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Patchwork of wildflower meadows wow for National Meadows Day as rare grasslands on North Devon coast peak in first full bloom to benefit nature and people

On the north Devon coast 90 hectares (222 acres) of newly created rare wildflower meadows have reached their first full bloom, to create a vibrant burst of colour to the summer countryside in time for National Meadows Day.

Rare grassland full of oxeye daisies and wildflowers blooms at Woolacombe, north Devon | © National Trust Images/James Dobson
Rare grassland full of oxeye daisies and wildflowers blooms at Woolacombe, north Devon | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

Swathes of bright white oxeye daises, sunshine yellow birdís-foot trefoil and bright blue viperís bugloss have flowered along with meadow grasses, filling an area the size of 197 football pitches. These fields have taken two years to establish from 1.3 tons of carefully sourced and sown seeds, as part of the National Trustís largest ever wildflower grassland project.

Acting as wildflower seed donor sites, throughout the summer National Trust rangers are joined by volunteers to collect seeds either with a brush harvester, seed vacuum or by hand. Every hectare of donor site harvested will provide enough seed to sow two more hectares of meadows, allowing the National Trust to scale up grassland creation across the southwest.

This sustainable and holistic approach to growing grassland seeds means by the end of 2024 a total of 187 hectares (462 acres) of wildflower grasslands will have been created using seeds from the local area, contributing towards the charities ambitions to create 25,000 hectares of priority habitat by 2025, improving habitats for wildlife and boosting biodiversity.

Species rich grasslands are rare, with only a mere 1% of flower-filled meadows remaining in the UK and are among the most threatened habitats in Britain. In the west country the conservation charityís North Devon Grassland project is bringing meadows back, returning them along with the nature that depends on them to 70 miles of the coastal landscape by 2030.

After two years of dedicated care, tending to the freshly planted fields, the wait is over and National Trust rangers are celebrating the first abundant display of wildflowers and an opportunity to harvest seeds at locations including Woolacombe, Vention and South Hole.

Joshua Day Project Co-ordinator at the National Trust in North Devon said: ďGrasslands can take a long time to establish, some wildflower species can take up to seven years whilst others like Oxeye Daisy can become dominant quicker.

ďThe sense of anticipation through the last two winters has been high, watching and waiting for the first successful seedlings to emerge. Initial monitoring has shown an increase of wildflower coverage from just 2% to 40% in just two years and we are recording fundamental meadow species such as, yarrow, red Clover, common sorrel and yellow rattle.

ďThis first full bloom is an indication of success for the future of species rich grasslands here in Devon, returning a diverse range of wildflowers to the countryside which will, in turn, benefit nature and ourselves.Ē

That flower power is already giving nature a boost along the coast, helping wildlife that already lives there, as well as attracting new species. Sightings of pollinators such as the brown banded carder bee and meadow brown and common blue butterflies are increasing, as the specific plants that they rely on to survive, bloom and grow.

Insect populations are also on the up, with rangers seeing hundreds of meadow grasshoppers as wildflowers continue to fill the fields. A vital food source for a range of wildlife, the rise in insects means several species of birds have been spotted including swifts, house martins, skylarks, kestrel and meadow pipits, all species that are in decline in the UK. Along with greater horseshoe bats that dart across the meadows, hunting at dusk.

Ben McCarthy, National Trust Head of Nature and Restoration Ecology, adds: ďAs nature in the UK continues to decline making space for flower-rich hay meadows in our countryside at a landscape scale will make a real tangible difference to its recovery.

ďThe [2023] State of Nature Report tells us that pollinators such as bees and butterflies have declined by 18 per cent on average and birds by 43 per cent, with the overall struggle for nature contributed to by the huge loss of our wildflower and species rich meadows over the last hundred years.

ďBringing hay meadows back will contribute to our ambitions to create more nature- rich spaces and robust habitats for wildlife and more space for people to connect to it. Whether thatís through the enjoyable sight of colourful fields in bloom or immersing ourselves in the buzz of a summer meadow as bees, butterflies and birdís flourish.Ē

All the recently sown sites have public rights of way nearby, making it easy for people to spend time immersed in nature in the north Devon countryside.

The North Devon Grasslands project is being delivered in partnership with the North Devon Coast National Landscape which has contributed funding through the Finding Natureís Footprints project and through the Farming in Protected Landscapes programme.

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