Sometimes beauty can be found in the simplest of things. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I know not everyone will agree that a field of dandelions is beautiful but the scene we came across the other evening took my breath away. We took a trip up to a local meadow. I know what you’re thinking, ‘haven’t you just written a post about how you suffer from hay fever and how you and meadows are not a good combination?’ Yes, you’re right but the weather has been so beautiful here with long, warm, balmy evenings that are such a rarity in this country. The last thing I want to do is sit indoors when I could be outside watching the sun set over the Monmouthshire hills.
A couple of miles outside the town of Monmouth is one of Gwent Wildlife Trust’s reserves. Pentwyn Farm was purchased by the Trust in the nineties and since then work has been done to make this a haven for wildlife. Based on a traditional, small farm with a cottage, 13th century barn, stone stiles and dry stone walling separating the fields, it is particularly important for its unimproved hay meadows.
From spring right through into summer the fields are full of beautiful wildflowers, creating a sight that is now rare in the countryside. No chemicals have been used on this land for over 20 years now and they are maintained using traditional methods. In 2009 a flock of Hebridean sheep was introduced to the site to graze the land, an important part of managing this sort of meadow, helping to control the stronger grasses and coarse shrubby growth that, given the opportunity, will out-compete the more delicate grasses and wildflowers. Grazing can also aid seed distribution and ultimately improve the diversity of the meadow, allowing many more species to flourish.
The other evening the fields were rich with meadow buttercups, red clover, ribwort plantain and bird’s foot trefoil. These meadows are particularly important for the species of orchids that now grow here. We managed to see some early purple orchids hidden amongst the grasses. Later in the year you can see ox-eye daisies, eye bright and numerous orchids, including the common twayblade, the green-winged and the common spotted.
As you can imagine, a place like this is the perfect home for wildlife. We were there as the evening bird chorus was under way, birds singing as if their lungs would burst. One bird was so loud, it was incredible that the sound could come from such a tiny creature. The endangered dormouse has established itself amongst the hedgerows and trees feasting on hazelnuts and berries and barn owls swoop over the fields seeking out mice and voles.
Not content with the 40 acres of Pentwyn Farm, Gwent Wildlife recently purchased adjoining farmland of 104 acres. This land had been farmed for dairy production, with a monoculture of rye grass but the ambitious plan is to return it, too to species rich meadows; to plant trees and hedgerows and join up the smaller pockets of old grassland creating wildlife corridors, which are so important for creatures like the dormouse.
This land, known as Wyeswood Common, was the last field we walked through. Wellyman had gone off, saying he’d spotted some ox-eye daisies, they were, in fact, dandelions and a whole field of them, hundreds of them that had gone to seed. In the soft light of the sunset they glistened and their white seed-heads looked like halos. It was quite a spectacular sight, made even more special by the realisation, as we watched and the breeze carried away the seeds, that this moment would be fleeting.
Already there are signs that the Trust’s plans are working, with the semi-parasitic yellow rattle visible in amongst the grass. This plant gains some of its nutrients from the roots of other plants, in this case the strong grasses around it. By weakening these plants, yellow rattle allows other species to establish themselves and is one of the first steps towards bringing diversity back to agricultural land.
I may have paid for it with eyes that puffed up so much I thought I might not be able to see in the morning (I’ve since bought some eye-drops) but this is truly an idyllic place, I just need to remember the tissues next time.