Urgent appeal to save rare meadows

Wildflowers at Ludgershall Meadows. Picture: Andrew Marshall/ Go Wild Landscapes

Trust needs £330,000 to buy ‘giant jigsaw puzzle piece’ of land – vital for nature and climate.

The Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) has launched a major £330,000 fundraising appeal to buy a unique historic meadowland site - before it’s lost forever.

It’s asking the public to help rescue Ludgershall Meadows in Buckinghamshire, which is a remarkable time capsule of England from hundreds of years ago and vitally important for wildlife and climate. The 31-hectare site includes extremely rare floodplain meadow habitat, which has been almost entirely destroyed in the UK in recent years by inappropriate development. This is the last chance to save it.

A meadow bown butterfly at Ludgershall Meadows. Picture: Andrew Marshall/ Go Wild Landscapes

A meadow bown butterfly at Ludgershall Meadows. Picture: Andrew Marshall/ Go Wild Landscapes

Debbie Lewis, BBOWT’s Head of Ecology, said:

"The opportunity we have at Ludgershall is so exciting. Floodplain meadow habitat of the type found here is extremely rare - there is less than 1,500 hectares in the whole country. Lowland meadows in general have suffered devastating losses since the early 20th century due to development and intensification of farming practices.

"If we don’t buy this land, it is in serious jeopardy from being turned into pony paddocks. The field sizes would be dramatically reduced and they would be overgrazed, resulting in a permanent and irretrievable loss of wildlife."

The three fields at Ludgershall Meadows form part of a ‘wild jigsaw puzzle’ of sites managed by BBOWT near the village of Ludgershall, between Bicester and Aylesbury. The meadow is in the heart of the Upper Ray Valley, where the Trust has been creating a network of reserves since 1981. Securing Ludgershall would be another vital piece of its wild jigsaw, creating wildlife corridors and encouraging wildlife to thrive.  

Map of BBOWT sites that make up the Upper Ray Meadows nature reserve

Map showing the BBOWT sites that make up the Upper Ray Meadows nature reserve

Ludgershall Meadows is also an important site because it still has evidence of Medieval-style ridge-and-furrow ploughing. These centuries-old banks and ditches show that the three fields have never been intensively managed for agriculture.

The meadows now harbour an invaluable population of two of the UK's rarest butterfly species - black and brown hairstreaks - as well as protected great crested newts and important birds such as linnets, reed buntings and skylarks.

Using expert management techniques - such as spreading freshly-cut green hay from the wildflower meadows at neighbouring Leaches Farm - the Trust will be able to protect the habitat of existing species, while also attracting more insects, amphibians and small mammals. This can in turn attract birds of prey such as barn owls, and overwintering snipe.

The appeal is part of BBOWT’s vision for a wilder landscape across the region. It’s aiming to achieve 30% of land in Berks, Bucks and Oxon well-managed for nature by 2030.  Securing Ludgershall Meadows would complete another vital piece in the giant jigsaw, or nature recovery network, that BBOWT is aiming to create across its three counties.

An overgrown pond at Ludgershall Meadows. Picture: Andrew Marshall/ Go Wild Landscapes

An overgrown pond at Ludgershall Meadows. Picture: Andrew Marshall/ Go Wild Landscapes

Estelle Bailey, Chief Executive of BBOWT, said:

"We are currently facing an environmental emergency in this country, with dozens of species in alarming decline and our climate in crisis. We think the way to tackle this problem is to have more nature everywhere – for nature, for climate and for people.

"Having isolated nature reserves where wildlife is kept like a zoo will not be enough to save our struggling species. To foster healthy, thriving wildlife populations, we need a giant network of spaces for nature that species can move between, to build a wildlife web that gets stronger, not weaker, with time. Ludgershall Meadows is a vital piece in that giant, wild, living jigsaw puzzle and we hope people will help us save it – but we need to act urgently."

BBOWT is aiming to raise the £330,000 total by 10 September this year.

To donate to the Ludgershall Meadows appeal to save this special site for wildlife, people and climate visit: www.bbowt.org.uk/ludgershall

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Editor's notes

Ludgershall Meadows

When Ludgershall Meadows was first put up for sale last year, BBOWT did not have enough available funds to buy it. Thankfully the environmental charity Esmee Fairbairn Foundation bought the site on the understanding that BBOWT would buy it from the foundation within a fixed period of time. If BBOWT cannot raise the funds needed, the site will go back onto the open market. The Trust is applying for various grants to help meet the cost of buying the land, but it still needs to raise £330,000 so it can actually buy and manage the site in an effective way in the future.

The Upper Ray has some of the last remaining floodplain meadows - known as MG4 meadows - in the country, and BBOWT now manages 10 per cent of this habitat left in the UK.

 

Floodplain Meadows

Floodplain meadows stretch back a thousand years and were once the backbone of the rural economy in England. The last century has seen a catastrophic loss of Britain’s meadows as a result of development, mineral extraction and the intensification of agriculture. Today, over 97% of our meadow habitats have been lost and only four square miles of floodplain meadow remain.

Throughout the spring and early summer, floodplain meadows are dazzling with their wildflowers and waving grasses, humming with insects and the birds that nest and feed in them. At the best sites, more than 40 species of grasses and wildflowers can be recorded in just one square metre.

Beyond their benefit for wildlife and the climate, restored meadows are also nature-based solutions that help slow the flow and filter water that comes off the land. Really importantly, that will mitigate the impact of flooding of local communities, so floodplain meadows are good for climate, nature and people and we must work to protect and restore them.