Wildlife Column: A wild time at Woodhouse Washlands

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A few weeks back, Peter Wolstenholme of Woodhouse sent me photographs of the meadow flowers at Woodhouse Washlands Nature Reserve on the banks of the River Rother between Sheffield and Rotherham.

I thought this image of the created ‘meadow’ by the main access off Furnace Lane might be a timely reminder of the glories of summer now fading as autumn draws ever closer. This is a recently created grassland of mostly annual wildflowers by the Wildlife Trust and just shows how easy it is, and also low cost, to make a dull bit of ‘waste’ ground as we used to call it when I was a child, into an attractive and wildlife-friendly space. There are some provisos if you want to achieve this level of effect and these are mostly bare ground, low nutrient levels in any soil, and plenty of sunlight. In a dull corner of your garden with lots of shade and a rich soil then forget it!

Creating mini-sites like this in a community space

However, given the right conditions then a simple mix of native ox-eye daisies, cornflower, corn marigold, with say lady’s bedstraw and bird’s foot trefoil will quickly provide a real honey-trap for pollinating insects, and of course birds and mammals too. The success of this approach to creative conservation doesn’t lessen the need to protect and manage our remaining wild, native meadows. This is more of a supplement to nature and not a replacement or even a trade-off. Furthermore, creating mini-sites like this in a community space, a school yard, or even your back-garden, helps share and celebrate native flowers and their associated wildlife. For many people, these created habitats may even be the only time they experience some of the formerly commonplace flowers. When Sheffield had a traditional farming economy of meadows and cornfields these would have been the everyday experience of most folk; but swept away by agricultural intensification during the latter twentieth century, they are now rare in the ‘wild’.

So well done to the Wildlife Trust for bringing back a little bit of nature and a bit of summertime joy!

Professor Ian D. Rotherham, of Sheffield Hallam University, researcher, writer and broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues.