The wildflower meadow at King’s has been harvested again with the aid of Shire horses Cosmo and Bryn from the Huntingdon-based Waldburg Shires stables. The heavy horses, surrounded by a team of gardeners from King’s and various other Cambridge Colleges, have helped cut the meadow before turning and carting the hay on a traditional wain – with far lower impact on soil compaction and the flora of the meadow than if a tractor had been used.
Once the bales are ready, they will be distributed among the Cambridge community so more wildflower meadows can grow across the city, with hay also being offered to local farmers as winter feed for livestock.
Modelled on the East Anglian countryside at the turn of the twentieth century, the wildflower meadow at King’s is coming to the end of its fourth year of flowering. Its biodiversity has been monitored by academic staff across the University to understand its effect on species richness, as compared with the lawn which had occupied the space since the latter half of the eighteenth century.
A study led by King’s Research Fellow Dr Cicely Marshall found that establishing the meadow had made a considerable impact to the wildlife value of the land, while reducing the greenhouse gas emissions associated with its upkeep.
Marshall and her colleagues, among them three King’s undergraduate students, have conducted biodiversity surveys over three years to compare the species richness, abundance and composition supported by the meadow and adjacent lawn.
They found that, in spite of its small size, the wildflower meadow supported three times as many species of plants, spiders and bugs, including 14 species with conservation designations. Terrestrial invertebrate biomass was found to be 25 times higher in the meadow, with bat activity over the meadow also being three times higher than over the remaining lawn.