Restoration of meadows using rare breed pigs
A small 0.2ha meadow near Bishopston had succeeded to bramble and scrub due to many years of abandonment.
The scrub was cut back using a flail mower, leaving bare ground. Pigs were introduced to eat the bramble roots and ensure that the bramble does not recolonise the meadow.
The pigs were managed as part of a community pig club, where members own shares in the pigs and care for them, ultimately taking a share in the ethical, high-quality pork produced during the meadow restoration. Local provenance seed harrowed into the bare ground should produce a species rich sward.
During the soil testing of the meadows it has been identified that many of the meadows have suffered from soil compaction and poor drainage. A soil slitter was used on the meadows identified to aerate the soil and improve drainage.
This is to reduce some of the less desirable species such as soft rush, creeping buttercup and Yorkshire fog. Soil health should improve as a result and favour a more species rich sward. This method is not as invasive as methods such as sward lifting and should not have a detrimental effect on grassland fungi.
Grazing with Ponies and Cattle
Two of the meadows on sandy substrate have altered over time, becoming more akin to dune grassland and heathland. Soil health testing revealed the low organic matter in the soil, it is likely that the grasslands are acidifying as the calcium leaches out of the sandy soil. The resultant sward is full of toxic bracken and therefore of little value as fodder hay.
During this project we experimented with grazing with cattle and ponies first and then cutting and collection of the unpalatable grasses left behind. The reduced amount of arisings mean that they can be disposed of on site, in south facing locations to decompose, these make excellent grass snake egg laying sites. The grazing will introduces more organic matter into the soil than the usual regime of cutting and removal.
Cutting for hay or haylage
Hay or haylage cutting is used on high nutrient grassland. The cut is taken in late summer and used as fodder for livestock. Over time the artificially high, often synthetic, nutrient levels in the soil will decrease as material is removed.
Over time the soil health will return to balance and the natural seed bank will express itself. This method is far slower than reseeding, but will produce a sward native to that area and secure long term genetic diversity.
Livestock are used in these meadows to graze the re-growth (aftermath), they reduce competitive grasses and trample seeds into the soil and introduce dung to the soil. They are an essential part of meadow health. They are removed in spring to allow the meadows to grow and flower.
Sometimes it is not possible to graze grasslands, such as those in urban parks or road verges. These are cut and collected or cut and raked off by hand, after leaving the grassland to flower and set seed. This, over time will allow a species rich sward to develop.
Where possible meadows should experience an annual hay cut (or similar), however in some cases this is not possible. Winter grazing can offer a solution, but only cattle and horses are able to reduce the sward sufficiently as sheep are not able to utilise the dead stalks and leaves of grasses. This will not reduce soil nutrient levels but will remove the competitive sward, allowing herbs grow the following spring, after grazing is removed.
Gower has an intricate network of historically significant hedgerows. They are a haven for wildlife, carbon sequestration and provide shelter for livestock and retention of topsoil. We have helped to restore some of them. The hedgerows are alongside well used footpaths, one along the popular national walking route, ‘The Gower Way’. Hedges have been laid by local expert hedgers in the vernacular ‘Gower Flyer’ style.