Hannah’s Meadow, Hunderthwaite
This meadow was once owned by, and is named after, Hannah Hauxwell who was featured in a famous TV documentary series in the 1970's - Too Long a Winter.
The reserve consists of two species rich, unimproved upland hay meadows and a grazing pasture in a traditional farming landscape in the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The meadows and pasture at Hannah’s Meadow have evolved as a result of traditional farming practices over several centuries. Living alone at Low Birk Hat Farm without the luxury of electricity or running water, Hannah managed the land using the traditional methods that avoided adding artificial fertilizers or re-seeding. Instead she farmed the fields for hay and pasture for over 50 years, thus maintaining the rich variety of wildlife that has evolved over centuries. Hannah retired in 1988 and the meadows and pasture were bought by Durham Wildlife Trust who now manage them as a nature reserve.
The meadows are considered to be some of the least improved and most species rich in upland Durham and as such have been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The grass sward is dominated by meadow foxtail, sweet vernal-grass and crested dog’s-tail with an abundance of wild flowers, including ragged-robin, wood crane’s bill, marsh marigold, yellow rattle, adder’s-tongue fern and globe flower. The pasture has a more acidic character with rushes and sedges dominating and this supports breeding birds such as lapwing, skylark, redshank, curlew and meadow pipit.
The meadow is still managed using traditional methods. Sheep lamb in the spring in the hay meadows followed by some muck spreading. Stock are removed until late July when the hay crop is cut. The grass is then allowed to grow and cows graze the fog (late grass) in September / October. Sheep are brought back into the meadows to run with the tup in November before the winter rest period. The cycle then begins again in the spring. The dry stone walls require regular maintenance, and the barn has been restored using local stone to provide an unmanned visitor centre displaying information about Hannah and her special meadows.
You are welcome to visit Hannah’s Meadow but it is important to realise that it is grazed for much of the year so please close gates behind you. Dogs must be kept on a lead and please take your litter home. The best time to see the meadows is in late June and July.
Header image (above) © Durham Wildlife Trust
How to get there
From Barnard Castle follow the B6277 to Romaldkirk and then follow the Balderhead road via Hunderthwaite. The reserve is adjacent to the public road a 11⁄4 mile east of the Balderhead Reservoir Car Park. The Pennine Way footpath runs through the reserve.
Species to spot
Best time to see: All year
Curlew are very large, tall waders, about the same size as a female pheasant. The sound of the curlew's display call ('Cur-lee') is unmistakeable and can be heard from February through to July on its breeding grounds. Image (c) Damian Waters (www.drumimages.co.uk)
Best time to see: All year
Male skylarks can be spotted rising almost vertically from the ground, hovering and singing from a great height before parachuting back down to earth. Despite their aerial activities, skylarks nest on the ground, laying three to four eggs. Image (c) Stefan Johansson