October in the meadow at Stream House

What could be going on in a wildflower meadow in October you may well wonder... lots!
 
The woolly storm troopers are back as the warm open autumn here in the South East has meant the aftermath has been particularly vigorous this year. I’m struggling to keep on top of it. I increased sheep numbers but they are still only just keeping it grazed down tight enough.
 
My late-flowering margin has now set seed and because the late growth is unpalatable I’ve had to cut it mechanically. I even go to the trouble of hand raking, it’s a small area so doesn’t take that long. This time of year I like to see some bare ground exposed, all the thatch has to be removed to enable the new growth to get through, giving it a fighting chance of becoming established. Above you can see three different techniques from left to right: Grazing only; Mow only; Late Margin cut and raked. The sheep now run all three areas to keep it short as possible.

Moles!! I have a running battle with these little chaps and right now I’m under attack..
I have nothing against moles as a creature of the countryside; they are charming and fill a space in the environment. That said mole heaves in the hay crop are a pest, reducing the palatability of the hay.
Regularly I walk around kicking over the hills to maintain a sort of status quo. What I noticed on one of my return circuits of the field, was that where I had previously kicked over the molehills new seedlings were taking advantage of the open bare ground albeit on a very small scale.
Here’s an opportunity I thought, now when I wander round kicking over mole hills I have a bag of local provenance wildflower seed with me and drop a pinch on the fresh open earth. If you look at the picture you can see each of these little areas are acting as mini enhancement zones. See below Weald Native Seed from the “Meadows Partnership”

So a slightly uneasy symbiotic alliance has been formed between the moles and I. However hostilities will recommence in early spring, when the traps will come out before and after harrowing to at least reduce the molehills in my hay crop. The last swallows went through a week or so ago, keep expecting stragglers but nothing seen yet. The hedge on one side of the field has been cut, the big North hedge left with its fruits for the birds in winter. Soon the first frost will stop the grass from growing and the meadow will be put to bed for winter. Remember to keep grazing till then.

- Keith Datchler OBE, Coronation Meadows steering group member and technical advisor