2013-08-19  facebook twitter rss

AONB Partnership Teams Up with Contractor-Inventor to Help Restore Rare Meadows

Steep banks along the edges of North Pennines hay meadows are some of the best places to find the wild flowers which were once abundant across our landscape.

Through its new Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) supported project, Nectarworks, the North Pennines AONB Partnership is now on a mission to harvest the seed from these places so that the flowers can be re-introduced to nearby hay meadows.

Melancholy bank Valance Lodge

Melancholy bank at Valance Lodge in Teesdale

But as the name suggests, these banks are steep and gathering the seed from them is not easy. Fortunately the AONB Partnership has some valuable allies in its mission – Niels and Tom Kristensen – a father and son team of agricultural contractors who for the purposes of this task have turned their hand to invention.

Tom has designed and built a special machine that can harvest and remove the vegetation from the flower-rich banks. Taking the precious flower seeds with it, the cut vegetation is then transported and spread on the meadow where the team wish to re-introduce the flowers.

The AONB Partnership has been working closely with the Kristensens to harvest and spread hay meadow seed since 2007. However, in all this time only flat, easy-to-access meadows have been worked on. Harvesting seed from steep banks has offered a new challenge but also a great opportunity as these places support an abundance of plants like wood crane’s-bill, knapweed and devil’s-bit scabious.

Ruth Surveying banks

Ruth surveying banks

Ruth Starr-Keddle, the AONB Partnership’s Nectarworks Project Officer said “I have spent several weeks surveying the banks this summer. They are wonderful places, packed with fantastic plants like melancholy thistle and globeflower. If we can help to spread species like these back into the meadows not only will they look great but they’ll provide a wonderful source of food for bumblebees and other nectar-feeders.”

Tom Kristensen, who designed and built the special equipment, said “It has been a challenge to build a machine that would cut the vegetation and still be stable in these awkward places. I’m not aware of any other machine like this one so it’s a case of a rare machine working to conserve a rare habitat!”

Northumbrian Water’s Conservation Team Leader, Stuart Pudney, said: “We are really excited at the opportunity to be involved with and support this project as the aims of Nectarworks are a perfect match to the objectives of our ‘Branch out’ fund, which is all about reconnecting communities with the environment and to promote connected landscapes to improve resilience of wildlife and adaptation to climate change.

Flower-rich grassland has declined by 98% over the past 70 years and as the flowers have disappeared so have many of the creatures that depend on them, in particular bumblebees and other nectar-feeders. Through Nectarworks, the AONB Partnership aims to restore and strengthen the network of flower-rich nectar-sources across the North Pennines by managing and expanding the best examples of rare flower-rich grassland and the pro-active involvement of local communities.

Ruth added “we will only be able to use seed from these special banks to enhance other places if the farmers and smallholders who own and manage them are willing to work with us. One of my priorities over the coming months and years is to talk to farmers about how they manage their banks now and how they were managed in the past. So far I have received a warm welcome which is wonderful as the future of these important places very much lies in their hands.”

Ruth, Tom and Niels will be using the new machinery to harvest flower-rich seed from banks at seven sites across the North Pennines during August. Further harvesting schemes will be planned over the coming three years.

North Pennines

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