In the countryside around us, the harvest has begun: meadows are now being cut, the long grasses strewn, turned to dry in the sunshine, then rowed and gathered into great big bales. You can sometimes hear the whirring of the bale-wrappers as they cover the large bales in plastic for haylage. Although the machinery is bigger, the process quicker and no longer labour-intensive, cutting the meadow for hay that will feed livestock through the winter is a practice that’s been going on for many thousands of years.
For the first 12 years at Sun Rising, we had an arrangement with a couple of local farmers: at some point between mid June and mid July they would come in and cut the main area of grass beyond the burial areas. However, as we have developed new wildflower meadow, planted more woodland, put in tracks, set the standing stones and so on, gradually we’ve been taking land away from that hay crop, and this year we are beginning a different way of managing the site – without farming.
The grasses in the midst of Sun Rising, still uncut, are now taller than they’ve been for decades, perhaps even centuries. And they are truly beautiful! Many are hard to identify until they flower and seed, but if you walk along one of the paths now you’ll find a good number of species: the dusky pink Yorkshire fog, the tall and tatty false oat grass, the fanned-out crested dogstail, the long-awned meadow barley, the soft heads of meadow foxtail, the deep blushes of red fescue, the delicate sprays of common bent, the stiff stalks of perennial ryegrass, the slim green fingers of timothy … Of course, there are buttercups in there too, and the occasional patch of creeping thistle. Grassland hasn’t the rich diversity of the wildflower meadow, but it is still a really valuable habitat that, if cut in June or July for hay, is effectively destroyed.
From hereon the grass at Sun Rising will be managed in cycles, small areas cut every 3 – 4 years and late in the summer. This will give the grassland birds, like the skylark, an extended season to breed more successfully. It’ll give moths and butterflies, like the rustic shoulder-knot, common wainscot, and meadow brown, a chance to complete their breeding cycle in safety and peace. It’ll give the wildlife generally a much larger area within which to forage, rest, hide and play. We’ll keep you informed about the changes over the course of the year, and let you know the results as the seasons flow on.