Bringing wildflower meadows back in bloom

The CLA’s Natalie Oakes reports on the growing interest among CLA members in helping to reverse the decline of our wildflower meadows

When you think about the British countryside, images of village greens, country lanes and rolling fields may spring to mind – but what about wildflower meadows?

Until the 1930s, wildflower meadows were a common sight across our landscape. Various factors, including agricultural intensification and the development of land, have resulted in a decline of 97% in the last 90 years.

As well as providing vital habitats for creatures such as bees, birds, butterflies and fungi, there are few things more beautiful than a meadow rich in colour and buzzing with life. They also provide a range of ecosystem services, with diverse plants rooting at different depths, and can help soil increase its organic matter, sequester carbon and resist drought.

Writers and artists are also inspired by traditional wildflower meadows. Shakespeare’s Love’s Labours Lost features a full verse about the beauty of wildflower meadows: “When daisies pied and violets blue, And lady-smocks all silver-white, And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue, Do paint the meadows with delight”.

Meadow restoration and recreation

Among CLA members, there is growing interest in reinstating meadows, whether due to enthusiasm to see wildflowers back on their land or because of the opportunities for business benefit. Meadows have been added to diversified businesses such as wedding and glamping venues, and have also been used to create a more diverse diet for livestock, with certain plants providing natural wormers, or for providing seed and hay to other meadow projects.

CLA member Pip Lee-Tappin, for example, has created a 4.5-acre meadow to restore wildlife to her upland farm in Powys, Wales. She was advised that she had a good conservation bank on the west side of her field; the area was grazed with her small flock of Welsh sheep until May, and then shut up from mid-July, with a hay crop taken.

The land, which was mostly ryegrass, self-seeded each year, resulting in increased wildflower diversity. Nothing was added or introduced except, on occasion, well-rotted farm manure - never artificial fertiliser.

After 10 growing seasons, 50 different species could be found. The area now benefits from species such as the rare pink waxcap, as well as sustaining bees, moths and hoverflies.

There are various recreation methods available, including broadcasting wildflower seed (preferably brush-harvested seed of local provenance), plug planting and strewing of green hay. If you have the right soil, the latter can be the cheapest option: hay is cut and harvested from a species-rich donor site just as the wildflowers and grasses are starting to shed their seeds and are still ‘green’. It is then transferred to a species-poor recipient site that has been pre-prepared, usually by light harrowing or heavy grazing, to allow the seeds to meet the bare soil. The cut hay can be spread using machinery, or even by hand if the area is small.

A blooming business enterprise

CLA member Peter Clay has been enhancing areas of his garden in Herefordshire with wildflowers for many years, and has now transferred this to his farm business.

Since 2014, the estate, led by Peter, has worked with Natural England, Herefordshire Meadows and the Open University to improve the biodiversity of its former arable fields. These were put into arable reversion through Countryside Stewardship and became dominated by grass, with little wildlife benefit. It now has eight meadows, restored using different methods to suit each field. The hay is fed to the estate’s traditional Red Ruby Devon cattle, who love the herby, flower-rich mix, or spread on other meadow sites.

sieving wildflowers
Sieving wildflower seeds from green hay as part of a Herefordshire Meadows project

It may sound simple, but there are challenges in creating a meadow. Wildflowers have a range of environmental limitations, they don’t like to compete with other species and prefer nutrient-poor soils. One challenge is effectively managing perennial weeds.

There are also changeable weather conditions to be considered. The hay has to be cut at the right time of year – so if you are relying on busy contractors, this will need to be well-planned and coordinated. In addition, donor and recipient sites need to be close to each other so that the green hay can be spread quickly before the seeds drop or dry out, reducing the yield.


While meadow restoration may well be driven by a desire to bring back one of our countryside’s most spectacular habitats, there are also funding opportunities available. Currently, land managers are able to get funding for meadow restoration through Countryside Stewardship, but only if you are in a higher-tier agreement.

As of the recent payment rate review, those looking to restore species-rich grassland will be paid £235/ha (GS7), while those wishing to create a species-rich grassland will be paid £428/ha (GS8). There are also options under arable reversion, which can support enhancing grassland biodiversity.

If you are within a National Park or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Farming in Protected Landscapes (FiPL) scheme supports hay meadow restoration and can provide funding towards the equipment required for meadow management.

In the Peak District National Park, the FiPL grant panel has approved funding for the purchase of equipment and construction of hay barns where these are essential for the shift from plastic-baled silage, which can be stored outdoors, to hay, which cannot.

Robert Thornhill, who farms in the Peak District National Park and has created a three-hectare meadow since 2011, says:

The personal benefit is huge. It is a great pleasure to know that we are improving the biodiversity of the land