Surviving meadows and wildlife-rich grasslands can often be privately owned, have restricted access or be hidden away.
However a fair number are owned and managed by a range of different conservation organisations, statutory bodies or charities.
So with the help of some of the UK's leading grassland experts and countryside specialists, The Grasslands Trust has pulled together a selection of the best sites to visit!
Barnack Hills and Hollows NNR, Cambridgeshire
~ Chosen by Clare Pinches, Natural England
"A wonderfully diverse limestone grassland on the site of old quarry workings which supplied stone for nearby Peterborough cathedral. The grasslands supports several species of orchid, Purple milk vetch, Mountain everlasting and most notably an abundance of Pasque flowers, which turn the hummock slopes a stunning purple in late April. Glow worms may also be seen here on warm summer evenings, adding to the site's magic!"
The Bumblebee Sanctuary at RSPBs Vane Farm, Loch Leven
~ Chosen by Ben Darvill, Bumblebee Conservation Trust
“A beautiful setting at the foot of heather drenched hills, and overlooking the sparkling waters of Loch Leven. With access through the RSPB visitor centre, complete with toilets, cafe and shop, visitors can stroll among wildflowers and perhaps also catch a glimpse of the rare and beautiful blaeberry bumblebee!”
Where to find Vane Farm:
Grid Reference NT 160 990
Near the M90 at Kinross with car parking at The Pier and Kirkgate Park; at Burleigh Sands, off the Lethangie minor road; at Findatie, off the B9097 road ; at RSPB Vane Farm, off the B9097 road.
Cressbrook Dale, Derbyshire
~ Chosen by Rhodri Thomas, Peak District National Park
“Apart from its magnificent setting one of the particularly attractive features of Cressbrook Dale is the wonderful gradation from ancient woodland through species-rich Hazel scrub to the open grasslands. During the summer months visitors will find Mountain pansy and Bilberry, and as autumn approaches an outstanding display of Waxcap fungi. The extensive limestone grasslands on the main slopes are a visual feast in May, when large numbers of Early purple orchids and Cowslips carpet the dalesides. Alongside this quixotic mix of plants are the more “typical” limestone grassland plants such as Rockrose and Wild thyme, painting the grasslands yellow and purple once again after the orchids and cowslips have finished. Dark Green Fritillaries and metallic green day-flying Cistus Forester Moths fly over these grasslands in July.”
Where to find Cressbrook Dale:
Grid Reference SK 171 729
Cressbrook itself is midway between Bakewell and Buxton. It is reached along a minor road, accessed from either the B6049 or the B6465.
Great Orme's Head, Llanduno, North Wales
~ Chosen by Stuart Smith, Countryside Council for Wales
“Simply one of the most outstanding areas of wildlife-rich grassland in Wales, which has survived for thousands of years. It has so many dimensions to it and supports a wealth of rare and uncommon plants and invertebrates. It’s a fantastic place to go for great views as well as its cultural and historical significance”.
Where to find Great Orme’s Head
Grid Reference SH 767 833
Take the A55/A470 to Llandudno from where the Great Orme Country Park is clearly signed. Parking is available. The Great Orme Victorian Tramway runs daily between Easter and the end of October
Homefield Wood, Buckinghamshire
~ Chosen by Miles King, The Grasslands Trust
“Owned by the Forestry Commission and managed by BBOWT the local wildlife trust, this is one of only 2 surviving locations for Military orchid in the UK, but is also home to many other orchids and some lovely chalk downland. It also supports rare butterflies like the White-letter hairstreak, as well as glow-worms and Red kites.
It is a special place for me as in my first proper conservation job I spent many happy hours there working with some fantastic local volunteers trying to keep the Military orchids alive in a couple of very small clearings in a conifer plantation. Thankfully the Military orchid population is now doing very well thanks to the passion and hard work of the local volunteers. I am very proud of the fact that I persuaded the volunteers to make the site "public" as it had been a secret site for about 40 years, only known about by orchid enthusiasts. Now thousands of people go there every year to enjoy the orchids and the other wildlife.”
Where to find Homefield Wood
Grid Reference SU 814 867
Homefield Wood is within the Chilterns AONB, two and a half miles west of Marlow. Take A4155 west from Marlow, turn right at Dog and Badger Pub. At T – junction turn right then immediately left. 500m on the left at the bottom of the hill you can park on a hard verge by the forest entrance. The reserve is 50m on the right along a forest track.
Loch Druidibeg National Nature Reserve, Outer Hebrides
~ Bob Gibbons, Freelance botanist, photographer, lecturer, author and owner of National History Travel, and Trustee of The Grasslands Trust
“Where the peaty soil of the Hebrides is exposed to gales from the open Atlantic, there is a wonderful flowery grassland known as the machair. Its origins are complex and curious, a mixture of lime-rich shell sand blown over peat, then casually cultivated for centuries by crofters. The net result is an astonishing display of flowers throughout the summer, with a blaze of annuals or short-lived perennials such as corn marigolds, ladies bedstraw, tufted vetch, red clover and dozens of others. In places, there are masses of marsh, spotted and hebridean orchids and other rarer flowers. For most of the summer, the whole area is alive with birds, too, especially breeding ringed plovers, dunlin, oystercatcher and many other waders, here at one of their highest densities in the world.
The best examples of machair are on the Outer Hebrides, especially on the Uists, Lewis and Harris, wherever the west coast is fully exposed to the Atlantic, though there are also good examples in Sutherland and western Ireland too. Loch Druidibeg National Nature Reserve is very accessible and is managed for the public by Scottish Natural heritage. The reserve is vast and is situated within the townships of Grogarry, Stilligarry and Drimsdale in South Uist. Stretching from the Atlantic coast of the west to the heather moorland of the east, it is one of the best examples in the Western Isles, of the transition from the western coastal machair system to the inland acid moorland and blanket bog”.
Where to find Loch Druidibeg National Nature Reserve
Grid Reference NF 786 378
The reserve spans the A865 road in central South Uist near the foot of Ben Tarbert. There are two ferry terminals on North Uist (Otternish and Lochmaddy) and one on South Uist (Lochboisdale). Bus run daily between Lochmaddy and Lochboisdale except on Sundays.
Lugg Meadows, Herefordshire
~ Chosen by Tom Oliver, former head of Rural Policy, Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE)
These ancient hay meadows are the largest single area of surviving dole (or Lammas) meadow in England. The meadows were severely threatened by a Hereford bypass proposal which CPRE and the Hereford Nature Trust have fought off but which could come back again! The meadows are still managed in accordance with the medieval system, where ownership is divided amongst many different people and each land holding is marked out in the ground by dole stones. From 2nd February (Candlemas) to 1st August (Lammas day) the meadows are ‘shut up’ to allow for growth of the hay crop. Once the hay is cut and removed, the Lammas rule comes into play - allowing free access (for people as well as cattle) until Candlemas. Lugg meadows are incredibly rich in wildflowers – especially the delicate Fritillary and the nationally scarce Narrow-leaved water dropwort. Sand martins nest in nearby river banks and the vast expanses of open grassland are an important breeding habitat for Curlew and Skylark.
NB. There is no access to Lower Lugg Meadow during March to May. In the winter the whole area may be flooded to a depth of over 1m and access can be dangerous.
Where to find the Lugg Meadows
Grid Reference: SO 539 405
Near Hereford. Best access is off the A438 between Ledbury and Hereford, west of Lugwardine. Take the sign to Herefordshire Nature Trust and park on the lane in front of their headquarters at Lower House Farm.
Marsden Old Wuarry Local Nature Reserve, Tyne and Wear
~ Matt Hawking, South Tyneside Council
“A superb urban grassland, renowned throughout the North East region as a hotspot for exotic migrant birds. This former limestone quarry is also a marvelous place to see wildflowers and butterflies. In the summer months, the grasslands are full of Salad burnett, Rock rose, Fairy flax and the delicate Autumn gentian. During the autumn months if the weather conditions are right, migrating birds blown off course end up here. Bird enthusiasts have spotted Redstart and Ring ouzel as well as the rarer Isabelline shrike and Red-breasted flycatcher”.
Where to find Marsden Old Quarry
Grid Reference NZ 395 645
Main entrance is opposite Lizard Lane Caravan Park, Lizard Lane, just off the A183, Marsden, South Shields, Tyne and Wear.
Martin Down National Nature Reserve, Hampshire
~ Chosen by Paul Toynton, former Conservation Officer on Salisbury Plain for Defence Estates, and Trustee of The Grasslands Trust
“An extensive area of flower-rich chalk grassland completely open to the public with good access and lots of level ground for easy walking. In early summer visitors will find carpets of Cowslips, followed by a wide range of Orchids including Common spotted, Burnt-tip, Fragrant, Greater butterfly. In mid-summer a wonderful array of flowers with Ladies bedstraw, patches of purple Greater knapweed covered in Dark-green Fritillaries, Small skippers and Marbled whites with Pyramid orchids scattered throughout and tiny Frog Orchids in the shorter grass. Skylarks can be heard everywhere and Yellow hammers singing from the scrub”.
Where to find Martin Down
Grid Reference SU 037 200
North-west Hampshire on the borders of Wiltshire and Dorset, 1 mile west of Martin village. The main car park is signposted from the A354 approximately 12 miles south west of Salisbury.
Muker Meadows, Yorkshire Dales
~ Chosen by Don Gamble, Yorkshire Dales Millenium Trust
“These twelve traditionally managed meadows, contain a very wide range of wildflowers and grasses including Wood crane’s-bill, Melancholy thistle, Pignut, Lady’s mantles, Rough hawkbit, Cat’s-ear and Sweet vernal grass. In the summer the range of colours and textures is astounding. A public footpath runs through some of them and the meadows also contain stone field barns, traditionally used to store the dried hay as winter fodder and to provide shelter for livestock. These meadows are important for wildlife, the landscape, and for their cultural heritage. All of this, and being so close to the beautiful village of Muker, means that they represent a great opportunity for people to see, experience and celebrate a quintessential aspect of the Yorkshire Dales”.
Where to find Muker Meadows
Grid Reference: SD 910 978
The village of Muker is located in Swaledale, Yorkshire Dales National Park on the B6720. Pay and display parking is available in the village of Muker and there is a whole network of footpaths through the village and surrounding area including through the meadows.