Welcome back to my feature: Month in the Meadow. In this post we will look back at what’s been going on throughout August. This month we have been carrying out a grassland restoration trial project using green hay at Blakehill Farm. The idea is that if you bale hay as soon as it is cut, the seeds remain within the bale and can be transported and used at a different site.

Introduction

Blakehill Farm used to be an RAF base that was instrumental in WWII and the Cold War. Now it is our biggest nature reserve and is a tapestry of hay cut and grazed grassland. Some of the fields at Blakehill have a high potential for restoration towards species rich lowland neutral grassland because the soil is suitably nutrient poor. Four 1ha plots were selected and the intention is to over-sow these fields with either green hay or local herb rich brush harvested seed.

Discover Blakehill's history

The aim is to compare establishment using brush seed mixes and the use of green hay. The areas will be monitored by the Wildlife Trust staff and volunteers before and after establishment. The donor sites will also be surveyed prior to them being brush harvested or green hay taken. This will provide valuable information for future projects. It is intended to use the proposed plots as a demonstration site, for local landowners who wish to carry out similar management.

Stoke Common, another one of our sites and next door to Blakehill, was selected as the donor site. The fields here are already species rich so would make an excellent green hay for transplanting.

Ground preparation

The receptor sites were prepared in summer by cutting for hay, followed by spring tine harrowing to achieve an open sward across each parcel area.

Mowing

The donor site at Stoke Common was mowed using Trust equipment on the morning of the fourth of August.

Mowing

Baling

Starting thirty minutes after the mowing had begun, the cut green hay was baled by a local contractor. Thirty-eight large, round bales were made in total. Twenty of these were transported to the receptor sites and ten were used at each plot. 

Baling

Spreading

Once at the receptor plots the green hay bales were loaded into the Trust’s straw chopper and spread around the entirety of the plot. The three operations were completed within the same day, so that there was minimum time for the hay to heat up in the bale, thus making the seed unviable.

Spreading

Rolling

Due to the high temperatures and heat wave weather of the proceeding two weeks it was decided that the ground was too hard for rolling at the time of spreading. The two receptor plots will be rolled when conditions change, or stock can be used to trample the seed into the ground. This will ensure that the seed has a good contact with bare earth to facilitate germination.

Aftercare

After sowing the plots will be cut or grazed as required, aiming to keep the grass short (three-five centimetres). This can continue through winter and early spring as necessary until April of the following year and then the plots will be left unmanaged until July/August when they will be cut for hay. Aftermath grazing is important because livestock create gaps in the sward and trample in the seed, which helps the introduced species to spread. Careful site management is important to control weeds and allow herbs the chance to germinate.

Next Month

Find out how our brush harvesting is increasing habitat for the marsh fritillary butterfly.