July Flowers

Meadowsweet by Margaret Erskine Wilson

July is the prime time for British wildflowers. It is the longest section in Margaret Erskine Wilson’s book Wildflowers of Britain Month by Month. Down by the river new flowers are taking centre stage: up steps yarrow, meadowsweet and dittander. It’s also probably why National Meadows Day usually takes place around now, and this year it was on Saturday. To mark the occasion we went along to a meadows festival hosted by a local farm whose main income comes from producing wildflower seeds.

In the 90s the farm converted from dairy to hay meadows and in 2009/10 they received a commendation from the Most Beautiful Farm Awards which rewards the combination of conservation, sustainability, and profitability in farming. Farming is a tough job anyway but currently farmers seem to be pulled in every direction. The drive to increase production ad infinitum is at odds with the long term health of the land. Oh, and they have to earn a living too. In Devon, the little family farms are just not big enough to provide a living for one farming family and many are being joined together. One farmer near us works across 13 farms. But at Goren they’re trying to buck the trend and the result is a very wonderful place to be.

We pitched our tent in the orchard with the other festival-goers and wandered down into the meadows. Meadows are a man-made feature of the landscape, the result of generations of plants and humans adapting to each other’s activity. As a result many niche species can only survive in this habitat and are becoming increasingly rare as meadows disappear from our farming landscape. The Wildlife Trusts estimate that 95% of lowland meadows have been lost since the Second World War. Goren is a spectacular sight, fields of wildflowers as far as the eye can see, alive with the hum of insect and bird life. The kids had an absolute ball climbing hay bales, swinging from trees, running along grassy paths amongst the wildflowers, and foot-stomping to some great live music. We sampled some of the farm’s own cider, and their Ruby Red Devon beef. As the sun set we snuggled into our blankets beneath a big old lime tree to listen to a wonderful storyteller regale us with tales from around the world. It was really magical. And back at the tent, despite Wren thinking bed-time was more like party-time, and Little Owl’s hundreds of trips out for a wee, we did actually get some sleep!

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