Mottey Meadows National Nature Reserve is one of the best examples in the UK of wildflower rich floodplain meadows. The reserve comprises a series of alluvial flood meadows which have been managed as hay meadows for many centuries. As one of the five most important sites for floodplain meadows in the UK, Mottey Meadows have been designated as a Special Area for Conservation.
The reserve’s grassland supports over 240 species of flowering plants and grasses; many being typical plants of traditional hay meadows that have disappeared from much of their former range. Twentieth century agricultural improvements have destroyed the great majority of lowland hay meadows in England but the 24 meadows at the reserve have survived relatively intact.
Mottey Meadows is considered to be the most northerly site in England where the snake’s head fritillary grows as a truly wild plant. It is found in only a handful of sites in the UK. Locally the snake’s-head fritillary is known as the “folfalarum” or “folfar” this name is not known to be used anywhere outside of the village of Wheaton Aston. The reserve is also home to plants such as common meadow rue, yellow flag iris and water mint in the ditches and in the wetter meadows you will find cuckoo flower and marsh marigold.
By mid June the meadows are at their best with a sea of great burnet, ragged robin, knapweed and other hay meadow specialists such as pepper saxifrage, meadow rue, meadow thistle and saw wort. This type of display of hay meadow flowers would have been quite common a century ago however due to agricultural improvements to 90% of England floodplain meadows have disappeared.
The site supports a number of invertebrate species, including numerous species of butterflies and the rare horsetail weevil. Mottey Meadows is also home to breeding birds such as snipe, curlew and lapwing.
The Meadows are managed through a traditional hay cut (historically done by hand, today done by modern agricultural machinery), followed by grazing. Local farmers are licensed to mow the hay and graze their stock on the reserve. By July many of the flowers are starting to seed and in the first spell of settled dry weather the hay will be mown.
The haymaking process and aftermath grazing help scatter wildflower seed, thus perpetuating the wild plants that have existed at Mottey for many hundreds of years. The rich flora and fauna present at Mottey will only be maintained by the continuation of the traditional farming methods that have been followed for centuries.
Other management works carried out by Natural England include management of tall hedges and stock fencing which surround many of the meadows and maintenance of the reserves extensive ditch and drain network.
The pattern of agricultural management which is practised today has continued at Mottey Meadows for many hundreds of years, with some evidence that this was in operation as far back as 1336. The remains of a water meadow system are still visible in a number of the meadows. Historically, some of the meadows were divided into dole fields, where a separate tenant was responsible for a particular strip of land. The tenant retained a proportion of the profit from the sale of hay.
There are strong links between the village of Wheaton Aston and the NNR, centred on the haymaking activity and the fritillary which has become the symbol of the village. Traditionally, the villagers paid a visit to the meadows on the first Sunday in May when ‘armfuls of fritillaries’ (or folfalarums as they are known locally) were picked by the village children. Although the Sunday visit lapsed in the early 20th century, two village walks around the reserve are held every year. In addition, local people make use of the concessionary path and the public rights of way. A Friends of Mottey Meadows group was established in 2009.
Please note the site is limited to permit holders only apart from guided walks. A permissive path is, however, open through the hay meadows for the public to see the best of the wildflower displays from 1 June to 31 August. For details contact site staff on 01952 812111 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dogs must be kept on leads at all times as rare ground nesting birds breed on the reserve.