Wildlife Column: Glorious summer meadows for free

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You really know summer is nigh when ox-eye daisies and other meadow flowers are in profusion, and 2017 is shaping up as a vintage year. Along roads, lane-sides and motorways, the drab and ordinary suddenly burst into a sea of colour.

Some quite common species like ox-eye and tall meadow buttercups dominate, and look splendid. Interestingly, when you observe meadows over the years in the wider countryside, some which were damaged by intensive farming gradually get better if left without fertilizer but still managed by cutting or grazing. The meadow buttercup seems to be a good indicator of the first steps in this change for the better. You can see a similar thing happen along some roadsides such as the main road through Sheffield’s Greenhill, or along Jordanthorpe Parkway. The nearby Bochum Parkway is even better and will soon be showing bee orchids along with common spotted, southern marsh, early marsh and pyramidal orchids.

This is as long as the lawnmowers don’t scalp them first! A few years ago, I suggested to the highways contractors Amey that they could create Sheffield’s biggest wildflower meadow and nature reserve along the roadside here – and even save money. Sadly, they were not interested.

Some of our best local meadows are places like Leighton Road in the Gleadless Valley Local Nature Reserve, or the Woodhouse Washlands Nature Reserve. Nevertheless, probably the best sites are roadside verges along the routes between Sheffield’s western suburbs and the Peak District.

You can even have a wildflower meadow on your lawn.The key is to have the right conditions, low soil nutrients and plenty of sunshine. It doesn’t really matter whether your site is dry or moist. Furthermore, the meadow can be cut tidily until spring and then from around July or August until the winter. However, you have to manage the area carefully from April to June, and to be prepared to have a little untidiness as the flowers finish.

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