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Sunday, 7 June 2015

In the hay meadows

For many years until 1997, the two hayfields at Cwmllwyd had been managed quite intensively, so that the larger field (of three acres) produced 299 small bales in '97; that is to say, 100 bales per acre. This was achieved by planting the fields with Italian rye grass and treating annually with nitrate fertiliser, as well as manure from livestock.

On moving to Cwmllwyd we chose to manage the land less intensively, so for 18 years there have been no chemical inputs used on the holding to promote such high levels of growth. Furthermore, stocking levels have been considerably reduced - there have never been more than 24 ewes (with lambs in the early days) in ten acres of grazing. The hay meadows are grazed each year until late May, when the fields are shut until haymaking - usually in August. It takes all summer to make hay on the mountain! The result of this management style is that it is now very difficult to find any rye grass at all in the smaller of the two fields and not a great deal in the larger one, either. Productivity has been reduced to less than 50% in terms of the number of bales made each year. Both fields are vastly more floristically diverse than before, particularly the smaller meadow. As you would expect, there's masses of Yellow Rattle and Eyebright and now Red Bartsia is showing, too. These are what's seen off the rye grass, I believe. There's a wonderful scent, as well, from Sweet Vernal Grass, which shares the field with Meadow Foxtail, Yorkshire Fog, Crested Dog's Tail and other grasses.

One outcome of all of this is the enhancement of the holding for wildlife: three days ago I saw a Green Hairstreak butterfly in the small hay meadow and today managed to net a Small Yellow Underwing (last seen here on 5 June 2010). A very pleasing result and evidence, I think, that doing nothing is a vastly underrated management technique which could and should be applied more widely for the benefit of wildlife!

Small Yellow Underwing.


  1. I wish that there were many more like you Steve - and the countryside would be a far richer place. All I see is the opposite - increasing intensification (or sometimes reversion to secondary woodland). An urban parallel is what I saw this afternoon, in a tiny (30ft x 15ft) garden in a highly urbanised part of Llanelli. A sympathetic planting of various plants attracted Pyrausta purpuralis, speckled wood, and three species of bumblebee. Most neighbouring gardens have been concreted over. Keep up the good work at Cwmllwyd (and a nice photo too!).

  2. Thank you very much for your kind comments, Ian; much appreciated.

  3. Excellent! Exactly what we do Steve with our 60 or so acres of meadows! Recently we have had several Small Yellow Underwing in two of the fields, lots of the more common Carpets and Grass Rivulet and thousands of micros (and other insects). Just take care if you have any bracken, bramble, dock, nettle --- though as if you don't manage this it can take over! I spend a lot of time managing these species - leaving just enough for the species that need these plants!