Did you know that at the bottom of the hill below RSPB Swell Wood there is a fantastic flower meadow that you can visit year-round but that is at its best during June and July? In August the meadow will be cut to produce hay which also spreads the seed heads so the meadow flowers again next year. The meadow is awash with plants, with more then 30 different species in a 2x2 metre square, and alive with the humming and buzzing of insect life as birds such as swallows swoop overhead. This blog will tell you about some of the species you might see as well as how to visit for yourself.

A few of the many insects you might find on a visit to the meadow include (click the links for photos and further information):

Grasshoppers and crickets such as the great green bush cricket and the common green grasshopper. For help identifying grasshoppers and crickets visit the British Naturalists’ Association on this link: https://bna-naturalists.org/id-guide-grasshoppers-crickets/ 

Dragonflies such as common darter and migrant hawker. For help identifying dragonflies visit the British Dragonfly Society on this link: https://british-dragonflies.org.uk/odonata/species-and-identification/

Butterflies such as the marbled white, meadow brown or silver-washed fritillary.  For help identifying butterflies visit Butterfly Conservation on this link: https://butterfly-conservation.org/butterflies/identify-a-butterfly

Of the numerous plants in the meadow there are abundant numbers of herb and grass species such as:   

Yellow rattle – One of our most important meadow flowers as it lives a semi-parasitic life feeding off the nutrients in the roots of nearby grasses; allowing other wildflowers to establish themselves. Typically found in grassy places between May and September. The flowers are yellow and tube-like while the leaves are serrated with heavy, dark veins which sprout opposite each other all the way up the black spotted stem. When the flowers fade the seeds ripen and give a distinctive rattle which gave the plant its name.

Common knapweed – Typically found in meadows and other grasslands flowering between June and September. A firm favourite of pollinating insects the has a somewhat thistle-like appearance. It grows a singular flower of purple, pink or very rarely white.

Betony – Typically found in meadows and heaths between June and October. An indicator of ancient woodland, its sturdy stems carry compact spikes of vibrant, purple-pink flowers which are almost orchid-like in their appearance. The leaves are oblong, slightly “toothed” and mostly at the base of the plant.  

Lady’s bedstraw – Typically found in meadows, heaths and the coast between June and September. It has a soft frothy cluster of tiny bright yellow flowers, that smell of hay when dried. Leaves are narrow and dark green. The name probably comes from the tradition of stuffing straw mattresses with it before the advent of the modern mattress.  

Oxeye daisy – Typically found in grassy places between May and September. The flower looks much like a larger version of a typical daisy with white petals and a yellow centre. It is thought that the flower had strong links to  divination, particularly in France, where it would be used in romantic predictions; which have filtered down to the modern game of ‘he loves me, he loves me not’ where petals are picked to determine luck in love.

Birds foot trefoil – One of the most common meadow wildflowers in the UK. It is typically found in meadows, roadsides and other grassland areas between May and September. A member of the pea family it has yellow slipper-like flowers with reddish buds that grow in small clusters. It is a low-growing plant with downy leaves which grow in groups of five. It is an important food source for the caterpillars of several butterfly species.

Crested dogs-tail grass – Typically found in lowland meadows and grasslands flowering between June and July. It is a stiff grass that grows in clumps with narrow green leaves. The flower head is flat on one side and is said to resemble a dog’s tail. An important food source for several butterfly species.

Quaking grass – Typically found flowering in meadows between June and September. It grows in loose clusters and has purple heart-shaped flower heads that blow or “quake” in the breeze. Thus, giving the plant its name. An excellent food source for all kinds of farmland birds.

How to get to Fivehead Meadow:

To get to the meadow start at the car park in Swell Wood (TA3 6PX). Full directions for how to get to the car park can be found on the website: https://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves-and-events/reserves-a-z/swell-wood/.

Follow the Woodland Walk path to the junction with the Meadow Trail. The path to the meadow is steep in places and can be muddy so sturdy footwear is advised. At the bottom of the hill go through the wooden gate on the left and you have arrived in Fivehead Meadow.

While in the meadow please stick to the paths to ensure that everyone is able to enjoy it and not to damage the homes of the wildlife that lives here.

To return to the car park you have two options both of which create a walk of about 2 miles. You can either return via the same route you arrived, or you can use the public footpath and road network to return to the car park in a circular route. The map below shows these paths.

We’d love to see your photos and videos from the meadow! Share them with us on social media using the hashtag #RSPBSwellWood and tagging @RSPBHamWall

A map showing how to get to Fivehead Meadow from RSPB Swell Wood

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