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Dr M’s field day diary #4 – eXtreme flower meadows!

This week Dr M and his MSc students have spent a week of field days, visiting a range of sites and habitats around Reading. Here is the fourth and penultimate post from Dr M’s field day diary:

Day 4: Visit to Clattinger Farm, an ecological and botanical time capsule in rural Wiltshire and a glorious jewel in the crown of the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and one of the celebrated Coronation meadows.

Centuries of sympathetic farming methods (one annual hay cut with aftermath cattle grazing) have kept these fields free from the ravages of artificial fertilisers and herbicides and free from excessive drainage and ploughing.

The combination of thin, nutrient-poor soils and different levels of flooding has resulted in a range of species-rich and spectacularly beautiful flower meadows. The richest are extremely rich indeed, according to Stephen Davis (Head of Conservation policy at WWLT) quite likely the most diverse flower meadows in the whole country.

Dr M’s students spent several hours in one meadow (known as Front Field) focussing on a single 2m x 2m quadrat in which they recorded 38 different plant species!

The Clattinger meadows are mown and grazed, but they also flood to differing degrees. Regularly flooded meadows (those lower-lying and close to the river) include more species tolerant of flooding, while meadows less often flooded feature species intolerant of flooding, and meadows in between have a bit (or a lot!) of both!

nvc vol3_v_Variation_1

In terms of British plant communities the student meadow fits the so-called MG4 Alopecurus pratensisSanguisorba officinalis grassland and typical “constant” species include:

Sanguisorba officinalis (Great Burnet)
Rumex acetosa (Common Sorrel)
Lathyrus pratensis (Meadow Vetchling)
Festuca rubra (Red Fescue)
Ranunculus acris (Meadow Buttercup)

Recent work, commissioned by the Floodplain Meadows Partnership, has analysed around 2500 quadrats from all the known MG4 meadows throughout southern England and has identified new variation in the community and has proposed four different sub-communities.

The floristic variation in the community relates to gradients of nutrient richness and of flooding frequency. The most diverse meadows are those with nutrient poor soils which are infrequently flooded and the most species poor meadows have the most nutrient rich soils and are the most frequently flooded.

It seems regular flooding raises the nutrient levels (from silt deposition) and restricts the range of species to those tolerant of flooding (e.g. Filipendula ulmaria (Meadowsweet), and excludes the less flood tolerant species (e.g. Briza media (Quaking-grass).

With nearly 40 species in a 2m x 2m quadrat, The student quadrat was clearly an example of a species-rich meadow and fits the Dactylis glomerata (Cock’s-foot) sub-community – the richest meadow type associated with thin soils and less frequent flooding.

The full list of species that Dr M‘s students found in this quadrat is as follows:

Achillea ptarmica (Sneezewort)
Agrostis stolonifera (Creeping Bent)
Ajuga reptans (Bugle)
Anthoxanthum odoratum (Sweet Vernal-grass)
Briza media (Quaking-grass)
Carex flacca (Glaucous Sedge)
Carex panicea (Carnation Sedge)
Carex pulicaris (Flea Sedge)
Centaurea nigra (Common Knapweed)
Cynosurus cristatus (Crested Dog’s-tail)
Dactylorhiza fuchsii (Common Spotted-orchid)
Danthonia decumbens (Heath-grass)
Deschampsia cespitosa (Tufted Hair-grass)
Festuca rubra (Red Fescue)
Filipendula vulgaris (Dropwort)
Galium verum (Lady’s Bedstraw)
Holcus lanatus (Yorkshire-fog)
Leontodon hispidus (Rough Hawkbit)
Leucanthemum vulgare (Oxeye Daisy)
Lotus corniculatus (Common Bird’s-foot-trefoil)
Lythrum salicaria (Purple-loosestrife)
Mentha cf. arvensis (Corn Mint)
Ophioglossum vulgatum (Adder’s-tongue)
Phleum pratense (Timothy)
Plantago lanceolata (Ribwort Plantain)
Potentilla reptans (Creeping Cinquefoil)
Primula veris (Cowslip)
Ranunculus acris (Meadow Buttercup)
Ranunculus repens (Creeping Buttercup)
Rhinanthus minor (Yellow-rattle)
Sanguisorba officinalis (Great Burnet)
Schedonorus arundinaceus (Tall Fescue)
Schedonorus pratensis (Meadow Fescue)
Silaum silaus (Pepper-saxifrage)
Trifolium pratense (Red Clover)
Valeriana dioica (Marsh Valerian)
Vicia cracca (Tufted Vetch)