Building a meadow on the cheap

‘Building a meadow on the cheap’ is our guest blog today from Dave Pickett, Nature Reserves Manager, for Flanders Moss, Blawhorn Moss & Loch Lomond National Nature Reserves. Today he reflects on the story to create the Flanders Moss NNR car park wildflower meadow

Flanders car park meradow 2

Early 2016 and the car park at Flanders looked awful. After years of having a car park that also functioned as a wetland feature due to poor drainage the budget had finally been secured to put in a proper parking surface. But the budget didn’t go far enough to cover the costs of a planting scheme so though we had a beautifully drained parking area the surroundings looked pretty grim.


Flanders car park meadow 1The car park sits on heavy clay and some of this was used for landscaping. The dry weather that followed set the clay like concrete. None of this sounds very encouraging but on the Stirling NNR team we were keen to develop a wildflower meadow around the car park for a number of reasons:

–          It would be an appropriate welcome to a national nature reserve,

–          Any opportunity to create this type of habitat should be taken to support pollinators, especially in an area of intensively managed agriculture

–          A rich nectar source on the edge of Flanders Moss would give an opportunity to find what interesting invertebrate species might be found on the moss.

–          Flanders is very popular with photographers and an easily accessible wildflower meadow and its inhabitants would give them a different habitat to photograph.

So we had a wide expanse of clay, some willing hands (our volunteers) but only a little budget.

volunteers cutting and raking the meadow

In some ways the clay was a good starting point as being infertile means that it is easier to get wildflowers to establish as the grass growth is less vigorous. We had enough budget to buy a small number of wildflower plugs and these our team of volunteers planted.

Gradually through the first summer a vegetation covering appeared and the harsh edges of the car park softened. But we needed to fill the gaps to get a better covering of wild flowers.

One of the best plants to introduce is yellow rattle. This is semi-parasitic on grasses so restricts their growth leaving spaces for other species to come in the gaps. We were lucky because one of the farmers that owned a bit of Flanders Moss grew organic hay that had plenty of hay rattle in the meadows. So just when the hay rattle was starting to set seed on the farm we went in and sent a day pulling it, putting it into ton sacks and took it back to spread across the meadow.

yellow rattle harvesting

The next year this free seed source gave rise to a good scatterings of yellow rattle on the meadow. To add to this that autumn we collected seed from two  local wildflower species  — common knapweed and meadow vetchling.

Both these flowers have large obvious seed heads and pods so we picked a bucket full of each and took it back to the office. There I laid the seeds out on the office floor on trays to dry out so that they would keep better.  Each morning I came in to find the trays and seeds disturbed and knocked about. I was busy blaming the cleaners for not taking care until a few weeks later found mass of seed pods and seed coverings in a plug well under my desk. It would appear that the office mouse had thought Christmas had come early and had tucked in, a nice thought to have a bit of wildlife inside our hyper-corporate office in a Stirling business park!

Even with a reduced seed stock that winter we took a rake to the meadow surface to scarify the surface and the scattered the seeds across the meadow following up with a bit of stamping in in lieu of a roller.  Though I am sure that we had a low conversion rate from seeds to plants it still proved to be a low cost way of improving the meadow with meadow vetchling and common knapweed plants getting more obvious each year.

Four years in and the meadow is starting to look like a meadow.

There is still plenty of work to do. We have to cut and rake the cuttings each autumn with the help of our volunteers, there is scope of more scattering of collected seeds, the soft rush, docks and creeping thistles need to be kept in check to allow the wildflowers space and I have yet to find someone willing to take on trying to I.D. some of the pollinators using the meadow.

But we always knew this would be a project of slow development, and each spring I look forward to seeing how the meadow looks as the seasons progress. If you visit Flanders in the summer it is well worth spending a little time checking out the wildflowers in the car park before heading out for the joys of the bog.