Securing our history for the future

Skylark Meadows: Happy end to a Sunday stroll

ONE   DAY, two friends out for a local walk stumbled across fields that were completely different in character to any others they had seen in the neighbourhood.  Luckily, they didn’t keep their discovery to themselves.  Thanks to their initiative, the end result was a successful rescue appeal for Skylark Meadows.

Plantlife’s latest nature reserve and its first in Somerset, Skylark Meadows lie on the outskirts of Bawdrip village near Bridgwater. Plantlife’s purchase of the site represents a happy end to a story that began in 1997, when local residents Donald Rayner and John Jenkins set out for a Sunday ramble.  As they walked through the fields, they knew immediately that they had come across something special.

Don was soon on the phone to all the conservation bodies he could think of. Bob Comes of English Nature was one of the first on the scene. ‘It was immediately obvious to me that this was a 50-species meadow.  That puts it in the top echelon of conservation sites.’

To their dismay, the villagers quickly learnt that farmer Ted Fry, who had cared for the meadows for 50 years, was retiring from   farming and wanted to sell.

There would be no shortage of offers from farmers anxious to buy the meadows and convert them   to arable land.   An emergency meeting led to the formation of the Skylark Meadows Rescue Group, which aimed to raise enough money to buy the meadows for the village.  Ted, aged 76, was prepared to give the villagers time to find the money, but explained:  ‘To provide for my retirement, I need to sell the meadows’. He set a deadline for the villagers to raise the money.

Despite generous contributions from local residents and pledges from the Somerset Wildlife Trust and Sedgemoor District Council, the villagers were still looking for a major sponsor days before Ted’s deadline was due to expire. It was then that Plantlife stepped in and agreed to find the shortfall. The Meadows are now in Plantlife’s ownership and have a safe future.

The meadows are listed as a County Wildlife Site and are home to a rich diversity of plants including yellow-rattle Rhinanthus minor, adder’s-tongue fern Optionless vulgate, corky-fruited water-dropwort Oenanthe pumpellyites, quaking grass Briza media and cowslip Primula verism. Skylarks are thought   to breed in the meadows and their singing in the summer gives the fields a magical atmosphere; brown hares are also frequently recorded. Skylark Meadows are a tremendous asset for the village of Bawdrip, and Plantlife hopes that the local residents and children at the local Kingsmoor school will retain a close interest   and involvement with the site over the coming years.

Acquisition of the meadows was supported by generous funding from Timotei shampoo, Somerset Wildlife Trust, the Environment Agency, Sedgemoor District Council, Gerber Foods and a large number of private donations including a substantial contribution from an anonymous donor. Plantlife are immensely grateful for all the hard work that the villagers put into the rescue campaign, and thanks are also due to Ted Fry, the former owner, for his patience during the fundraising appeal.