Blackwater Valley Countryside

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Grasslands

False Oat AramathaMany grasslands in the central part of the Blackwater Valley have escaped agricultural "improvements" of draining, ploughing or pesticide sprays. These traditional grasslands can support a wide range of invertebrates as well as rich plant communities. Such is their present day scarcity all such meadows are important for conservation.

Flowers

At the southern end of the Valley small areas of dry chalk grassland do occur, but the vast majority of the Valley’s grasslands are riverside meadows. Bee OrchidTypical flowers found in these meadows include:

  • Knapweed
  • Yarrow
  • Sneezewort
  • Lesser Stitchwort
  • Ox-eye Daisy
  • Amphibious Bistort
  • Common and Marsh Bird-foot Trefoil

Scarcer plants that can be found include:

  • Bee Orchid
  • Meadow Spotted Orchid
  • Devils-bit Scabious
  • Great Burnet

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Invertebrates

Black & Yellow Longhorn Beetle The flower-rich meadows and pastures support a wide range of invertebrates. For example:

  • Spiders
  • Butterflies (eg Meadow Brown, Small Large & Essex Skippers, Ringlet, Common Blue)
  • Grasshoppers (eg Lesser Marsh Grasshopper, Long-winged Conehead, Roesel's Bushcricket)
  • Hoverflies
  • Bees
  • Beetles (eg Cockchafer, Rose Chafer, Dung Beetle)
  • Moths (Cinnabar, Five-spot Burnet)

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Birds & mammals

The grassland invertebrates in their turn support many birds and mammals. Mice, voles and shrews are still common and are preyed upon by Kestrels and the occasional owl.

Green Woodpeckers can often be seen feeding at ants’ nests.

In winter flocks of Meadow Pipits gather, whilst in the wetter marshy fields Snipe and Mallard can be seen.

At quieter times Roe Deer will venture into the fields to feed. 

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Grassland conservation

Meadow creation schemes

On some sites meadow communities have been restored using native plant seeds. These seed mixes frequently contain a wide range of species including some not naturally occurring in the area or habitat for example:

  • Lady’s Bedstraw
  • Fodder Burnet

To avoid this problem meadow creation schemes in the Valley now only use seed collected locally.

Grazing

Smaller grasslands are mown annually but grazing is generally preferred.

The majority of fields in private ownership are horse grazed.

To add variety to the Valley's grasslands cattle grazing is used where possible on nature reserves using traditional breeds such as Highland and British White. This grazing is often in conjunction with grazing schemes on the internationally important heathlands surrounding the Valley.   

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Grassland sites to visit

  • Hawley Meadows
    A floodplain grassland under restoration.
  • Hollybush Hill
    A colourful sown "native-flower" grassland that supports orchids and butterflies.
  • Lakeside Nature Reserve
    One area of the park features a small meadow which is rich in plant species.
  • Shepherd Meadows
    Part of the Blackwater Valley Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) with good access.



Pictured right: Hollybush Hill