By Fran Southgate
As far as the eye can see, volunteers are industriously fetching, carrying, digging and sowing. You could be forgiven for thinking that it was the middle of summer the way the sun is shining and the warmth is seeping into your skin. In fact it’s mid-October, and the weather is a welcome help for finishing the job of making meadows.
It’s the culmination of more than a year’s work, starting with the first volunteer harvesting seeds by hand at the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust last summer. These lovingly collected seeds were health checked and grown by Wakehurst Place into a massive 4,000 wildflower plugs, which are now being planted by hand as part of a large, flower rich meadow and fen restoration project at Bignor Park. We’ve also spread green hay, cut and harvested on site, and local Sussex meadow seed from the Weald Meadows Partnership. It feels reminiscent of ye olde traditional farming days, as we walk in lines with buckets throwing seeds in showering handfuls across the land.
Flower-rich meadows have declined by over 97 % since the 1930s, and flower-rich wetland is even rarer. Ancient meadows are part of our traditional farming heritage, as well as being wonderful places to kick your shoes off and have a snooze amongst the nodding flowers in summer. Meadows are good for many things, not least bees, and many other insects without whom none of our food (or other) plants would get pollinated. Most of the flowers that we planted such as self-heal and fleabane are also medicinal for the livestock in some way, helping the organic farmers cattle to use local plants to ‘self medicate’ various ailments without the need for chemicals and medicines.
These meadows are being restored as part of the Arun & Rother Connections (ARC) Project, using Heritage Lottery Funding. The ARC project helps people to improve their local environment at a large scale, and to get directly involved in doing so. It’s part of what we hope is the creation of a healthier and more connected environment for people as well as wildlife, and as we all get mud on our boots and sun on our faces, you can feel that deep, un-spoken connection consolidating between us.
Fantastically, in three days, we get over 4,000 plants and 16 kilos of seed into the ground. I can’t thank the Phoenix House, Recovery through Nature project, and the South Downs National Park volunteers enough. Without them, we would not have managed to restore flowering meadows and fens back to over 20 hectares of Wes Sussex. A legacy which I hope will last for many years, and which will provide an organic local seed source for many other meadows in the local area in the future.