Just 2% of the wildflower meadows that existed in the UK in the 1930s still remain today – that’s a loss of nearly 7.5 million acres and counting. In that time we’ve also lost at least 10 native plant species from our countryside. Plantlife is the organisation that speaks up for our native flora, and with the help of a number of other conservation organisations and £3 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund, they’re about to reverse that trend.
The Save Our Magnificent Meadows project (SOMM) will protect, conserve and restore wildflower meadows and wildlife-rich grasslands across the UK, from the Fermanagh grasslands of Northern Ireland, to the pastures of Scotland and Wales and the traditional meadows of southern England.
These meadows are inextricably linked to our nation’s cultural history, inspiring artists, poets and writers as well as being extremely valuable for wildlife. Just one meadow can contain more that 150 plant species and these plants support a huge web of life including bees, butterflies, moths and other insects that are then food for larger animals like birds and mammals.
Despite this, meadows are now one of the rarest habitats in the UK, a victim of the industrial farming revolution that began during the World Wars. Species-rich, traditionally managed grasslands were ploughed up to make way for the intensive production of high-yielding crops. These monocultures support a very small diversity of life in comparison and so this move was catastrophic for many species.
In recent years it has been recognised that something must be done to conserve these precious habitats and the species that live there, and planting wildflower gardens has become very fashionable – good news for bees! But landscape-scale projects are needed, to support a network of meadows across the country and this is what the SOMM project will hopefully deliver.
Altogether over the next four years 74,000 acres of land in 9 regions will be targeted across the UK for protection and restoration of wildflower meadows and other grasslands. The project also includes a huge community engagement plan. Plantlife and its partners plan to work with 550,000 people, giving advice to landowners, educating the public and school children as well as improving access to wildflower meadows and encouraging people to visit them.
SOMM will be the single biggest contribution to wildflower conservation in recent years in the UK. Nicola Hutchinson from Plantlife said:
“For the conservation of grassland plants and other wildlife this is incredible news. Our aim all along has been to establish a programme and a profile for the ‘Cinderella of the conservation world’. There has never been a grassland programme of this scale or ambition before and it is an amazing opportunity for Plantlife, for the project partners, for all the beneficiaries of the project and for grassland wildlife.”
Drew Bennellick, HLF’s Head of Landscape and Natural Heritage, explains:
“Saving our Magnificent Meadows is brilliant in its simplicity, its partnership approach and its ability to harness the power of hundreds of volunteers. The project will deliver a landscape-scale ecological impact working across 55 sites from Scotland to the West Country. It is projects like this that HLF is so keen to support to ensure we continue to benefit from the free ecosystem services these habitats provide and that they continue to survive for future generations to enjoy.”
You can download and read the SOMM project summary here.
Butterfly photo credit: David Jones