Dwindling meadows need cattle fed on wildflowers

Poppies in a wildflower meadow
Species-rich grasslands could provide more nutritional benefits to cattle than conventional pasture.

Sitting in a meadow, picking buttercups – that has disappeared from our landscapes.

Encouraging farmers to change from keeping cattle on conventional agriculturally improved pasture to grazing them on species-rich grassland could help save Britain’s meadows.

According to new research for the Save Our Magnificent Meadows campaign, the nutritional benefits of feeding cattle on wild-flower meadows could far outweigh those of feeding on conventional pasture, Trevor Dines from Plantlife, one of the organisations involved in the campaign, told Resurgence & Ecologist.

Creating consumer demand for cattle fed this way would make it more financially viable for farmers to manage wild-flower meadows, and so protect them, Dines said.

More than 97 percent of wildflower meadows have disappeared in Britain since the 1930s, and this has in turn affected valuable insect populations.

Need for balance

With so few wild-flower meadows still around, people have lost touch with what it’s like to experience one, Dines said. “Sitting in a meadow, picking buttercups – that has disappeared from our landscapes,” he continued. “There’s nowhere else that’s as thrilling as a wild-flower meadow.”

To encourage interest in preserving wild-flower meadows, Plantlife organises the annual National Meadows Day, being held this year on 7 July. There will be bug hunts, butterfly identification, and the chance to run through a meadow “all senses firing”, as Dines puts it.

In the past, traditional meadows were allowed to grow from January to the beginning of August and were then cut for hay. This was followed by bare-field grazing livestock in September and October. Today’s highly managed farming techniques – silage fields are harvested two or three times a year – do not allow enough time for wild flowers to grow.

“Meadows get overlooked in the rewilding debate,” Dines said. “We’ve got fixations with woodland, but we need more balance because they do different things for different species.”

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Marianne Brown is Deputy Editor of Resurgence & Ecologist magazine. She tweets at @brownmariannes. This article first appeared in the latest issue of Resurgence & Ecologist magazine

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