Three Hagges Woodmeadow: UK biodiversity hotspot highlights how woodmeadows can help reverse wildlife decline

A pioneering 25-acre nature recovery project near York, on a site which was effectively biodiversity-free only a few years ago, is now soaring with more than 1,000 species of invertebrate including a wide variety of ladybirds and beetles.

Created by the Woodmeadow Trust in 2012 on a former barley field, findings at the charity’s Three Hagges Woodmeadow offers hope of rapidly tackling declines in nature by establishing similar biodiversity hotspots UK-wide. 

National experts at the woodmeadow on the Escrick Estate between Selby and York have been monitoring mammals, birds, insects, spiders, reptiles, amphibians, wildflowers, trees and soil.

Annual surveys carried out by expert Andrew Grayson since 2015, have so far formally recorded the presence of 1,113 invertebrate species – including a wide variety of ladybirds, moths, beetles, grasshoppers and spiders.

A wealth of insect pollinators, attracted by a huge diversity of wildflowers that form a blaze of beautiful colour in the spring and summer, includes 34 bee species, 26 butterfly species, and 43 hoverfly species – none of which would have been found on the site when it was a barley field. 

Butterflies include the dingy skipper – a species usually found on chalky soil Bees include the red mason bee and wool carder bee, and bumblebees such as the tree bumblebee and red-tailed bumblebee. 

Adding a pond to the woodmeadow has attracted further species, including dragonflies, damselflies, water beetles and pond snails, and offers a breeding site for newts and frogs. 

The Woodmeadow Trust says woodmeadows could help transform the UK’s biodiversity.

Little known in the UK, woodmeadows are mixtures of woodland and meadow that combine the biodiversity of both habitats, and are exceptionally rich in life.

Over 60 flora species per square metre have been recorded in woodmeadows in Scandinavian and Baltic countries, where they were common until the last century. 

Ros Forbes Adam, Project Leader at the Woodmeadow Trust, said: “Wildlife has moved into our woodmeadow at a speed that’s taken experts by surprise, even though the site is in its infancy and won’t mature for many years. This is a real cause for optimism. It shows that woodmeadows could help reverse the UK’s catastrophic decline in biodiversity, if created on a large scale and connected to other habitats to form wildlife corridors. Our aim is to see a woodmeadow established in every parish in the country.” 

The UK has eradicated 97% of wildflower meadows, two-thirds of its orchards, hundreds of thousands of ponds, hundreds of thousands of kilometres of hedgerow, and has become one of Europe’s least-wooded countries – with 56% of species in decline and 15% threatened with extinction. 

Because woodmeadows are efficient carbon dioxide sinks, they can help tackle climate breakdown. Woodlands can store up to 12 tonnes of carbon, and meadow three tonnes, per hectare a year. Woodmeadows can be any size, and can be created in gardens, urban areas, parks, farmland, and community woods.

Orchards, mini-meadows, hedges and woodland can be turned into types of woodmeadow by planting pollinator-friendly shrubs and wildflowers beneath native trees, and ensuring lots of habitat edges. 

The Woodmeadow Trust

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living. She also offers content services to businesses and individuals at Rosamedea.com

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