Project: Nature Reserve with Wild Flower Meadows

This is a series of photos illustrating  a species rich nature reserve  established over the last seven years on a five acre site in Cumbria.

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The land had previously been poor grazing land as it remained very boggy throughout the year. Once fenced off from the rest of the field, and the  sheep restricted, the natural stream was deepened slightly to reveal a gravelly bottom ideal for the spawning beds of Salmon, Trout and other fish.

The natural stream which flows through the site. This floods out onto the lower part of the reserve and into holding lagoons several times a year. It's gravelly bottom is ideal for spawning Salmon and Trout.

The natural stream which flows through the site. This floods out into lagoons several times a year. It’s gravelly bottom is ideal for spawning Salmon and Trout.

Two large lagoons were excavated to take water from the water course in times of flood.

The stone lined water inlet into the top lagoon in action, almost to full capacity,

The stone lined water inlet into the top lagoon in action, almost to full capacity,

The top lagoon has two islands for added interest and to slow down the flow of flood water.

The top lagoon with islands

These lagoons fill and empty according to the prevailing rainfall.

op lagoon full in winter, dogwoods planted on the bank behind

Top lagoon full in winter, red stemmed dogwoods planted on the bank behind

A causeway separates the two lagoons  creating the main wide access pathway. A buried pipe takes the water from the top lagoon to the lower one, but there are two swallow stone lined channels to take the water more quickly if it reaches the causeway level . This keeps the way in navigable by foot or small vehicles.

One of the channels taking the overflow from the top lagoon to the lower lagoon across the causeway

One of the channels taking the overflow from the top lagoon to the lower lagoon across the causeway

Over the stream at the entrance we built an Oak bridge on stone piers.

Green Oak access bridge across the stream

Green Oak access bridge across the stream

From the lower lagoon the water is let back into the stream through a pipe, the flow can be controlled as necessary.

Pipe outlet at the end of the second lagoon

Pipe outlet at the end of the second lagoon, Summer and the lagoon is dry at this point.

Eels are now often seen in the lagoons,particularly when the water level is dropping. The eels slither their way across the damp ground back to the outlet and the stream.

The area to the left of the mown access path is closest to the water course and floods. On the left are the higher dryer areas which were resown with mixed native wildflowers.

The area to the left of the mown access path is closest to the water course and floods. On the right are the higher drier areas which were resown with mixed native wildflowers.

The upper side of the site then remained out of the flood plain and drained well so we sowed a mixture of native wildflower and grasses including annuals and perennial species.

Areas were sown with a  mixture of annual and perennial wlid flowers with a few grasses

Areas were sown with a mixture of annual and perennial wild flowers with a few grasses

This was done over 5 years, sowing about half an acre each year, so as to always have cover and feeding areas for the many small mammals, reptiles and birds whose numbers were building rapidly given the shelter and food resources of ungrazed land.

This area sown September 2010 Photo taken 07/06/2011

This area sown September 2010 Photo taken 07/06/2011

The annuals put on spectacular shows in their first years before the more diverse and long-term herb rich sward matures.

Extraordinary show of Poppies in July 2010 from an April 2010 sowing ! Each years new sowings had a different plant dominating.

Extraordinary show of Poppies in July 2010 from an April 2010 sowing !

Each years sowing produced a slightly different result according to weather and prevailing conditions.

Daisies,cornflower and corncockle.

Daisies,Cornflower and Corncockle.

And as each sowing matured different species became dominant.

 Cornfield annuals most evident in the first year of Area B

Cornfield annuals most evident in the first year of Area B

Ox eye daisies dominate in second year after sowing Area B

Ox eye daisies dominate in second year after sowing Area B

To achieve a good take of the new seed and reduce competition from the existing, rather rank, vegetation, the turf and approx 2 inches of top soil were removed before sowing.

wfm1 This also reduced the fertility of the soil which had been treated with artificial fertilisers and  selective herbicides under its previous regime.

Field Poppy. Papaver Rhoeas

Field Poppy. Papaver Rhoeas

Corn Flower. Centaurea cyanus

Corn Flower. Centaurea cyanus

Corn Cockle Agrostemma githago

Corn Cockle. Agrostemma githago

Then more of the perennial plants began to show their heads as the sward matured in succeeding years.

As the new sward matures perennial plants become more evident.Buttercups and Sorrel dominate this area which stands wet for a large part of the year.

As the new sward matures perennial plants become more evident.Buttercups and Sorrel dominate this area which stands wet for a large part of the year.

The boundary fence was supplemented and enhanced by planted a mixed native hedge on its inside. This consists of Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Hazel, Beech, Dog rose, and Honeysuckle.

Show of poppies and some of the new boundary hedge on the left maturing fast.

Show of poppies and some of the new boundary hedge on the left maturing fast.

Willow, Alder, and Hawthorn trees already existed on the site, these were augmented by plating small stands of various Willows, Alders, Dogwoods and Prunus, as well as the new hedge.

The exisiting trees were augmented by planting young willows and alders.

The existing trees were augmented by planting young willows and alders.

Evidence of Otters has been seen recently. In the early days of  the development several Mink seemed to be using the site, we no longer see them, probably due to the welcome return of Otters to our waterways. Some Deer and Badger move through the site. The whole place becomes alive with insects when the air warms, bees and butterflies provide a spectacle in themselves dancing and working over the flowering meadows.

This area sown September 2010 photo June 2011

Here we look across some wild flowers over the dry lagoon in summer. The stream lies in the bottom

Small birds frequent the trees, many warblers: Blackcaps, Willow and Reed. Flocks of Siskin and Redpoll feed in the mature Alders in late Winter. Clouds of Finches visit to feed on the flower and grass seed heads. A goodly number of Teal gather and reside here outside of the breeding season.

One of the owl perches can be seen standing above the vegetation on the right here.

One of the owl perches can be seen standing above the vegetation on the right here.

Owls, both Tawny and Barn hunt on the site ( three posts 7 foot above ground level  with 10 inch long tee pieces across the top were erected in the grassed areas as resting/hunting perches for the barn owl, and they have been observed using these which is very pleasing)

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The grassed areas are well populated with small rodents particularly Field Voles, they thrive in the stands of longer vegetation.   Common Leaches, Newts, Frogs and Toads are abundant.

The tall graceful stands of Canary Reed Grass which appeared in the wetter areas and flourished once the grazing sheep had been removed and controlled.

The tall graceful stands of Canary Reed Grass which appeared in the wetter areas and flourished once the grazing sheep had been removed and controlled.

The main maintenance task is to cut and rake off
a section (about a fifth) of the wild flower rich grassland each year. (A hay
cut) This ensures a constant variety of herbage height, cover for the mammals
and reptiles, optimum sites for Owls to hunt over and a supply of seeding
vegetation for other birds while restricting the vigour of the grasses and
discouraging colonising scrub.

All together a highly diverse piece of landscape in a relatively small stretch of land.

One Response to Project: Nature Reserve with Wild Flower Meadows

  1. I love this concept it is very near and dear to my own. The wonderful colors of those wildflower fields are amazing. It is a pleasure to see how you work with nature and provide cover for the smaller mammals while still leaving areas for hunting birds. I also envy the beautiful lagoons and the fact that there is water, that would be our only wish for our property. Those beautiful red twigs caught my eye immediately and I love your oak bridge, it looks quite sturdy! Fell in love with this place. Thank you~Sandi

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