The Forest of Bowland AONB has joined forces with the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust (YDMT) to fund a Hay Time hay meadow restoration project here in Bowland, the project began on May 21st 2012.
Working together with farmers in the AONB, the project will harvest wildflower seed from species-rich meadows and use this to restore meadows that have lost some of their characteristic plants. The project also aims to increase public awareness, enjoyment and understanding of the hay meadows found in the area, and will improve public access to meadows, as well as surveying many meadows to record the variety and number of plant species they contain.
Sarah Robinson, the new Bowland Hay Time Project Officer, is based at the Forest of Bowland AONB’s office in Dunsop Bridge. Sarah said, "Bowland Hay Time is an important and exciting project and I am delighted to be part of it. I’m looking forward to working closely with hay meadow farmers in the AONB who are interested in getting involved with the project, either through having seed harvested from their meadows or through having their meadows enhanced through seed addition."
Hay meadows are one of our rarest habitats and a priority for conservation and enhancement in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. Largely lost from the rest of the country, these meadows survive thanks to traditional farming practices, in particular the late cutting of the crop in July or August. During spring and summer the array of colourful flowers and grasses in hay meadows make not only a wonderful sight but create important places for other species such as bats and birds to feed and nest in. The AONB contains a significant number of the UK’s remaining upland hay meadows and as such it is an important area for this stunning habitat. The project will run over the next two years and aims to restore 40 hectares of meadow.
For further information about the project contact Sarah on 01200 448000 or email sarah [dot] robinson [at] lancashire [dot] gov [dot] uk
The project is being funded by the Forest of Bowland AONB and the Lancashire Environment Fund
On Wednesday 6 February, we organised a winter scythe maintenance workshop at Bentham Mart, during the fat lamb sale, when scything expert Tom Brandon demonstrated scythe maintenance, peening and sharpening. Members of the team were available to talk with interested farmers, copy hay time photographs and collect hay time stories. We talked with with several farmers about Hay Time in the past, and as part of the event, had a set of four publicity boards produced for the project, which will be useful for the other events coming up.
On Monday 11 February I gave a presentation about the project to the Craven Conservation Group in Settle, followed by a lively discussion about restoration techniques more generally. There was a lot of interest in the project, and contact with this group may help to recruit more volunteers to monitor meadows, especially in the Craven part of the AONB.
As well as the public events organised as part of the project within the Bowland Festival, Don and I are working together to organise a Meadow Restoration workshop for Flora Locale, a national organisation providing training and CPD for environmental professionals. The day in June will have a morning session inside, followed by an afternoon looking at a site with SSSI meadows as well as three meadows which has restoration management through the project last summer. We are also discussing whether to have a Hay Time demonstration event within any of the summer shows this year.
I am continuing to visit the Slaidburn Archive to read an amazing set of farm diaries kept by one family from 1943 onwards. Following on from the war years and the advent of bag fertilisers in the 1950's, the diaries from the 1960's describe the family buying their first baler, Land Rover, and their participation in War Ag schemes to drain and apply lime and slag to the meadows. At the Archive I have also met with several local people who are keen to have their recollections of hay time recorded.
The plug plant nursery is now all planted, thanks to Holly, our biology undergraduate student placement, we await spring shoots!
Holly has also been busy completing the work of sending species lists and letters out to the 54 sites visited by Fiona last summer. The results of Fiona's work on Biological Heritage Sites showed that many, around 50%, had lost value in the 15 years since their last survey, and as a result some, around 10%, will now be deleted from the register. However, and much more encouragingly, her surveys found 5 previously unknown meadows on three farms which are have now been added to the register.
We will now be looking at compiling a list of sites for Fiona to survey in summer 2013, as well as starting to visit the potential sites for restoration and approaching potential donors to see if they would like to take part in the project this summer.
The Hay Time project in Bowland has been concentrating time on planning for 2013 over the last few weeks.
A long list of potential restoration and enhancement sites has been completed, so far with almost sixty hectares of meadows identified as potentials for the coming summer. More are being added every week, as work with the local Natural England advisers continues. Interestingly there are also a significant number of sites which, in the main due to their small size, are not covered by HLS agreements, and so will need to be covered by project funding if they are to be restored.
Work on the downloadable self-guided walks has continued, with visits to the sites involved with the local Access Officer in order to set out exactly what improved furniture is required to make the chosen meadows accessible to as many people as possible. The fantastic news on this is that one of the farmers involved in the project as a donor of organic hay has agreed to work with us to develop a Tramper route passing through three of his meadows. We hope this will be ready to open in June 2013.
In addition to the Haytime events being run through Festival Bowland, we have organised a winter scythe maintenance workshop at Bentham Mart on the evening of Wednesday 6 February, during the fat lamb sale, when scything expert Tom Brandon will be demonstrating scythe maintenance, peening and sharpening, and members of the team will be available to talk with interested farmers, copy hay time photographs and collect hay time stories. We are hopeful that this will encourage more farmers to get involved with the project.
Progress has been good in Bowland, despite the rain. On the 28th July we organised a Scything Taster day at Stephen Park in Gisburn Forest, where Ian Hunter and Tom Branton taught 20 people scything skills including cutting hay and sharpening scythes; everyone had a good time, and the feedback we had was really positive. We are planning to follow this event with a winter scything clinic, where Tom will be on hand to get scythes back into working order, and the project also hopes to collect their Hay Time stories.
On the 11th August we organised a seed collecting event, where we were joined by 16 volunteers and collected seed from Bell Sykes SSSI and its surrounding road verges. We were very lucky to have the skills of Peter Foley on hand to instruct and demonstrate how to dry, clean, sow and propagate the different species we collected. We will be meeting again to collect seed from the later flowering species, at the request of the volunteers. Following this, 4 volunteers from Comply-Direct travelled over to Bowland to help collect seed for the project, and spent the morning collecting yellow rattle, knapweed and meadowsweet for use on the meadows we are enhancing.
After all the planning of the previous weeks, the transportation of green hay from the donors to the restoration sites began on 12th August. The weather held until Wednesday night, and during that time hay was spread onto six restoration meadows totalling 12.7 ha and hand collected seed was spread onto a further three meadows (4 ha) to enhance their species diversity. There were two more sites waiting for another break in the weather, which unfortunately didn't come, and so they will be added to next year's 'to-do' list.
On the 19th August, Hay Time project officer Sarah Robinson travelled to the Gyimes Valley in Transylvania to take part in the 4th Annual International Hay Making Festival. Hosted by a local farmer and his family, the festival is organised by the Pogany-havas micro-regional association and aims to show visitors the traditions and customs which support the upland hay meadows of the area.
Sarah's overview of her time in Transylvania: 'We spent the week scything and then raking hay into stacks in the mountains, slept at a mountain top Koliba (summer farm), made cheese, made the teeth of wooden rakes, and helped the family bring the hay down by horse and cart. We took part in the local scything competition, initiating the first ever women's competition, for which I took bronze, and ended the week bathing in a naturally sparkling iron rich spring. As well as learning about the practicalities of making 6 months of forage by hand, the festival was a fabulous opportunity to live as part of a local family, learn about the culture and landscape of the area, how land is divided between and within families, the problems of land abandonment which threaten the meadows, as well as having the opportunity to talk with the other participants about their hay making experiences.' For further information contact sarah [dot] robinson [at] lancashire [dot] gov [dot] uk
The study tour was part of Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust Sowing the Seeds Project and was funded by LEADER programme.