21 Sep 2021
‘Make hay while the sun shines’ as the saying goes. We might not have had much sunshine recently, but the Reserve Team made the most of some dry weather to cut and bale some hay.
The reserve at Pensthorpe includes a number of wildflower meadows, ranging from wet meadows and marshy areas to the dryer grasslands. Each meadow varies in the plant species found within it and, therefore, requires slightly different management techniques. Some meadows are grazed by cattle and sheep whilst others are cut and the vegetation removed. It is in these dryer grasslands that the team have been cutting the vegetation.
July and August are the best months to cut meadows for hay; after the bird breeding season and the majority of flowers have had chance to seed. The whole process takes around a week from cutting, regular turning, to then baling and storing.
Removing the cut vegetation after mowing helps reduce nutrients in the soil. If left then over time, a less diverse range of grasses, flowers and later shrubs and trees would outcompete the finer grasses and array of wildflowers such as knapweed, field scabious, yellow rattle and orchids. In turn these wildflowers are vitally important food resources for many insects, mammals and birds.
The other benefit of collecting the vegetation is that it can be made into bales, which can be stored indoors so that, come winter, our longhorn cattle have enough feed when the grass growth is a lot less vigorous.
Whilst cutting, the team make sure that parts of the field are left uncut for feeding and overwintering wildlife. These areas can then be cut in subsequent years on rotation.
So, if you visit the reserve next May/June you should see the rewards of this management work and enjoy the spectacle of a wildflower meadow in bloom!