Work to make Cheshire's meadows bloom again gets under way

Collecting seed at Dane in Shaw Pasture

Cheshire Wildlife Trust has embarked upon an ambitious wildflower meadow restoration project to help make the county bloom.

The conservation charity has taken the first steps towards restoring its Swettenham Meadows nature reserve in Congleton as part of the national Coronation Meadows project.

Launched by HRH The Prince of Wales in 2013, the Coronation Meadow's Project's aim is to create at least one new wildflower-rich meadow in every county. This imaginative nationwide project is being generously funded by Biffa Award over three years.

Once the colourful mantle of our green and pleasant land, more than 97% of wildflower meadows have been lost in the past 75 years. Coronation Meadows are rare, surviving fragments of these flower-rich grasslands. Over 80% of the meadows can trace an undisturbed history back to before the Second World War and many boast quite astonishing displays of wildflowers – orchids, cowslips, buttercups and oxeye daisies in their thousands – as well as all the other wildlife they support.

Cheshire’s Coronation Meadow, Dane in Shaw Pasture, is owned by Cheshire East Council and is one of the few remaining unimproved grasslands in the county. The abundance of wildflowers that the site supports is truly astonishing, especially its population of common spotted orchid. This high-value meadow has now become a donor site whose seeds can be harvested and used to restore other suitable locations.

Earlier this year almost a third of the nine-hectare Swettenham Meadows reserve was identified as one of two locations in the Dane Valley suitable for the first donation from Cheshire's Coronation Meadow. Joe Pimblett, Conservation Officer, has had a busy time getting the area - which is equivalent to almost six football pitches - ready for its first donation of wildflower seed.

He explains: "Firstly we removed excess grass and weeds from the field to stop species like ragwort and creeping thistle from overwhelming some of the more delicate wildflower species we're hoping to establish such as yellow rattle and birdsfoot trefoil. Then we harrowed the field to ensure it was in good condition for the new seeds to germinate. We had to wait for a dry spell to harvest a crop from Dane in Shaw Pasture but once we got that break in the weather we cut and chopped the green hay, which was absolutely packed with wildflower seeds, and then spread them onto Swettenham Meadows.

"Next spring we'll be calling on our volunteers to help us plant the meadow with 2,500 supplementary plant plugs which we've grown from a crop of early and late flowering seed that we took last year in preparation for the project."

The Coronation Meadow project has also been a catalyst for a wider meadow restoration initiative at the Trust, and Joe has recently launched the Pollinating Cheshire scheme.

He said: "The restoration of two meadows in the Dane Valley is hugely significant but there is more to do if we want to halt the severe declines we are seeing in some of our grassland invertebrates, particularly some of our much loved and vitally important pollinators such as bees and butterflies that live in our meadows.

"Thanks to our corporate member Befesa we have been able to buy a seed harvester which we can use to carry out further grassland restoration projects on our own reserves and carry out as a service to private landowners.

"These are long-term projects but we're hopeful that by restoring and creating more meadows Cheshire will blooming with wildflowers and buzzing with pollinators again."