12 facts you (probably) didn't know about wildflower meadows

The UK has lost 97 per cent of its meadow habitat since the 1940s. Discover more about this beautiful habitat, thanks to Plantlife.

Orchids are commonly found in wildflower meadows

Orchids are commonly found in wildflower meadows © National Trust / David Dales


1. The earliest evidence for haymaking in Britain comes from 2nd century Gloucestershire, where excavated pits near Lechlade have revealed cut stems of grasses, pods of vetches and pollen grains of oxeye daisy and yellow rattle.

2. The oldest documented meadow was a field called Waun Henllan (meaning ‘Old Church Meadow’ or ‘Old Enclosed Meadow’) near the village of Llandybie in Carmarthenshire.  Records indicate this may have been a meadow for over 1200 years, but the latest Google Maps images suggest this field has recently been ploughed and re-seeded.

3. The 2016 British Scythe Champion, Kevin Austin, completed his 5 x 5 metre square cut of hay in 1 minute 42 seconds. Andi Rickard, the Ladies Champion, wasn’t far behind at 2 minutes 3 seconds.

The traditional method of scything is still used in some wildflower meadows © Giles Knight


4. The word ‘meadow’ comes from the Old English word mǣdwe which is derived from Proto-Germanic ‘mēdwō’ meaning to ‘to mow’.

Field scabious is a common wildflower species in meadows © Andrew Gagg / Plantlife 


5. Haymaking usually brought the whole community together and, when muscular young men and beautiful maidens made hay under the hot sun, one thing naturally led to another. Albrecht Altdorfer’s ‘Lovers in a hayfield’ (1508) might be fully clothed, but they clearly weren’t entirely focused on making hay.

6. Bird’s-foot-trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) is one of our commonest meadow flowers and provides sustenance for more invertebrates than any other herb in Britain; 160 species are known to feed on it.

Common bird's-foot-trefoil is a foodplant for over 160 invertebrates © Trevor Dines / Plantlife 


7. The long-horned bee (Eucera longicornis) is one of our largest solitary bees but has antennae that can be as long as its body. It needs large areas of meadow rich in legumes such as vetches, clovers and trefoils to survive and has declined severely as these have been lost.

Long-horned bees rely on large areas of meadow © Will Hawkes


8. In the past, Welsh farms often kept a wildflower-rich field called a ‘Cae Ysbyty’ or ‘hospital field’. Sick or recuperating animals were grazed in the field as the mixture of herbs would aid their recovery.

Tarsit Burn in Northumberland © Naomi Waite / Plantlife


9. Over 20 species of orchid grow in British meadows. Contrary to common belief, some orchids can flower in as little as three years from seed and, once mature, will usually flower every year.

Orchids are commonly found in wildflower meadows © National Trust / David Dales


10. Meadows are made of grass. About 30 or so British grasses occur in meadows, but the grass family is one of the largest in the world, with over 12,000 species including giants such as bamboos, all our major grain crops (like wheat and rice), and sugar cane.

11. A new celebration day has been created in honour of our meadows and grasslands, National Meadows Day falls on the first Saturday of July and was started up by the Save Our Magnificent Meadows Project in 2015.

School children in a meadow © David Rolfe


12. Many a common day phrase take their origin from grasslands..."off to pastures new" and "chalk and cheese".

Wildflower meadows are often rich in invertebrate diversity © Julia Amies-Green

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