Posted 9th Jul 2018 by Peter Byrne
186 hectares (460 acres) of wildflower-rich farmland has been purchased by The National Trust in the Peak District, throwing a potential lifeline to rapidly declining bee and butterfly populations
With Britain having celebrated National Meadows Day on Saturday (7th July), the charity revealed the £2.15 million deal which secures rich hay meadows and wildlife rich grassland.
Now, they will work with partners to join up 1,342 hectares of nature friendly landscapes.
The 80 hectares at High Fields at Stoney Middleton and the 106 hectares farm at Greensides near Buxton are home to some of the most diverse grasses and glowers, along with an enormous range of insects and invertebrates, small mammals and birds, which combine to create an eco-system to support a complete food web.
Species rich grassland need protecting after the massive decline suffered between the 1930s and 1980s, when 97 per cent were lost by the intensifying of farming. This continued in areas such as the Peak District, even though it has National Park status.
Jon Stewart, General Manager for the National Trust in the Peak District, said: "Both farms support unusually large areas of hay meadows and flower rich grassland which are not just beautiful to look at, but are important habitats for wild plants and insects in particular."
"This is testament to the generations of farmers that have cared for them, farming them traditionally and in tune with nature."
The White Peak has an unusual geology, with its acidic, neutral and calcareous soil offering the perfect conditions for a wide variety of flora to thrive, including the vibrant early purple orchid; yellow mountain pansy; buttery yellow cowslips; bright yellow common rock rose; frothy white pignut and dark purpley / blue bilberries.
These create the perfect home for invertebrates, such as bees and butterflies including the common blue; birds such as meadow pipits and skylarks and other animals such as the brown hare and the protected great crested newt.
There are also some rare examples of limestone pavement which are a feature on both farms, supporting ferns and wild flowers. High Fields has a few dewponds - these were originally created as watering holes for livestock, and now provide wetland habitats for newts.
Patrick Begg, Outdoors and Natural Resources Director for the conservation charity, said: "The Peak District is a really special part of the country’s landscape, and was the first National Park. It is valued not only by the people that live there but the 12 million visitors that enjoy its varying landscapes each year."
"Protecting and enhancing the best sites like High Fields and Greensides and making habitat links to the wider farmed landscape is what we need to do across the UK if we are to restore some of the nature and wildlife we have lost. The opportunity is there if we recognise the need and work with our neighbours and partners".
The Trust will start off by putting a plan in place for managing the land in the short term - it's likely that the land at High Fields will be grazed by cattle as a way of restoring and maintaining a rich variety of flora and fauna. At Greensides, there is the potential for more attention to be paid to its special hay meadows too.
Dan Abrahams from Natural England commented: "We are delighted that the National Trust has acquired these two highly significant areas of land within the White Peak. This is probably the largest acquisition in the White Peak by a conservation organisation, since the establishment of the Derbyshire Dales National Nature Reserve in the 1970s and 80s."
"These acquisitions are both ideally located to protect and extend the outstanding wildlife interest of the White Peak. One forming a unique ring-fenced farmstead of the highest conservation value, whilst the other a key part of the wildlife-rich landscape adjacent to Longstone Edge. We look forward to working closely with the National Trust over the coming years to maximise the potential of these sites".
Photo courtesy of Michael Scott