Boosting the natural diversity of flora and fauna
Little Leny Meadows lies between the Eas Gobhain and Garbh Uisge which merge at ‘The Meetings’ in Callander Meadows to form the River Teith. The area is divided by National Cycle Route 7 between Callander and Kilmahog, the south side including the Buchanan Burial Ground with the north side being wilder and less accessible. Little Leny Meadows floods in winter, which contributes to slowing the flow of water into the Teith.
Last year we completed a wet hay meadows survey as part of our Meadows project, and we have a further survey due in 2021. We asked Lesley from the Scottish Wildlife Trust Callander Group to talk us through the intent of the project and the survey processes.
Why are we interested in the plant life on Little Leny Meadows?
It’s one of few remaining examples of an ancient Scottish Wet Hay Meadow, but it has not been managed as such over several decades.
This has led to an over-abundance of course vegetation, dominated by meadow-sweet and valerian. This suppresses or eliminates the smaller, less-robust species, reducing diversity in plants, and is particularly detrimental when losing early-flowering species that are important for bees and butterflies. For example, cuckoo flower is an important food for orange-tip butterflies.
Continued management of these wet meadows will increase the variety of flowering plant species and reduce taller rushes and grasses. In turn, this will offer food and habitat for a wider range of insects which become food for birds, bats and small mammals.
Funding from the Stirling Council Community Pride Fund has been awarded to buy a number of bat and bird boxes, targeting mainly pipestrelle bats and woodland birds such as tits, robins, sparrows, nuthatches, tree creepers and barn/tawny owls. The Meadow’s central location makes it ideal for use as an ‘outdoor classroom’ with potentially close encounters with a range of wildlife.
Drier areas of the south were mowed in late July/early August 2018 and 2019 then further surveys were carried out, showing small changes that will be built upon with ongoing management.
What’s the history of wet hay meadows?
The almost total absence of ancient meadows in Scotland is partly due to haymaking from grass coming late in its agrarian history, following mechanisation and improvements in drainage. Based on a beef-cattle economy, the best pastures were reserved for the animals.
Scarcity of feed for horses impacted travellers; notably in 1653 Cromwell’s army had to delay excursions into the Loch Lomond area until the following spring when fresh growth became available for their mounts. The limited fodder that 17th-century husbandmen harvested for winter feed did not come from dry-field grass but from the sedges and rushes that dominated their wetter fields and surrounding waste. Hardly any of these Lomondside marsh or bog-hay meadows have survived into modern times. The grazing of cattle at Little Leny Meadows, planned between July and early October, has not yet started, delayed by necessary restoration of fencing to contain them and prevent access to the river which would damage banks and increase silt input, detrimental to breeding of salmon, trout, lampreys and fresh water pearl mussels.
What are the plant surveys?
These involve monitoring species’ presence or absence at stations along transects between set points; they were designed by Jane Jones (Vice County recorder) and Davie Black (then of Plantlife). Volunteers are supporting the annual surveys each summer, which record the presence or absence of specific plant species against a list for a Northern Hay Meadow on the south side and for a Tall Herb Fen on the north side.
The datum plant survey in 2016 confirmed an earlier extensive list of flowering plants, grasses, lichens and mosses, including several scarce and wet meadow indicator species. A large number of globe flowers on the north side are noteworthy. However, rank vegetation like tall grasses, meadowsweet and valerian are now dominant throughout.