Diversity and management
The Lower Meadow is neutral, largely well-drained grassland. Over 90 species have been recorded in this flower-rich hay meadow, which is the most biologically diverse area of the reserve.
The diversity is maintained by traditional hay meadow management practices such as hay cutting in June or July. This allows the spring and early summer flowers to seed themselves for following years preventing the stronger grasses and herbs from taking over. The nearby railway line brings in seeds that add to the diversity.
Our meadows are not fertilised or grazed. We do not use chemicals, unlike modern intensively farmed fields where the nutrient level is kept artificially high by the application of fertilisers leading to the over-dominance of one or two favoured grass species.
Wildflowers and medicinal plants
Many of the wildflowers are prominent, brightly coloured and are good for insects, for example black knapweed, betony and devil’s-bit scabious. Other plant species of interest include dyer’s greenweed and saw-wort, both unusual in the area, and both indicating an unploughed, chemically unimproved, neutral grassland.
Different flowers can be found at different times of the year in this meadow. For example, in spring there is a magnificent display of yellow cowslips and in summer there is a great show of common spotted orchids and bee orchids, which can found near the western edge of the meadow, near the steep grassland path along the side of the main woodland.
In medieval times and later many plant species were used for medicinal purposes. One of those plants can be found in this meadow today – meadowsweet not only has a distinctive aroma, but it also contains a natural aspirin compound so its leaves were used in herbal teas to reduce fevers.
Insect life – and poison!
The Lower Meadow sustains a wide range of insects, including butterflies such as the marbled white, meadow brown and common blue. The day-flying six-spot burnet moth is very common, as well as a range of micro-moths and other insects.
The six-spot burnet moth produces poisonous hydrogen cyanide to attract partners for mating! Check out the Natural History Museum website for more on this fascinating creature.
If you visit in peak flowering season it’s worth sitting down and waiting for the insects to come to you. Peer into the grass and look for the smaller creatures, and listen carefully for the constant sounds of the insect world.
The food chain
Having so many different flowers leads to a wide variety of insects, which feed off and pollinate them. The insects are then eaten by birds and small mammals, such as voles, which in turn are preyed upon by sparrowhawks, foxes and other large carnivores at the top of the food chain.
This area all used to be farmland. Sargeants Farm has long since been built over by the new estates, but the modernised Sargeants Farm Bridge still leads across the Great Western Railway. This part of the London to South Wales Direct Line was built around 1902.
Special spots to explore include the small copse that hides the seasonal Lower Pond – a “green room” that is a real hideaway for children. Look out for frogs in the lush grass – the Common Frog is just as likely to be seen in moist grassland as in ponds.
Turn around at the top of the Lower Meadow to look out over the town to the Welsh hills and the Severn Bridge. On a clear day you can see up to the Brecon Beacons.
In winter snow the Lower Meadow is the best sledging field for miles around.