I can’t quite believe that, a year ago today, I was stood in a field in Gloucestershire at 6am looking down the lens of a camera. Of course, it wasn’t just any old field – it was the wildflower meadow at Highgrove, where our patron HRH The Prince of Wales was hosting the launch of his ambitious Coronation Meadows project. And it wasn’t just any old camera either; it was a BBC Breakfast TV camera and weather presenter Carol Kirkwood was about to interview me live.
That’s how one of the most exciting days I’ve ever had at Plantlife began. It was a bit of a whirlwind, with a visit from HRH Prince Charles, a tour of his meadows and garden, and a constant stream of media requests and interviews. The highlight for me, though, was the reception with the owners and managers of the first 60 Coronation Meadows. Many were able to make their way to Highgrove and the Prince talked to them all. His personal interest in their work and the passion he has for meadows and the farming practices that support them really shone through on the day.
HRH The Prince of Wales at Highgrove © Plantlife / Robin Bell
Much has happened since then and in many ways the real work has now begun. The Prince’s vision to identify a flagship Coronation Meadow in each county and then use green hay from these to literally seed new meadows is gradually taking shape. Here are some highlights from the last 12 months:
• Coronation Meadows have now been identified in nearly all of the 72 counties of England, Wales and Northern Ireland (just two counties remain).
• In Scotland, where there are fewer suitable sites, Coronation Meadows have been identified in 22 of the 34 counties.
• Restoration work in 2013 saw 12 new meadows created in 12 counties, and many of these are showing spectacular results this year with superb germination following the mild winter and the warm, wet spring.
• Thanks to a generous grant from Biffa Award, £990k of funding has been secured towards the creation and restoration of meadows across England and Wales over the next 3 years.
• As a result of this funding, work is underway this summer to create and restore 30 meadows in 24 counties.
The creation and restoration of meadows is not an easy task. It requires lots of planning, site preparation, hard work and skill. The funding from Biffa will now pave the way for much of this activity. But it’s matched with an equal amount of enthusiasm from meadow owners and farmers who are beginning to appreciate the true value of flower-rich meadows. With their dedication and help, the vision of a new meadow in every county can be achieved, securing a legacy for the next 60 years.
This year is proving to be exceptional for many meadow flowers. In the warm and wet conditions everything seems to be a good two to three weeks earlier than last year. Cowslips put on magnificent displays, green-winged orchids were counted in their thousands and now the spotted and marsh orchids are reaching the crescendo in their performance.
Green-winged Orchids © Trevor Dines / Plantlife
Many of these ancient meadows are open to the public, so check out your local Coronation Meadow for details. Now is perhaps the best time to visit and soak up some of that unique atmosphere. Nothing beats a warm summer afternoon with skylarks soaring overhead, grasshoppers singing in the grass, butterflies flitting from flower to flower and the scent of orchids in the air. Catch it while you can before the haymaking begins!
Trevor Dines is Plantlife’s Botanical Specialist and a member of the Coronation Meadows Steering Group.