewhere in Devon, it’s clear that there is an appetite for grassland creation outside the national park.

More grassland across Devon

People in the meadow. Photo Wendy Searle

Now, thanks to a grant from the Devon Environment Foundation, the reach will be extended far beyond Dartmoor. The Moor Meadows Community Group will encourage like-minded people in other parts of Devon to use this model to create their own local groups.

The new county-wide concept – More Meadows – is led by Devon environmentalist Tracey Hamston. Tracey will aim to support the creation of other local grassland groups this winter, with strong interest already registered from the people of South Hams and the Blackdown Hills and the first new group established in West Devon.

Tracey said: “I have been a member of Moor Meadows for quite some time and jumped at the opportunity to expand the work of this very successful community wildlife group through the More Meadows initiative. I am a huge fan of community led conservation and believe we can really be successful in the long term, from the root up.

A new online forum has been created by More Meadows as a resource for aspiring trainers. The forum is now live, aimed both at people who currently manage wildflower meadows and anyone looking to create meadows rich with wildflowers of any size anywhere in Devon.

Users can find or share resources and tips on managing a prairie – including where to get wildflower seeds – and find help identifying wild plants and creatures on their prairies. There are also opportunities to join or even start local grassland producer groups in different parts of the county. The forum can be found at https://forum.moremeadows.org.uk

With more potential grassland growers hoping to create local groups modeled on Moor Meadows, Tracey added, “I look forward to seeing the groups grow and hope to see more grassland creation and restoration across the country. Devon, each filled with thriving wildlife. “

Meadow path. Photo Robbie Phillips

This was the motivation behind the action of so many to restore the 1,000 acres of Devon meadows already associated with the original Moor Meadows group. Donna Cox summed up the allure of the wildflower meadow: “It’s so nice to see the way the native plants come and go, bloom at different times, the color changes from yellows to blues and whites, etc.

“I especially love that a meadow is alive – with the sounds of crickets, grasshoppers and bees. Insects bring birds and there is nothing better than seeing swallows, swifts and house swallows diving in search of food. It is a wonderful wildlife spectacle, which really lifts your spirits and can be right on our doorstep almost anywhere in Devon.

Stories from individual meadow makers and a map of the Devon grasslands are available at https://moormeadows.org.uk. The Meadow Makers online forum is at https://forum.moremeadows.org.uk

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