Welcome to Meadow Life!

Image of a hay meadow

Why not combine a walk in stunning scenery with the chance to see some beautiful hay meadows in their full glory and get out and discover a hay meadow near you in summer?

Cumbria’s hay meadow project

Cumbria has some fantastic hay meadows that have been managed by farmers for generations. Funded by the Heritage Lottery fund, Meadow Life ran from April 2013 until October 2016.

We worked with farmers and small holders to enhance, restore and manage flower rich hay meadows, using traditional practices to increase plant diversity.

We also promoted the landscape of hay meadows through events, educational workshops, walks and talks. We tried to spread the message about how and why we need to preserve our hay meadows and provide opportunities for people to grow to love and value this habitat, its beauty and its place in our landscape.

Conservation of hay meadows

Fields of gently waving grasses splashed with purple, yellow and white flowers evoke sleepy summer images all over Britain.

Flower- rich meadows were once common throughout Cumbria. They change dramatically through the season in their appearance and evoke a romantic notion of farming in harmony with the environment. Sadly, many of these images only exist as memories, as hay meadows have suffered a catastrophic decline. 

Nationally, 97% of flower-rich hay meadows have been lost between the 1930s and the mid 1980s. This was in part due to agricultural intensification converting 'herb meadows' to more productive grasslands, dominated by lush grasses. 

In the Lake District, many meadows were ploughed up during the Second World War so that potatoes could be grown. More recently this has also been done to produce silage as winter animal feed.

Recent surveys suggest that there may be fewer than 10,000 hectares of unimproved meadows left in Britain, and only 1000 hectares of upland hay meadow habitat.

However, there are still pockets of the country where hay meadows are more common because the type of land and the regional climate dictate the use of older farming practices.

In the north of England, traditional meadows are still found in the north Pennines, North Yorkshire and Cumbria. Here some of the higher altitude meadows support specialist plants species, such as wood crane's-bill and many of the lady's mantle species. There are also lowland meadows, characterised by their assemblages of more common plant species.

In addition, roadside verges near fields that have been converted to lush grasslands often act as a reservoir of meadow flower species. It also helps that many land managers are proud of their meadows and very knowledgeable about the species they support and the management required in maintaining them.

Hay meadows are important for the plants they support. A hay meadow can support an incredible 50 plant species/sq. metre! This diversity of plants, with many species coexisting in a small area, has developed over a long period of time and is partly the result of the different rates of growth and development of each species in the meadow. These species are largely stress tolerant rather than fast growing competitive species.

Such a wealth of plant species can in turn provide habitats for many different animal species including the brown hare, insects such as the great yellow bumble bee, and birds such as skylark, curlew, lapwing and twite.

What has Meadow Life achieved?

Since 2013 Meadow Life has been working with farmers, small holders, community groups, schools, volunteers and members of the public to try and restore, promote and raise awareness of meadows and their management.
Throughout this time we have restored 110 hectares of hay meadows using techniques such as plug planting, green hay spreading and reinstating traditional management techniques. Alongside this we have recruited and trained a small army of volunteers who have surveyed 100 different meadows and 70 verges throughout the county. The data collected has been analysed and a report written analysing how successful restoration has been and how these restored sites have changed floristically. This data has also helped to analyse how many restored meadows we have of BAP quality habitat within the county.

We have held over 42 public events throughout the past three and a half years, including practical restoration days, scything courses, botanical ID courses, felting workshops and restoration demonstration days. These have engaged with a wide variety of different people (over 423 attendees) and we hope that it has given many people a better understanding of how wonderful and unique meadows are.

As part of the project we have also delivered educational workshops to schools around Cumbria, focussing on the importance of and threats to hay meadow habitats. These have been extremely popular and over 866 school children have learnt about meadows as a result. Some of these schools have then gone on to grow their own plug plants and then plant these in local meadows.

Cumbria Meadows Network

As the Meadow Life project started to come to an end many people felt that the momentum and expertise built up over the project should not be lost. In April 2016 Cumbria Meadows Network (CMN) was set up to enable meadow owners and managers to share knowledge and expertise, and to support each other with information and discussion of management techniques.

There are now over 50 people on the CMN email list and a Steering Group has been set up to guide future activities. If you would like any further information, or would be interested in helping in any way, please contact CMN using the email address below, or use their Facebook page to discuss the challenges, problems and successes in meadow restoration.

Information from our previous projects
 Going for Gold - read our report on the results from our previous five years of hay meadow restoration in Cumbria.


FilenameFile size
goingforgoldpaper.pdf727.97 KB
MANAGING GRASSLANDS A Guide for Smallholders.pdf1.56 MB
managing_and_restoring_lealfet.pdf2.66 MB
meadow_life_general_leaflet.pdf1020.85 KB
heritage_and_id_leaflet.pdf1.14 MB
meadow_life_wildlife_in_hay_meadows_factsheet_lr.pdf8.92 MB
meadow_life_walk_leaflets.pdf5.49 MB