A place that’s ‘good for the soul’

Driving under the low-raised sun and whisking past bare branches, I was on a mission to discover winter wildlife at Red Hill, Lincolnshire’s Coronation Meadow. During the 45 miles that I travelled to reach my ‘local’ meadow, I began forming a story about how this distance was a sad reflection of the fact that we’ve lost a staggering 97% of meadows in recent decades.

But meeting two gentlemen at the reserve, Kevin James (Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust’s Mid-Lincolnshire warden) and Harry Turner - an extraordinary volunteer who has dedicated over 20 years of his life looking after the meadow - changed the focus of the story completely. This was now about the people.

Presenting me with a glorious Coronation Meadow calendar, I get a taste of what the reserve will become in only a few months– acres of magnificent colour and iconic Lincolnshire species. Bringing me back to the present, Mr Turner placed a trowel in my hands and passed me seeds to plant in the soil– he wanted me to become part of it, to experience the feeling of giving life to this meadow. “This whole meadow originally started with just nine plants – I’ve spent over 20 years collecting seeds from these, alongside seeds from SSSIs and protected roadside verges within a 10 mile radius from here. What lies here now is over 100,000 plants covering 60 acres of land.”

Taking on the project in 1997, Mr Turner’s legacy is remarkable; boosting and restoring the chalk downland with colour and wildlife for many generations to enjoy. Confirming his hard work Kevin pointed to the land and said, “Without the people, this work wouldn’t have happened.” I could see that this was a magical place all year around, not just the summer. The sloping valleys in the distance provided remarkable views. “You get the most glorious sunsets along here”, Harry explained. “The sun glows deep red like a giant fireball.” He pointed out areas of other work. An area of holly trees - planted to provide food for holly blue butterflies - was being visited by a flock of starlings, while wild roses had been planted into the hedges beside which the rare autumn gentian grows. “This place is good for the soul,” said Kevin. “Fieldfare and redwing eat the berries here, crows have taken over the abandoned rabbit holes and it won’t be long until your first butterflies takes up residence, including brimstones and peacocks.” Mr Turner joined in. “We get a lot of families walking through here. Children love the rabbits.”

We made our way to an exciting and rare treat – red chalk (see image below). Formed over 100 million years ago at the bottom of a tropical lake, this red strip of rock slices through the landscape, decorating its face with warm colours. Today, a buzzard circled above the elderberry bushes while a robin bopped about much closer.

“Buzzards are a good indicator that much wildlife is here. This is marvellous considering we’re surrounded by industrial farms.”  Kevin mentioned proudly. Snowdrops had begun breaking through the ground, their green stems and leaves preparing to embrace the winter. Getting on his hands and knees Mr Turner took a closer look at them. “These are the first snowdrops I’ve seen this year. Soon, these banks will be brimming with wildlife and that’s because they haven’t been ploughed. If you come again in just a few weeks this ground will be covered in white violets, odd snails and a high population of spiders.”

Mr Turner explained how valley’s had been carved by chalk quarrying until the place was abandoned in 1933. “In the warmer months, common lizards will be basking on those posts and of course, Lincolnshire’s famous marbled white butterfly will be here”. Other wildlife to spot includes grass snakes, swarms of goldfinch which raid the seeds of knapweed, green woodpeckers, kestrels and the elusive grey partridge. “If we don’t cut the long grass here, it will outcompete the smaller delicate grasses. We’ve got high dry soils over here, and wetland plants growing in the spring over there. The diversity here is remarkable.” Making our way back to the car Mr Turner explained the importance of the grazing Lincoln Red cattle and varying sheep: “If you don’t graze here, everything becomes woodland.”

Not wanting to leave, I thank the gentlemen for their time - and most importantly - for their inspiration. In just a few weeks time, I will return to experience Mr Turner’s living legacy in its full magnificence and to plant more seed to help expand the meadow’s beauty.

- Emma Websdale, The Wildlife Trusts