‘Nearly all of them have been lost,’ I was told at a talk by a lecturer from Wolverhampton University. It was called ‘Understanding Hay Meadows’. We have two hay meadows – Oak Meadow and Goose Bottom and they are full of wildflowers, the ones I remember from my childhood. I also heard about research and groups trying to preserve and regrow these meadows.

At the talk I learnt that since 1945 we have lost 97% of our traditional hay meadows. Does it matter? Well, it means that we have also lost a great number of our creatures and insects. It began to happen quickly in the war. My father, who was a farmer, told me that in the last war the government encouraged farmers to plough their traditional grass fields and plant them with crops, so that we could be more independent as a country. And that is what he and his brother did.

Meadows called, Far Side, Half Moon and Cabin were ploughed and planted with crops. Mostly corn was grown but Home Field was planted with potatoes which were becoming scarce. My Aunt tells a story of visiting us from the south bringing an empty suitcase which they filled with potatoes to carry home, how heavy it must have been!

Now we have lighter nights I have taken to short walks after tea. Yesterday I was enjoying the flowers in the roadside verges. The buttercups were especially vibrant their yellow flowers holding up above the grass before they are outgrown by the frothy hedge parsley which grows at an alarming rate attracting all types of insects. I noticed the Herb Robert with their delicate purple, pink flowers bright against the tarmac. I went to sit on a footpath stile in the hedge, their step makes a good temporary resting place for me, then I noticed a sycamore sapling bending and drooping.

‘What has happened to the buttercups?’ I asked myself as I walked on. Their stems were twisted and their heads beginning to hang. Suddenly all the roadside herbage became grotesque caricatures of themselves. The little stream babbled on unaware of the chemicals it could be carrying. The verge must have been sprayed with a deadly weedkiller and soon the foliage and flowers will disappear along with the insects.

There has been only one swallow over our fields so far this year. I keep looking but to date, they have not come back. Recently, I went to a friend’s farmhouse near the Moss country of North Shropshire. They have an outdoor swimming pool which glistened invitingly in the sunshine. Then out of the blue came a pair of swallows chattering as they skimmed the water.

 (Taken from my column in the Shropshire Star)

Herbage with weedkiller twisting as it wilts in the hedgerow


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