Crossing the bridge into the upper meadow you find yourself surrounded by a completely different plant community. This is because of the underlying clay soil, which restricts drainage.
In the lower part of the field, this can be seen by the growth of various sedges and rushes, plants which prefer damp conditions.
The poor drainage makes it difficult for hay cutting to take place, which is a reason why fewer species grow here than in the lower meadow. However, if you are lucky you may be able to find some common spotted orchids growing along the top hedge. A footpath leads from the site across the fields to Chipping Sodbury.
Following the edge of this field is a mature hedgerow, probably several hundred years old. A rough estimate of the age of a hedgerow can be arrived at by counting the number of species in a 30 metre length. One additional species means one century of growth. The hedgerow is like a very narrow woodland, which provides a corridor for wildlife between the woodland and surrounding area.
Hedgerows are a particularly important habitat, as they mimic the woodland edge, so reflect all the stages in the development of a mature woodland. This can clearly be seen in the hedge along the eastern boundary with the scrub layer invading the open grassland and the larger trees growing up behind.
Hedgerow trees are also important as they provide a perch for songbirds, were they can be seen and heard easily by potential mates.
The flat Upper Meadow is much damper than its neighbour the Lower Meadow. The grassland is less varied but there is a range of water-loving grasses, rushes and sedges. How can you tell them apart? Just remember the rhyme: “Sedges have edges, rushes are round, and grasses have knobbly knees”
The Upper meadow feels quite private and secluded. It is surrounded by ditches forming an ecosystem of small streams and damp areas. The Top Pond was probably created for cattle to drink from, but there are ambitions to deepen it to increase species diversity.
Many of the ditches follow the traditional “bank and ditch” pattern. If you see a ditch with a bank on one side, the ownership boundary is normally on the edge of the ditch away from the bank. This is because a farmer digging a ditch would have to put the earth on his own side, not his neighbour’s.
Three sides of the meadow have mature hedges, probably several hundreds of years old. You can estimate the age of a hedgerow by counting the number of tree or hedge species in a 30 metre length. 1 additional species = 1 century of growth.
On the southern edge of the Upper Meadow you can see three distinct levels of woodland. The Ancient Woodland is many centuries old, and its shape has not changed since the earliest Ordnance Survey maps. In the top of the tallest trees you can see the nests of a rookery, which has been there for almost a century at least. In summer the rooks will “skydance” above the Upper Meadow, performing acrobatics just to show off.
The lower trees in front of the Ancient Woodland are the Centenary Wood, planted to mark 100 years of Dodington Parish Council on Mother’s Day 1994, when local families planted 800 trees in a single morning. In front of that again is the Jubilee Hedge, planted in 2012 to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.
The upper meadow has a good diversity of plant species with over sixty species of wildflowers, grasses, rushes and sedges being present in this meadow. This meadow is a damper meadow than the lower meadow and so it has a different plant composition. For example, a number of rush and sedge species are present in this meadow and a way of distinguishing between the wind pollinated plants in this meadow is to remember the phrase, “Rushes are round, sedges have edges and grasses have knobbly knees”.
There are also many flowering plants to be found in this meadow too. Cuckoo flowers, also known as lady’s smocks and milk maids, can be seen in the wetter parts of this meadow in the spring and later on in summer, distinctive colourful flowers such as the blue meadow cranesbill and the pink ragged robin can be seen. All those flowering plants support a good number of insects including butterflies and day flying moths such as the marbled white, small copper, small heath and burnet companion. An additional wildlife habitat can be found in this meadow in the form of a seasonal wildlife pond in the eastern corner of this meadow.