Making hay is essential for a diverse and rich hay meadow. The flower-rich hay meadow is now a rare and important habitat. 97% of flower meadows have been lost since the 1930s that's an area one-and-a-half times the size of Wales. The hay meadows which are best for wildlife are the product of traditional, low-intensity, organic farming.
Even hay meadows with few species of plants can provide food for seed-eating birds and nesting habitat for ground-nesting birds. In an effort to help our meadows thrive we've begun to sow local wildflower seeds and herbal lays to enrich them. However, it's not just the species in the meadow that make it thrive but when and how hay is harvested. Cutting a meadow helps maintain a diverse mix of flowers and grasses.
Silage (the plastic wrapped bales you see in the fields) is generally cut too early and too frequently to produce seed for the following year or allow birds to complete nesting and the high levels of fertiliser often used severely reduces the variety of species and habitats.
Like many things in farming looking to the past often holds the answer. Before the industrialisation of agriculture when Britain was rich in species. Just like the hedgerows we are reinstating we are also trying to keep our hay making as traditional as possible.
We decided to hold off cutting our hay when the heatwave hit in early July this year. We felt that it was too early to cut. From what we could see our meadows were still alive with flowers, bees, butterflies, rodents, insects and invertebrates. Not to mention that the flowers hadn't gone to seen yet. By cutting in August it gives the wildflowers a chance to complete their cycle of growing, flowering and setting seed. It was difficult holding off as the weather was so fin in July this year. So we crossed our fingers for some fine weather in August and thankfully our prayers were answered!
We cut two fields and got 900 square bales which we brought in by hand and filled two barns to the roof with the help of local friends. This is the best yield we have ever had off of these fields and they have been grazed multiple times throughout the year with our holistic, rotational grazing approach.
There is something so special about working together as a team and having a hard day of manual labour in the fields bringing in the hay like our ancestors would have done. We are thrilled with the quality of our hay this year and hope that by cutting later we have enriched our meadows and the wildlife on our patch of land in Chagford.
Watch this short film of us brining in the hay filmed by Falmouth University student Isabelle Geran.