Littlestock water meadow

We moved to Shipton in November 2019 and acquired a five acre meadow with the house. It is a long strip of land alongside the Littlestock Brook, with the Evenlode at the bottom which periodically floods during the winter months. It had been grazed and occasionally cut for hay, but had not suffered from post WWII ‘agricultural improvement’.  I noticed a predominance of meadow buttercup over creeping buttercup when we first visited. In rich grasslands, the thick growth of grasses and creeping buttercup swamp the often delicate and spindly flowers which you see in a good wildflower meadow.

My limited knowledge of wildflower meadows was that grazing is stopped early spring and hay was cut late July onwards after many of the flowers have had the chance to set seed. Our meadow desperately needed to be eaten back, but the ground was far too wet for winter grazing, and it was not grazed until later in the spring when the flowers were just starting. The sheep returned in the autumn, and then I introduced the seed of absent flowers such as cowslip, ox-eye daisy and hay-rattle.

This first year showed that the meadow was not all the same and could be roughly divided into three zones. The grasses growth tended to be richer in the upper three acres, then there was an area where the flowers predominated, and finally a bottom acre by the river where grasses were again dominant. Black knapweed and lady’s bedstraw were the main wildflowers after meadow buttercup.  There was nothing rare, but the ‘good’ area was a little bit ‘special’ compared to much of what you see locally.

By April this year there was thick grass growth in the top three acres, so the sheep returned to graze this area down only for a few weeks. In the ‘special’ area, the flowers were totally dominant, and it was soon a blaze of yellow. This then gradually spread to the upper area by the summer with a profusion of ladies-bedstraw and butterflies. The bottom zone by the river perhaps should have been grazed in the spring, something which was impractical.

Overall, there were well over forty different flowers and grasses, although some were ‘occasionals’ such as one common spotted orchid, and some unwanted such as nettle! The results with introduced seed was mediocre, but this is a slow process, and perhaps what is already there is best suited to the location!

With a late hay cut and the ewes back for ‘tupping’ this autumn, we would have established a good management routine and the meadow will improve year by year.

Ian Sanders

October-November 2021