Moorhaven meadows?

I love how Moorhaven sits snugly on the edge of Dartmoor, high up yet hidden from most places apart from the good view across from Hillhead. I love how much space there is. But I also think about wasted potential. With some small changes in how the grounds are cared for, Moorhaven could become a haven for wildflowers and insects, where every season brings something interesting to look at and an excuse to walk around the grounds.

Green but not green. There are 15 acres of communal grounds, which are mainly mown lawns. The lawns were made at a time when the surrounding farmland would have been hay meadows. Since then, we have lost 97% of these wildflower meadows. Like the lawns, the South Hams countryside is now a rather uniform green with impoverished biodiversity.

When I was a child, washing squished insects from the car windscreen was a useful source of pocket money. It is rarely necessary now. A study published in 2017 found a 75% reduction in insects since 1989, with the decline rising to 82% in the summer months that are crucial for many birds to fatten up before migrating. The really scary thing is that this was a study of insects on nature reserves. The decline in the wider countryside is estimated to be even worse, with habitat loss and pesticide use being likely causes.

We could make a difference. Fifteen acres is a lot. As wildflower meadow, it would support 33 million spiders and 3 tons of insects. That’s a lot more food for frogs, lizards, bats, hedgehogs and birds, including the swallows, house martins and swifts that we welcome back to Moorhaven each summer, as well as the house sparrows whose numbers are in free fall because they cannot find enough insects in May to feed their fledglings. When Plymouth City Council changed their management of verges and roundabouts to promote wildflowers, the number of pollinators doubled.

bird’s foot trefoil

To take one common wildflower that grows readily in the grass around Moorhaven, bird’s foot trefoil supports 130 different invertebrate species including beetles, grasshoppers, aphids, and snails.

Native meadow grasses support butterflies like the marbled white, speckled brown and gatekeeper, and moths such as the 6-spot burnet. Like insects in general, their numbers have declined by 76% in the last 40 years. I have seen these species at Moorhaven and on the road to Ivybridge, but they are rare enough that I always try to get my camera out to capture the moment.

What would be the disadvantages of promoting wildflowers at Moorhaven?

The formal grounds are part of the historic character of the place. Wildflower meadows don’t need to be messy. Neatly mown edges and paths show that the place is maintained and allow walkers to keep their feet dry. In September, when the flowers and grasses have set seed, the meadow is mown and looks neat, as the Arboretum does at the moment.

Where will children play? Children are good for wildflowers as they help spread their seeds. Wild areas provide more opportunities for hiding, sketching, finding slow-worms, chasing butterflies, picking flowers, and watching beetles.

Will it be more work for the maintenance team? Wildflower meadows mean less mowing. When Dorset council changed to a ‘mow only when necessary’ policy to promote wildflowers on roadside verges, they saved residents £93,000. An extra job would be to keep an eye on wildflower areas for invasive perennials such as docks, thistles and brambles. I know some of us would be happy to do this voluntarily, busting weeds and having a chat at the same time.

Is there scope for compromise?

Tree circles and borders. Last year in our garden, Andy Love and his team left wide circles of unmown grass under our two mature trees (see picture below). Andy told me that he would like to do that in the formal gardens too, as it is better for the trees not to mow over their roots. That would add biodiversity while keeping the unshaded parts of the lawn mown. We discussed also leaving an unmown border around the edge of the playing field, which would provide shelter for hedgerow wildlife as well as more variety of plants while keeping the rest of the field for dog walking, football, frisbee etc.

the wild area under our garden tree

Mini-meadows? There are two areas of the communal grounds that, in my opinion, lend themselves to wildflowers. One is the area south of the road to Moor Park, which would make a fabulous wildflower meadow. The other is the cemetery, where a trial patch was left long last summer until thistles became too obvious (see above for need to keep invasive plants under control). I took the photos below there in May.

I would love Moorhaven to have more flowers, more butterflies, and more wildlife generally. I think that it would be a more interesting place to wander through if it had more wildlife to look at. If other people felt the same, perhaps as a community we would spend more time enjoying the grounds and meeting each other in the process.

What do you think? If you live at Moorhaven and think this is a great idea or a terrible idea, or something in between, please add a comment below.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Matthew Roe says:

    I quite agree with you, it would be lovely to let Moorhaven have much more meadows rather than neatly mown lawns. Which at the moment are hardly used anyway. Paths could be mowed through them which children love to run along and play in. We would get much more wildlife and plants.

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  2. Ross Porter says:

    Sounds like a wonderful idea, completely agree with everything you have said. If anything I would say let’s turn far more of the mown lawns into meadow than has been suggested. We have so much grass with pre existing paths that people never walk on or use the grass anyway, especially south of the main buildings. Thanks very much for posting and suggesting.

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  3. Donna Healy says:

    Sounds like a good idea especially if we have the right people to help look after it properly.

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