Putting Fermanagh's meadows back on the map

Six spot burnet moth on self-heal (c) J AmiesSix spot burnet moth on self-heal (c) J Amies
Six spot burnet moth on self-heal (c) J Amies
This year's National Meadows Day is promising to be the biggest yet, with up to 100 events taking place across England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales in celebration of ancient wildflower meadows and their wildlife.

From hands-on experience with a seed fiddle, to moth trapping, bug hunts and flower identification, here in Northern Ireland people will have the opportunity to experience first-hand the wonder of a flower-rich meadow on their doorstep.

Project Manager Claire Parton from Plantlife says: “National Meadows Day, brilliantly supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), is about putting local meadows on the map. We are familiar with our local woodland but for many, meadows are more mysterious - in their full glory for only a few months of the year and more familiar from television or magazines. They are spectacular landscapes to be in and we hope the events going on across Fermanagh and Tyrone, supported by Ulster Wildlife, will act as a catalyst to raise awareness of this increasingly rare and fragile part of our natural heritage.”

From 10am to 1pm on Saturday 2 July, wildlife experts from Ulster Wildlife and the Geopark are inviting everyone to explore one of Fermanagh’s finest meadows - the ‘Wildflower Knoll’ –immediately adjacent to the Marble Arch Caves building on the Marlbank Scenic Loop.

Find out how this glorious hay meadow is being managed and restored for the benefit of both wildlife and people. Families will enjoy searching for bugs and butterflies amongst a blaze of increasingly scarce wildflowers. Moth traps will also be set to uncover the meadow’s mysterious night life, along with pitfall and slam traps.

You could combine the day with a trip into the caves themselves, by simply stopping by once booked, or after your subterranean expedition?

For more information, contact the Geopark on 028 6634 8855, or call Giles Knight, Conservation Officer with Ulster Wildlife on 07703 673220.

Why do meadows matter so much?

Just 100 years ago there would have been meadows in every townland, supporting a way of life that had gone on for centuries. They provided grazing and hay for livestock, employment, and food and medicine for the parish and were part of a community’s cultural and social history.

A healthy Irish meadow can be home to over 150 species of wild plants and flowers, such as the pale cuckoo flower, yellow hay rattle, pink orchids, (purple) knapweed and blue button, compared to modern grassland which supports less than ten species. In turn, these wild flowers support other meadow wildlife. Bird’s-foot trefoil alone is a food plant for over 150 species of insect, which in turn support birds such as skylarks and lapwings.

No two meadows are alike...

This region is lucky enough still to support limestone grasslands, lowland wet grasslands and even traditionally managed hay meadows – they all have their own characteristic flowers. But this patchwork blanket of colour and character is now starting to look threadbare...

Just 3% of the meadows that existed in the 1930’s remain – that’s a loss of 7.5 million acres of wild flower grassland. Only 26,000 acres of classic lowland meadows found across England and Wales are left - just 20% the area of the New Forest National Park. In Scotland, there is little lowland semi-natural grassland left... Many iconic meadow species such as ragged robin, harebell and field scabious are now on a watch list. In Northern Ireland, blue eyed grass has become almost mystical, so rarely is it encountered anymore.

Put simply, the decline of meadows and species-rich grasslands says Plantlife’s Dr Trevor Dines, is one of the biggest upsets in the history of UK nature conservation, “If 97% of our woodland was destroyed there’d be a national outcry. But meadows have disappeared from our lives gradually and quietly. Without the roar of chainsaws or the sound of mighty oaks crashing to the ground, a meadow can be ploughed up, unnoticed, in an afternoon.”

National Meadows Day is just one part of Save Our Magnificent Meadows, a UK-wide partnership project, supported thanks to National Lottery players. It’s the UK’s largest partnership project transforming the fortunes of our vanishing wildflower meadows, grasslands and wildlife, led by Plantlife and local partners, including Ulster Wildlife, and is primarily funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) with support from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency in Northern Ireland.

The project is bringing meadows back to life, with the restoration of over 14,000 acres of wildflower meadows across the UK. Working with landowners, volunteers, farmers and trainees nearly 47,000 people have been actively engaged with the project to date. After years of seemingly terminal decline, species rich restoration has been trialed, demonstrated and implemented across 20 ha of land in Fermanagh and Tyrone, and in a range of grassland settings.

The Magnificent Meadows partnership would love to hear your experiences of National Meadows Day on social media. What is your favourite local meadow or meadow flower? #meadowsday, and share your love of your local meadows on Twitter or Facebook (search magnificent meadows). For more information about the events taking place on National Meadows Day, please visit www.magnificentmeadows.org.uk.