Meadow Restoration at The Dell

The Dell, Eastfield, Scarborough. A valuable sub-urban greenspace

The Dell, Eastfield. A valuable sub-urban greenspace

Project management experience comes in handy in my job. After several years working with local farmers implementing their wetland HLS schemes on The Carrs, I’ve picked up a thing or two. Thank goodness… for this month I’m applying my particular skillset to a sub-urban green space in Eastfield to the south of Scarborough, barely over a mile from the Hertford floodplain I’ve grown so fond of. This takes a good degree of understanding about habitat restoration, organizing contractors, scheduling volunteers and and local farmers to help carry out the restoration work.

‘The Dell’ is the first Local Nature Reserve in the Borough of Scarborough. This small grassland valley, with the Eastfield Beck trickling quietly along the bottom, forms a wedge of green extending from Deepdale into the housing estates of the Eastfield community.  A few years ago The Dell was an under-appreciated valley of short-mown ‘amenity’ grassland but the ‘Dell’ve into Nature’ project, with funding from an Access to Nature grant and spearheaded by Groundwork North Yorkshire and partners injected new life and interest in this modest 12 acre site. Rangers employed by Groundwork for the Dell project worked with the local community to design improvements such paths and a boardwalk, a small pond and dipping platform. They planted hedgerow trees along the stream and fished discarded mattresses and shopping trolleys out of it. A series of educational and practical events were organized, including volunteer work parties and wildlife surveys of the birds, butterflies and botany of the site. The cessation of regular mowing brought a flush of native wildflowers on the grassy slopes. A botanical survey confirmed the presence of a habitat classed as MG4 and MG5 grassland – essentially lowland meadow, in a quantity that is rarely discovered so close to an urban area.

The Dell’ve into Nature project culminated in the designation of The Dell as an LNR a couple of years ago and the successful application for a 10-year HLS restoration scheme, with management subsidies from Natural England. SBC Parks staff are busy at The Dell over the next few weeks masterminding some hay meadow restoration prescribed under Higher Level Stewardship. The Council do have tractors but not the specialist machinery needed for hay-making, seeding, scarifying etc, so we have roped in a couple of local farmers with experience and the right kit they can deploy for us.

Work scheduled in the coming weeks includes making and baling hay from the site, raking the slopes to open some bare soil and applying a bespoke mix of native wildflower seeds, prescribed by Natural England. The seed mixes include traditional meadow flowers such as Yellow Rattle, Ox-eye Daisy and Field Scabious to boost the existing flora of this unimproved grassland. The meadow species will thrive under a new annual hay-making regime with a late summer cut, after mid August each year when most flowers have set seed.

Meadow species thriving at The Dell include Black Knapweed

Meadow flowers thriving on the east slope of The Dell Local Nature Reserve include Black Knapweed.

The eastern slope is already quite well-populated with meadow species, so we are also orchestrating some hay-strewing. This meadow restoration technique involves taking hay full of ripe seed heads of grasses and flowers and spreading thinly on another site. It can be done entirely by hand, with scythes and hay-forks and wheelbarrows, but to make the process more efficient we are transporting some of the hay bales from the east side and attempting to roll them out on the (scarified and roughed-up) west side. This is where volunteers come in.

We reckon that a big round hay bale needs three to four people to efficiently manhandle and dispense thin layers of the hay across the receiving site. The idea is to space them to create parallel strips across the slope. Using rakes, hay forks, garden forks or even bare hands we can then distribute the strips on the intervening gaps. This is the theory. in practice the more people we have available the easier it will be to cover the whole area. Sounds like fun? Come and join us!  We have a local farmer baling the hay this week, then another farmer will bring a pasture scarifier (think giant rake, pulled by a tractor) preparing the slopes to receive seed.  After this, seed mixes with be broadcast – possibly at the same time as scarifying, but in any case we have some smaller quantities of seed of particular species to broadcast by hand in discrete patches.

Lots going on then! Come and join Scarborough Conservation Volunteers on Weds 10th Sept from 10.30am at the entrance to The Dell off Westway. Meet at the Westway cul de sac. (Nearby post code YO11 3EG.) You may like to bring a rake or a fork!

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