Meadow Farm reserve is part of the Upper Ray Meadows, a network of wet meadows south of Bicester, and is only open to groups booked in advance. It was acquired by BBOWT four years ago, as it had been recognised as a prime example of unimproved, flood-plain grassland which had not been ‘cultivated’ in living memory. The river Ray runs through the site, currently reduced to a small trickle, but source of regular winter flooding to the extent that a bird survey this spring had to be abandoned as the water was too deep to wade through. This was hard to imagine on such a gloriously dry, hot, sunny evening!
The diversity of key wet meadow species was immediately obvious when we started our walk around the meadows. At first glance, we were met with a sea of Great Burnet, but a few steps in and many other species were to be seen, such as Fine-leaved and Tubular Water-Dropwort, Pepper Saxifrage, Yellow Rattle, Meadow Vetchling, Knapweed and Tufted Vetch, plus grasses such as Crested Dogstail and Meadow Foxtail. A patch of the rare True Fox Sedge was the botanical highlight of the evening! As we walked through the meadows, the contrast between the diversity on the ridges and smaller range of plants in the furrows became more obvious. The ridge and furrow system here is thought to date back to the 1600s.
Our BBOWT guides for the evening, Marcus and Graham, pointed out the plants and explained how small an area of wet meadows now remain in the UK and the significance of the Upper Ray complex. They also explained the management of the Meadows to maintain this diversity of flora and highlighted the contrast with a couple of fields acquired from a neighbouring farmer more recently where the diversity was low and the dominant plants were thistle and docks. They explained how they were attempting to remove the thistles and increase the diversity, but this was likely to take more than 10 years. Four days of thistle pulling by up to 12 volunteers a day had removed 16 one ton sacks of thistle, but made such a small impression that they were going to have to resort to selective herbicide in future!
We couldn’t have anticipated the heatwave when the evening was planned, but it meant that there were far more butterflies and other insects flying than is often the case on our Tuesday evening walks, even after 9pm. The hedges around the meadows are being managed for Black and Brown Hairstreaks, both of which have been found here. We searched hard for any lingering Black Hairstreaks without success, but the numbers of Meadow Browns, Ringlets, Marbled Whites and Skippers was impressive. We rounded off a very enjoyable evening with refreshments at the farmhouse which now serves as a BBOWT base for the area watching the full moon rising in one direction and a beautiful sunset in the other!.
Trip report by Linda Murphy