The London Olympics are to open with Danny Boyle’s Isles of Wonder, a scene to celebrate the British countryside, complete with a mini Glastonbury Tor and Festival mosh pits, farmyard animals and, we assume, a few yokels for added interest and authenticity? In all, we will see a reassuring vision of a Britain that survives the cycles of the seasons, the changing climate and all that the digital age has thrown at it.
It’s a sad fact, however, that the flower meadows that form a key feature of that vision are now one of the most threatened habitats in Britain, and the world. Since the 1940s, the majority of UK species rich grassland has been converted to intensively managed farmland, which has dramatically reduced its biodiversity value, or disappeared under urban development.
Traditional meadow grasslands are not only a vitally important habitat for wildlife, supporting a wide range of species, from colourful flowers to butterflies and small mammals. They are also a crucial resource for the bees that pollinate crops, a natural carbon storage facility and, in the Thames and Severn Valleys, a flood relief area. At a less technical level, in full flower at this time of year, they are simply beautiful on all of our senses.
Flower meadows and development
At Landmark we work with our clients, wherever possible, to deliver ecological enhancement with development. Over the years we have established a number of wildflower meadows in this way. Keen gardeners will know, however, that it is not easy to create a wild flower meadow where land has been previously fertilized or is natually nutrient rich. The natural species diversity of wildflower meadows depends on lack of competition with more successful and dominant species of grasses and herbs. For development sites, therefore, it is not an option to simply spread seed and wait for the meadow to flower. For this reason one of our most favoured products is wildflower turf, which we’ve used on numerous schemes, all with great success. The turf comes as a virtually soilless mat which can be rolled up and then simply unrolled onto a prepared substrate. As long as it receives sufficient water when laid and regularly thereafter, it will become a beautiful wildflower meadow within six weeks. Our first meadow created from such turf is now over three years old and has not lost any floristic diversity.
Our Landscape and Ecology teams recently visited our supplier in Hampshire (Wildflower Turf www.wildflower turf.co.uk) to lean more about the product. The turf is produced by spreading a thin layer of pre-seeded compost on plastic sheeting which is then kept moist by boom sprayers. Within a few weeks the turf is ready for sale, although unlike grass turf, there is not 100% sward coverage, and this causes many contractors to query the quality. The turf is, however, best delivered and planted at this sparse stage, ideally in early spring. It can be bought at varying stages of growth and planted over a wide period. It is also possible to supply instant flowering meadows, although these cannot be rolled and are delivered on trolleys. Wildflower Turf have supplied such instant meadows for film sets, including all the Harry Potter movies, and are supplying it for the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics to create our ‘Green and Pleasant land’.
Although Wildflower Turf uses a standard UK provenance seed mix, they have also produced bespoke meadow turf for Landmark. To allow a housing development to proceed without delay, we needed to create instant Great Crested Newt habitat, so we pre-ordered turf sown with a seed mix approved by Natural England for this purpose. The meadows established swiftly and continue to be outstanding, allowing the spread of the newts along the wildlife corridors and maintaining habitat continuity through the developed site. Our meadows will, no doubt, continue to provide benefit and enjoyment long after the Olympics are over.