In early 2021, the team at Manor House Farm in Great Shefford a wildflower strip between the River Lambourn and the footpath in the meadow leading up to Great Shefford church from East Garston. It’s gorgeous and packed with bees, butterflies and pollinators and even has two pairs of admiring barn owls. There are also egrets, heron, nightingales, cuckoos and stoats in the meadow.
Manor House Farm gardener George Dolling reports that, in order to increase the biodiversity of the area, they ploughed the one-acre strip in February 2021 to open up the ground for annual wildflowers. These are less common these days as farmers use herbicides to remove them from their crops. George planted the strip with a mix of Charles Flower annuals and biannuals including field poppies, cornflowers, common vetch, yellow rattle, corn cockle, corn marigold, corn chamomile (the flowers that look like a big daisy) and borage.
The strip will be ploughed again in the future as the ground needs turning to increase oxygen and sunlight for wildflower germination. However, this will only happen every other year to give the biennials a chance to flower. Historically, wildflowers evolved where ground was turned by livestock or wild boar. This is why they succeeded in ploughed agricultural fields before herbicides were introduced.
The larger section of the meadow on the road side of the footpath is for perennials with a mix of yellow rattle: this is half parasitic and takes some of its energy from the grass around, so weakening the grass to make room more aesthetic ‘extremeophile’ wildflowers. Most hay meadow wildflowers are extremophiles because they cope well with the comparitively extreme conditions created by the continual removal of nutrients from the soil in the form of the annual hay cut. Thus they survive and thrive because the competition from ‘gross feeders’ like nettles and course grasses is removed by harvesting the hay year after year. This is why the best wildflower meadows tend to by those that have been managed in this way for hundreds of years.
The sheep in the water meadow are there to control the grass and they will also be moved onto the top meadow after it is cut for hay in late July or early August.
George also has a couple of hives of native bees which he keeps not so much for their honey but to contribute to the bio diversty of the area and to aid pollination.