Sutton Nature Conservation Volunteers have been granted a generous award by the People’s Postcode Lottery, as part of their Postcode Local Trust.
SNCV applied to the Postcode Local Trust to undertake work with heavy horses at Sutton Common Paddock, a newly designated Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC). Although the meadow area (about 1.7ha) has an amount of wildflowers and grasses, the SNCV and Sutton’s Biodiversity Team are very keen on enhancing the variety of flora and fauna on this site.
Lowland meadows like this are very scarce in the local area and we want as many people as possible to engage with the joys natural grasslands can bring. The UK’s lowland meadows are also thought to have declined by 97% from pre-World War II numbers, mainly through agricultural changes. As such, this work contributes to wider meadow restoration objectives.
The Postcode Local Trust is a grant-giving charity funded entirely by players of People’s Postcode Lottery. Our project has received a massive £9,650 from the Trust to use heavy horses from Operation Centaur to mow and till the paddock area, so that lots of bare ground is created. Once we have bare ground, we can seed with a mix of wildflowers and grasses specially adapted to the challenging conditions of heavy clay.
Because the site is on clay, it is very wet during the winter months and dry and cracked during the summer months.
Over the last few years, the SNCV and Biodiversity Team have tried a variety of management techniques, to increase the number and variety of wildflowers. Unfortunately, these haven’t worked as well as we would have wished, mainly, we think, because one species of grass, creeping bent Agrostis stolonifera creates a ‘blanket effect’ of grass, which prevents seed from making contact with the soil and growing. By creating bare ground, we can ensure the desired seed species get a good start, without being smothered by creeping bent.
Using heavy horses is a new venture for nature conservation in Sutton. Because the site is often so wet, tractors get stuck, whereas the horses can work in wetter conditions, without damaging the site and compacting the soil.
Once we have seeded the site, we will be asking for volunteers to come and help us plant lots of new wildflower plugs. These are pre-grown and provide greater structure than from seed alone, as well as flowering more quickly.
One species we are keen to encourage is hay rattle Rhinanthus minor, a hemiparisite wildflower, which, as well as undertaking photosynthesis, steals nutrient from grasses. In high numbers, it can help to reduce grass vigour, enabling other wildflowers greater opportunity to thrive.
If you want to see the horses in action, head down to Sutton Common Paddock tomorrow (Tuesday 4th September) or Wednesday (5th September) between 10am and 2pm. Tom and the guys are happy to chat (at least whilst giving the horses a rest!). The entrance to the Paddock area is just off Morden Way: https://goo.gl/maps/fQouZoXy9322