Unbelievably, I am over halfway through my traineeship with the High Weald AONB Team! I wanted to provide an insight into the life of a Meadow Makers Trainee, so I've decided to write a blog about my experience...
After Plantlife’s successful bid to the Green Recovery Challenge Fund, six Meadow Makers Trainees across the country were appointed as part of the wider Meadow Makers project – and I am extremely grateful to be one of them! Alongside supporting conservation careers, the project aims to engage landowners and form networks of people passionate about creating, rejuvenating and expanding meadow habitats.
I was drawn to the Meadow Makers Trainee role as both my studies in Archaeology and Conservation Project Management furthered my interests in the historical relationships between people and their surrounding natural landscapes. I’ve always been interested in how we interact with the ‘wild’.
I very quickly realised how much there was to learn; all the quirks and intricate details which affect the way a meadow is managed. It was also fascinating to me how incredibly varied species composition is across the country and specifically, how a High Weald meadow should look.
Having been very fortunate to have worked with so many dimensions of the High Weald AONB unit, I have dipped in and out of various experiences; here are some of my highlights so far.
The High Weald AONB Team
The High Weald AONB Team have been so welcoming and so willing to share their expertise. Therefore, my first highlight is the team of people that I’ve been able to work with. It’s been a great experience just being able to shadow so many members of the team, who are all clearly very good at what they do. Like a typical intern, I fastidiously scribble down everything I can in my notepad to try and absorb as much knowledge as possible.
Another bonus is how beautiful the office building itself is; an airy, contemporary timber building nestled into mixed woodland. One day we even had a male roe deer ‘barking’ at us from the woods through the open door of the office, which suddenly didn’t feel like an office at all!
Following the meadow life cycle
Alongside having a new great place to work, starting my traineeship in April I have witnessed the succession of meadow plants over the season. Closely following the meadow life cycle, you see first-hand the effects of fluctuating weather patterns. As grasses need a minimum and constant temperature of 5 degrees, the prolonged colder weather meant the grass was not growing as early and as quickly as the previous year. However, once the warmer did finally arrive, it was fantastic to be out and about and seeing the burst of growth.
Working with the High Weald landscape Advisors on the Meadow Makers project sites, Springham and Westdown farm, I have been able to see two sites right at the start of their meadow management journey.
In order to monitor changes and development, a number of baseline surveys were implemented and I got to help out on a few. At specific grid reference points, photos are taken facing north, east, south and west and one extra looking straight down to record the sward. This is known as fixed-point photography and is a very easy method of capturing the stages of development over a long period of time.
I’ve also had the privilege of regularly visiting Wakehurst Gardens Kew and work with their meadows work. Going in the early Spring, the grass was modest and belied the spectacular display of wildflowers which would appear over the following weeks.
A real highlight at Wakehurst was being able to work with the volunteers from the River Ouse projects with some vegetation surveys. This involves studying the vegetation within a set square area: a quadrat. I’m still reeling from the botanical expertise and how the Latin names just rolled off the tongues for these volunteers.
Soil and regenerative agriculture
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt and truly come to appreciate is that soil is cool. Soil is cool and extremely important for the health of our planet and for everything that lives on it. One of my favourite facts which I love to whip out in any social situation is: “There are more soil microorganisms in the form of fungi, bacteria, and soil microbes living in a teaspoon of healthy soil than there are people on the earth.” It’s incredible to think of all the secret lives and hidden processes happening underneath our feet.
Through doing soil sampling and worm counts, you really start to notice the difference between soil types and conditions. The more that soil resembles a ‘chocolate cake’ type consistency, the better.
A major aspect of soil health is now the growing regenerative farming movement. I was instantly taken by the concept of soil health being at the forefront of progressive agriculture. Joining farm visits I’ve been learning the farm lingo. It’s been great to meet so many landowners and High Weald partners that share the same values and who are passionate about maximising the ecological health of their land.
If you’d like to read some more on regenerative agriculture, you can find an excellent break down of the concepts and drivers behind it here.
Meadows in the wider landscape
Another of my highlights is the day I got to help construct and put up barn owl boxes.
Having spent much of my time looking down amongst the grasses, flowers and insect species that are so integral to meadow ecosystems, this was a chance to look at the bigger picture. Barn owls rely on open grasslands for hunting and can often be found in farming areas, where farm buildings provide nesting opportunities. Managed well, meadows support a huge amount biodiversity which relies on the food chain remaining intact.
This was one of 40 barn owl boxes to be installed across farms in the Upper Rother and Dudwell farm cluster area. Funded by the Sussex Lund grant programme, the project aim is to improve habitat availability and create a network of barn owl habitats every 2km. Installed in meadows and rough pasture, the boxes are perfectly situated in great hunting areas, encouraging a healthy population of a key meadow species.
Overall, the traineeship has provided so many lessons in the way meadows play a crucial part of a wider ecosystem, making up the fascinating and rich mosaic of habitats found in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
There's far too much to fit into one blog post, so stay tuned for Part 2!
Wildflower meadow guidance