Falcon meadow is 1.7 hectares of damp semi-improved grassland in the town of Bungay. It is surrounded by water with the River Waveney to the south and a drain to the north. The soil is fertile and dominated by rank grasses and herbs such as nettle Urtica diocia and hemlock Conium maculatum. Marginal vegetation is found alongside the river and young willow (Salix sp.) and mature alder Alnus glutinosa line the northern ditch. Barn owls hunt on the meadow and otters have been recorded in the river. There is a damp, shallow depression dominated by reed sweet grass Glyceria maxima linking up to the drain towards the north western end of the meadow.
The site is regularly used for recreation with a public footpath running alongside the river.
Species-rich meadows and pastures are one of the most vulnerable habitats in lowland England, with estimates of their decline since 1945 at up to 97%. A NWT report into the condition of Norfolk meadows, (The State of Norfolk’s Magical Meadows, NWT 2008), shows that over 60% of the sites visited were declining due to inadequate or inappropriate management. Consequently, caring for sites such as this one represents a significant contribution to wildlife conservation in Norfolk.
Current site condition and management
The meadow has been cut at various times over the growing season. The cuttings have been left in-situ which has contributed to a build-up of nutrients allowing the more rank grasses and herbs to dominate. There is little scrub encroachment with scrub and trees confined to the northern ditch edge. Marginal and emergent vegetation is found alongside the river and the drain has both shaded and light areas with open water along most of the length.
Ideal site condition
- A species-rich sward dominated by herbs rather than rank grasses and nettle.
- Meadow area to remain open with little or no scrub and mature trees.
- The river bank would ideally have a floristically rich margin with species such as purple loosestrife Lythrum salicaria and water mint Mentha aquatica.
- Maintain open water in ditch and some marginal and emergent vegetation. Create light and shaded areas along the ditch by coppicing young willows and occasional mature alder trunks.
- Create area of open water connected to the drain in the current location of the reed sweet grass swamp; maintaining a marginal marshy area surrounding it.
- Improve the floral diversity of the meadow by reducing the fertility through cutting and removing arising’s or by grazing with cattle. Increasing the floral diversity will also lead to an increase in invertebrate diversity as many are plant-specific.
- If the site is to be grazed cattle are the preferred livestock. Their grazing style produces a longer, more desirable sward of 5-6cm compared to the 3cm of a sheep. They will graze in patches, selecting the most palatable vegetation, open up the sward by trampling, graze the litter layer and not graze around pats, creating a structurally diverse marshy grassland which benefits invertebrates and breeding waders. Cattle can also cope well with the wet site conditions. However, care should be taken not to overstock the field as this can result in a permanent reduction in biodiversity: a grazing density of 1 cattle /ha is recommended so 2 cattle would be suitable for Falcon meadow. Grazing from May/June – Oct/Nov (dependant on conditions)
- Alternatively if conditions allow the field could be cut for hay in mid-late June, with the aftermath grazed with cattle until September or before if the grass runs out.
- If grazing is deemed unsuitable the site can be cut once (or twice if the regrowth is strong) from mid-June to September. Cuttings must be removed off site or piled up away from the River.
- Keep the meadow open and free of trees or scrub.
- Cut the marginal vegetation adjacent to the river in patches on a three year rotation to prevent rank grasses, herbs and scrub suppressing other plants.
- Maintain the aquatic and marginal diversity of the northern drain by keeping some areas shady and some open to light. Coppice young willow and alder in rotation along the banks and occasional mature alder trunks. If the willow becomes invasive cut and treat stumps with glyphosate to prevent re-growth.
- Restore the drain running south off the northern drain that is currently dominated by reed sweet grass swamp. Remove central areas of swamp and create an area of open water with shallow banks merging into a marginal vegetation zone.
Time of year
Improve grassland diversity
Initiate annual programme of management either by grazing or cutting.
a) Grazing – use hardy breed of cattle e.g. Highland, Dexter, Red Poll, Galloway etc.
b) Cutting – this will mimic the traditional ‘hay cut’ and all cuttings must be baled and removed
c) Cut as above and graze the aftermath with cattle or ponies
a) Grazing: June – Oct
b) Cutting: July/August. Second cut in September if re-growth strong.
c) Cut July/August
Graze two weeks after cut until late September
-Prior to reintroduction of grazing, fencing and appropriate infrastructure (e.g. drinks) need to be installed
-Standard grazing rate approx: 1 cow/ha during prescribed grazing period
-Appropriate livestock may be ‘borrowed’ and arranged via NWT
-Employ local farmer/contractor to cut and bale if possible.
-Unlikely to want to bale due to hemlock so could cut & collect & leave in pile on edge instead.
-Or enlist volunteers to hay rake and leave hay in habitat piles at west end of meadow or remove if possible.
Maintain drain diversity and create a mix of shaded and open areas.
Cut young willow at the eastern end of the meadow and treat stumps of those trees encroaching on to the meadow.
Coppice young alder adjacent to drain in rotation.
Coppice occasional mature alder trunks to thin alders on stretch towards bend in ditch.
Clear dumped cut trees and vegetation blocking flow of water in western end of ditch.
October-Mid Feb to avoid nesting season for all felling/coppicing
Cut/coppice trees in rotation so not all done in the same year.
Maintain/improve marginal river vegetation
Annual maintenance by:
a) Graze the river margins.
b) Cut bankside vegetation in rotation
Allow cattle to graze river bank. If at low density bank should not get poached.
Cut patches of the river bank vegetation in a three year rotation so that not all of the bank is cleared at once but no patch is left uncut for more than three years. This prevents the build-up of rank grasses, nettles and scrub suppressing other plants. Cut at same time as field or use strimmers in late summer /autumn. Remove cuttings.
Restore open southern drain
Remove central area of reed sweet grass from drain. Drain could be re-profiled in to a more pond like body.
Remove reed sweet grass with a digger or by using hand tools such as chromes. Do not use a digger if site is wet as grassland will be damaged.
Make sure the drain profile is varied with shallow sloping sides providing suitable habitat for marginal vegetation. If re-profiling into a pond-like body dig to approx. 0.60 deep in central area to enable amphibians to survive in extreme weather. However most of the pond should contain shallow areas of water to benefit wildlife.
Remove pond material from site as it contains nutrients which will benefit the more rank grassland species.