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In a Summer Meadow

Lying lazy in a meadow by a stream home to sheep ‘n’ cows and wagtail yellow buttercups dance in the meadow grass so high above kestrel hover a flit of swallow ... wild rainbow cast the summer breeze ‘cross grasses mix’d an artists palette red gold ‘n’ green finches twitter ‘n’ tweeze ...

The featured picture by Sir Alister Hardy is of the Windrush Valley and its meadow lands looking towards Taynton Church from 1945. The picture was painted in late spring or early summer, the white Cow Parsley still lining the lane verges later to be replaced by purple-blue Meadow Cranesbill.


Meadows in my mind

Summer really kicks in ‘when the June roses open their petals on the briars, and the scent of new-mown hay is wafted over the hedge ... as though a hundred hives of honey had been emptied on it.’ ... Richard Jefferies ‘Nature Near London’.

The smell of new-mown hay; meadow hay full of natural herbs and grasses - the gentle clatter of an old ‘Little Grey Fergie’ working in the distance - daisy chains, dandelion clocks and buttercup chins - the chime of the Church clock on the quarter hour from ‘tother side of the village green - [And in the hay meadow across the way] ... ‘The men leaned on their rakes, about to begin, But still. And all were silent. All was old, This morning time, with a great age untold’ ... from Haymaking by Edward Thomas - timeless memories.

Born deep in the Somerset countryside, meadows were my playground from early on - ‘like a large summer garden - a place to sit and [play] and think of nothing in’ - but as I grew older they also became my friends - a place of retreat, for reflection, thinking and dreaming - to feel the earth - to smell the warm summer air - to gaze at the fluffy white clouds in a perfect blue sky - to feel the sun - to listen to the soft rustling of the leaves in the summer breeze - and to hear the birds singing from across the fields - to lie in a summer meadow by a stream ...

Lying lazy in a meadow by a stream:

the peal of distant church bells rings
across the summer meadows a lark ascending sings;

under a willow golden sunbeams flash
in the summer sunshine colours flying kingfisher splash;

yellow flags waving a gay summer tribe
of finches fluttering from leafy hedges bunting yeller cirl scribble ‘n’ scribe;

the furze linnet sing of summer love
in the air dandelion clocks timeless the gentle purr of turtle dove;

home to sheep ‘n’ cows and wagtail yellow
buttercups dance in the mowing grass so high above kestrel hover a flit of swallow ...

Lying lazy in a meadow by a stream.

In a Summer Meadow

Originally inspired by ‘Granchester Meadows’ by Roger Waters Pink Floyd from their 1969 album ‘Ummagumma’

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’Tis Haytime In the Meadow

Growing up in the post-War years of the ‘50s life was slower, less frenetic, more laid back, or so it seemed. Perhaps just the West Country way when everything can be done ‘dreckly’ especially in the long drawn out days of Summer. ‘Not only the days, but life itself lengthens in summer’ ... ‘hastelessness’ as Richard Jefferies called it. Edward Thomas also evokes this feeling in these lines from his poem ‘Haymaking’ ... Haymakers rested. The tosser lay forsook. Out in the sun; and the long waggon stood Without its team, it seemed it never would Move from the shadow of that single yew. The team, as still, until their task was due ...

But maybe that’s just the way I remember it ...

We were allowed out of school to help with haymaking - tho’ I’m sure we hindered more than helped; heady summer days - forking hay - falling off the hay wagon (and that was before we had drunk lashings of ginger beer) - the rickety old elevator - the noise, smell, chatter and good humour - and wonder of wonders rolling in the hay atop the rick before it was thatched; long into the summer evening aglow a fiery red from the setting sun. Another fine day tomorrow.

‘Tis haytime and the red-complexioned sun Was scarcely up ere blackbirds had begun Along the meadow hedges here and there To sing loud songs to the sweet-smelling air Where breath of flowers and grass and happy cow Fling o’er one’s senses streams of fragrance now while in some pleasant nook the swain and maid Lean o’er their rakes and loiter in the shade Or bend a minute o’er the bridge and throw Crumbs in their leisure to the fish below —Hark at that happy shout—and song between ‘Tis pleasure’s birthday in her meadow scene. What joy seems half so rich from pleasure won As the loud laugh of maidens in the sun?

Haymaking
John Clare (1793-1864)

Here is an introduction to one of the best descriptions of haymaking in the ‘50s I have ever read and so much better than I could write. It starts ...

Have you ever smelt newly mown Hay? I doubt it! Not hay that that had not been touched with a drop of anything from a can with scull and cross bones on, or been liberally salted with small white and grey pellets of artificial fertiliser. This hay in 1952-3 was full of natural herbs and grasses, red and white clover several types of vetches, coltsfoot, meadow sweet, a small amount of buttercups daisies and dead and stinging nettles and a few stray docks that had got back in after pulling, (One job keeping the grass sweet was to have a session pulling the unwanted docks as they grew.) The only fertiliser used was from the cows that grazed the pasture. ...

Go read for yourself - it’s awesome.

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A Path Thro’ Summer

It was the Summer of ‘73 ...

... I climbed over the little wooden stile into the field making for the pond in the middle, the Westbury White Horse just visible on the distant hills. Mostly overgrown with Bramble and overhung by a drunken willow, the pond edge poached heavily by the black and white cattle on the only side they could get to the water that was left. It never dried up even though rank grass encroached it’s edges. A moorhen occasionally could be flushed; but not today - a sleeping vixen was in the grassy hollow left when a past winter gale had split it asunder the fallen branch still lying against the trunk - a pathway up. She didn’t move at my approach though she knew I was there so I walked quietly around aiming for the stile in the far hedge. This was an old hedge of field maple hawthorn holly and Hazel. There would have been Elms too; apart from the odd struggling sapling there were none now - wiped out by Dutch Elm disease that changed Turners English landscape forever.

Across another grassy field with Oxeye Daisy and red Poppy round it’s edges - from when it had been planted with a cereal crop some summers ago - towards a little spinney of Alder, Hazel, Hawthorn, Bramble and Nettle; and a single Scots Pine, that marked the confluence of Biss Brook with the river Biss flowing from the chalk downs of Salisbury Plain on its way to join the river Avon flowing to Bath and then the sea near Bristol. I always made for the Pine as in a previous Summer it was host for a day to a handsome visiting Male Hobby.

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Hush! The gentle ‘turr ’ ‘purr’ of Turtle Dove1, their song just heard above the chuckling of the brook and the whispering of the leaves come alive in the warm summer breeze. The hum of bees on the clover in the meadow - no other sound - the silence of the fields in noonday slumber ...

It was a clear water stream on a bed of gravel, running through a wide clay valley in west wilts off the western edge of Salisbury Plain. The whole area is steeped in history and tradition - evidence of Roman occupation; a ruined house2 once second only to Longleat in size - the lime tree avenues the only evidence of it’s grandeur; moated farms, mills and manor houses. The fields next to the brook were traditionally managed as water meadows3 (Bedworks) probably upto the early 1900s. You can still see the ridges and furrows - all that is left now.

Here was a kingfishers nest in the sandy bank near an old disused wooden sluice once used to divert water to flood the fields downstream in winter and again in early summer ... Still farmed in the old ways within recent memory - I could easily imagine ... the old cart-mare in the meadow after a day hauling hay - shaking herself, making the earth and air tremble by her with the convulsion of her mighty muscles, the old elevator by the rick now silent.

Hawthorn bushes and white field rose grow along the bank of the brook on this side—a cool breeze now and again coming along the course of the stream, brought the smell of meadow-sweet its pale cream frothy flowers lining a stream side ditch. And the musky smell of elderflower by the Ford. Watercress growing around the edges where there was little flow of water. As I cross the ford I could here a noisy chirruping from an overhanging willow. It puzzled me at first - it sounded a bit like a budgerigar and it wasn’t a House Sparrow. Then I twigged - Tree Sparrow4 - a bird I hadn’t seen in a long time and certainly not as many.

I sat down under the shade of the trees and in a little while a few flew down to feed on insects in the lush streamside vegetation. I think they were family parties adults with recently fledged youngsters.

I returned by way of another field following close by the hedge - a mix of Bramble blackthorn hawthorn and wild plum; wild rose, travellers joy and creamy honeysuckle; meadowsweet and nettle at the bottom where ran a little ditch which tho dry now usually had a trickle of water. A green woodpecker who had been anting flew away with a loud cry back across the fields towards the spinney. I paused a moment to watch an unfamiliar greyish Warbler in the thickets. It flew ahead of me disappearing deep into the overgrown hedge; a short burst of song - not a Whitethroat - a bit like a Chaffinch or better, a Blackcap - what then: a Lesser Whitethroat.

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Another Time Another Place

Another time another place W H Hudson also wrote of the Lesser Whitethroat ...

In the summer of 1900 I found the lesser whitethroat—the better whitethroat I should prefer to call it—in extraordinary abundance in the large unkept hedges east of the woods in the parishes of Fawley and Exbury. Hitherto I had always found this species everywhere thinly distributed; here it was as abundant as the reed-warblers along the dykes in the flat grasslands on the Somerset coast, and like the reed-warblers in the reed and sedge-grown ditches and streams, each pair of whitethroats had its own part of the hedge; so that in walking in a lane when you left one singing behind you heard his next neighbour singing at a distance of fifteen or twenty yards farther on, and from end to end of the great hedge you had that continuous beautiful low warble at your side, and sometimes on both sides. The loud brief song of this whitethroat, which resembles the first part of a chaffinch’s song, is a pleasant sound and nothing more; the low warbling, which runs on without a break for forty or fifty seconds, or longer, is the beautiful song, and resembles the low continuous warble of the blackcap, but is more varied ...

W H Hudson Hampshire Days 1903

W H Hudson in Hampshire Days also wrote of sitting under ancient limes looking out over the valley and water meadows (of the Itchen in Hampshire). He was staying in the little summer cottage of Edward Grey and his wife Dorothy- their treasured retreat ...

A long field’s length away from the cottage is the little ancient, rustic, tree-hidden village [Itchen Abbas]. The cottage, too, is pretty well hidden by trees, and has the reed and Sedge and grass green valley and swift river before it, and behind on each side green fields and old untrimmed hedges with a few old oak trees growing both in the hedgerows and the fields. There is also an ancient avenue of limes which leads nowhere and whose origin is forgotten. The ground under the trees is over grown with long grass and nettles and burdock; nobody comes or goes by it, it is only used by the cattle, the white and roan and strawberry shorthorns5 that graze in the fields and stand in the shade of the limes on very hot days.

During the very hot days that followed it was pleasure enough to sit in the shade of the limes most of the day; there was coolness, silence, melody, fragrance; and, always before me, the sight of that moist green valley, which made one cool simply to look at it, and never wholly lost its novelty. The grass and herbage grow so luxuriantly in the water-meadows that the cows grazing there were half-hidden in their depth; and the green was tinged with the purple of seeding grasses, and red of dock and sorrel, and was everywhere splashed with creamy white of meadow-sweet. The channels of the swift many-channelled river were fringed with the livelier green of sedges and reed-mace, and darkest green of bulrushes, and restful grey of reeds not yet in flower.

The old limes were now in their fullest bloom; and the hotter the day the greater the fragrance, the flower, unlike the woodbine and sweetbriar, needing no dew nor rain to bring out its deliciousness. To me, sitting there, it was at the same time a bath and atmosphere of sweetness, but it was very much more than that to all the honey-eating insects in the neighbourhood. Their murmur was loud all day till dark, and from the lower branches that touched the grass with leaf and flower to their very tops the trees were peopled with tens and with hundreds of thousands of bees. Where they all came from was a mystery; somewhere there should be a great harvest of honey and wax as a result of all this noise and activity. It was a soothing noise, according with an idle man’s mood in the July weather; and it harmonised with, forming, so to speak, an appropriate background to, the various distinct and individual sounds of bird life.

The birds were many, and the tree under which I sat was their favourite resting-place; for not only was it the largest of the limes, but it was the last of the row, and overlooked the valley, so that when they flew across from the wood on the other side they mostly came to it. It was a very noble tree, eighteen feet in circumference near the ground; at about twenty feet from the root, the trunk divided into two central boles and several of lesser size, and these all threw out long horizontal and drooping branches, the lowest of which feathered down to the grass. One sat as in a vast pavilion, and looked up to a height of sixty or seventy feet through wide spaces of shadow and green sunlight, and sunlit golden-green foliage and honey-coloured blossom, contrasting with brown branches and with masses of darkest mistletoe.

Among the constant succession of bird visitors to the tree above me were the three pigeons—ring-dove, stock-dove, and turtle-dove; finches, tree-warblers, tits of four species, and the wren, tree-creeper, nut-hatch, and many more. The best vocalists had ceased singing; the last nightingale I had heard utter its full song was in the oak woods of Beaulieu on June 27: and now all the tree-warblers, and with them chaffinch, thrush, blackbird, and robin, had become silent. The wren was the leading songster, beginning his bright music at four o’clock in the morning, and the others, still in song, that visited me were the greenfinch, goldfinch, swallow, dunnock, and cirl bunting. From my seat I could also hear the songs in the valley of the reed and sedge warblers, reed-bunting, and grasshopper-warbler.

But for Richard Jefferies the glory of the Summer Meadow could be heard in the song of the Blackbird ...

The blackbird’s whistle is very human, like a human being playing the flute; an uncertain player, now drawing forth a bar of a beautiful melody and then losing it again. He does not know what quiver or what turn his note will take before it ends; the note leads him and completes itself. It is a song which strives to express the singer’s keen delight, the singer’s exquisite appreciation of the loveliness of the days; the golden glory of the meadow, the light, the luxurious shadows, the indolent clouds reclining on their azure couch. ... Now and again the blackbird feels the beauty of the time, the large white daisy stars, the grass with yellow-dusted tips, the air which comes so softly unperceived by any precedent rustle of the hedge, the water which runs slower, held awhile by rootlet, flag, and forget-me-not. He feels the beauty of the time and he must say it. His notes come like wild flowers, not sown in order. The sunshine opens and shuts the stops of his instrument.

(‘The Coming of Summer’)

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Without the blackbird, in whose throat the sweetness of the green fields dwells, the days would be only partly summer ... without the blackbird, even the nightingale would be but half welcome. It is not yet noon, these songs have been ceaseless since dawn; this evening, after the yellowhammer has sung the sun down, when the moon rises and the faint stars appear, still the cuckoo will call, and the grasshopper lark, the landrail’s “crake, crake” will echo from the mound, a warbler or a blackcap will utter his notes, and even at the darkest of the summer night the swallows will hardly sleep in their nests. As the morning sky grows blue, an hour before the sun, up will rise the larks, singing and audible now, the cuckoo will recommence, and the swallows will start again on their tireless journey. So that the songs of the summer birds are as ceaseless as the sound of the waterfall which plays day and night.

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A Coronation Meadow

... A traditional hay-meadow, reaching its peak just now, in June, presents a startling superabundance of floral life. There are so many blooms of so many colours, mixed in with so many waving grasses, that they blend into a rainbow mix that seems to be fizzing, a sort of animated chaos.

From the bright golden haze of the buttercups and yellow rattle, to the white of ox-eye daisies, the mauves and maroons and purples of clover, knapweed, wood cranesbill and spotted orchids, there can be as many as 150 species in one spot, and it’s the coming-together of them all which is extraordinary. It makes for a quite incomparable display of the sheer exuberance of the natural world. ...

For thousands of years, farmers took grazing animals off the meadows in early spring, so the grass and the herbs could flower and grow tall and be harvested in July as hay, the farm animals’ winter fodder.  But then the tradition came to an end in the 20th century, and between 1930 and 1980, 97 per cent of Britain’s traditional hay meadows disappeared.

Tractors replaced farm horses, so hay was much less needed, and then silage took its place anyway. Many of the meadows were ploughed for crops during the war, or ruined with modern fertilisers as post-war intensive farming took hold. A total of 1.7m hectares has now dropped to a pitiful total of about 15,000, surviving mostly in tiny parcels scattered across the country, where few people get to.

Yet the cause is not lost, there is hope for the future. In 2013 The Prince of Wales launched an initiative to have a “Coronation Meadow” established in every county. The Prince’s aim is to begin a widespread meadow restoration movement. ...

Coronation Meadows

From Nature Studies: Meadows are the wildflower experience taken to the ultimate power - Michael McCarthy writing in The Independent - June 2013

Lying lazy in a meadow by a stream

wild rainbow cast a summer breeze
‘cross grasses mix’d an artists palette red gold ‘n’ green finch twitter ‘n’ tweeze;

the pipit sing of meadow flowers and hay
time flown the scream’n swift all hush’d as blackbird flute the end of day;

on the wing to Africa now the cuckoo fly
spotted orchid and bee no more still the hum of meadow ‘cept a Moorhen cry ...

The beauty of the moment stops time ...

Nature Notes – Summer (2018)

June

Bullfinch, Goldfinch and Greenfinch on a bend in the road by the Ash favoured by the Bullfinch in winter. Feeding on Sorrel I think. Chaffinch missing. Other than that I don’t think I’ve seen so many finch breeds together. Posted 8 June 2018

The heatwave of the last few weeks continues. Haymaking in full swing. Cow Parsley that lined the lanes now mostly gone over. Goldfinch feeding on the seed heads of Sorrel of which there are a few clumps at the bend in the lane. Foxglove well out along the hedgebanks and walls. Ragged Robin and Yellow Flags in damper places. Buttercups in the meadows. Elder out in flower too and the first of the white field and pink dog rose. Posted 9 June 2018

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Garden is full of young birds – Blue Tit, Great Tit, House Sparrow, Magpie and Great Spotted Woodpecker. Posted 15 June 2018

The garden is full of baby birds – Blue Tit Great tit house Sparrow Chaffinch magpie and Great Spotted Woodpecker. Baby Blue tit being fed on the window sill outside the kitchen window. The Woodpecker use nearby telegraph poles as staging posts between the garden and the nearby Wood sometimes as feeding posts. This morning an adult goldfinch in perfect plumage feeding on a dandelion seed head just outside the breakfast room window so close you could almost touch. Coal tit back visiting and the occasional Nuthatch greenfinch and Jay. Buzzard most days over the fields and the occasional Kestrel but no sign of breeding. Raven now dispersed as I haven’t seen one in a few weeks. Posted 20 June 2018
A pair of Goldfinch on the feeders outside the breakfast room early his morning. Posted 21 June 2918

And still the baby boom of birds in the garden. Yesterday evening saw something I didn’t think possible – a young Great Spotted Woodpecker perched happily on the telegraph wires. A Buzzard atop his favourite post further down the lane. And the first sighting of our Brandt’s Bats – 3 hawking insects over the back lawn around 10.30pm. Posted 22 June 2018.

It was another long evening still light at 10.30 although the sun had set a while ago . The half moon hung in the air above the poplars. As we walked up the lane there were bats everywhere. Flying just above head height. Mostly our local Brandt’s Bats but one or two bigger ones as well Natterers Noctule or Lesser Horseshoe? Posted 23 June 2018.

Another very hot day. A single Swift high above Bethel our local village at around 9.30 this morning and then a couple of Curlew in a field newly mown for hay. A Buzzard on a telegraph post just up the lane a bit late last night – 10.50 and what I think we’re a couple of little owls calling/ hunting from the fields down from our house. Posted 24 June 2018.

The fields around home have finally been cut for hay and baled. A solitary Buzzard has been hanging about. No sign of any others!

A number of Ringlet Butterfly have been out flying throughout the day. Posted June 28, 2018

A couple of Song Thrush early this morning singing from across the fields towards the nearby woods. Later the first Red Admiral. Posted June 29, 2018

One of four posts: Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring - the cornerstones of this blog. Follow me, if you will, as I ramble through the year. Share your own memories of summer meadows, or favourite walks - join the conversation - add your voice to the hum of summer ...

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  1. Locally common before their catastrophic decline, in the ‘70s that continues still. The Turtle Dove is now the UK’s fastest declining bird and, given the matching decline across Europe, is now considered at risk of global extinction. South and West Wiltshire remains a stronghold thanks to farm stewardship schemes.

    Turtle Doves spend the winter in West Africa, arriving back to the UK in April to breed. Once in the UK, they prefer areas of bare ground with open water and mature scrub areas in which to nest, with a plentiful supply of seed to feed their young. They prefer thorny species such as hawthorn and nests are often associated with climbers such as traveller’s joy (wild clematis), honeysuckle or bramble.

    Read more at Turtle Dove Conservation

  2. A large house, traditionally said to have been second only to Longleat in size in the county, formerly stood near the site of Cutteridge Farm. The suggestion that it had not been built by Leland's time (The itinerary of John Leland in or about the years 1535-1543), because he did not mention it when he visited Brook, is plausible, and it may have been built by the Trenchards in the late 16th or early 17th century. All that is known of it is that it was remarkable for the number and size of its windows and that it was roofed with copper. It was pulled down c. 1800. (fn. 127) The house appears to have stood in front of and slightly south-west of the present farmhouse. In 1773 it was surrounded by formal gardens and approached by avenues of trees; (fn. 128) two avenues of old limes still remain. The farmhouse probably formed a detached domestic building such as a brewhouse or kitchen. It is of stone with hipped stone-tiled roof and stone-mullioned windows of two lights. The ground floor was remodelled, and an extension added at the west end probably when the large house was pulled down.

    Against the Biss, west of Druce's Farm, is Barnfield, part of Cutteridge Farm, which in the early 18th century had such a reputation at Smithfield that 'the name of Barnfield grazing produced an immediate sale', until all the cattle from the district were said to have been fattened there, and the deception was detected. (fn. 188) Yet although the clay land favoured this type of farming, some land was kept under the plough; in 1801 116 a. of wheat, 85 a. of oats, and small quantities of barley, potatoes, and beans were sown. (fn. 189)

  3. You can still clearly see the buried workings of the classic bedwork systems on satellite images on quite a few meadows.

    Water meadows were areas of grassland alongside a river or stream irrigated to produce a rich hay crop and lush grazing. Precisely engineered channels were dug so that a thin sheet of water flowed steadily through the grass sward for set periods of time at prescribed seasons of the year. Their operation, a practice known as ‘floating’ or ‘drowning’, deposited nutrient-laden silt and caused benefcial oxidation of the soil.

    In addition, floating in winter reduced the effects of frost and raised the soil temperature, providing an ‘early bite’ of grass for sheep flocks weeks before other pastures were ready. Floating in summer raised moisture levels in the meadows, increasing the hay crop. All this involved skilled management which was often carried out by professionals known as ‘drowners’, ‘meadmen’ or ‘watermen’.
    .

  4. Wiltshire was/is one of their strongholds - a BAP species there are projects to strengthen their presence within the UK as a whole - the Marlborough Downs, Wiltshire, Suffolk, North West England and Scotland.

    You can read of one such project here:

    Tree Sparrow Villages

  5. Up till the 1950’s cows were predominantly red or red and white, shorthorns or Holsteins. Black and white Friesian cows were imported from Holland on a few occasions from the 1900s but didn’t become popular until the 1950s when the British Friesian - a "dual-purpose" animal - came to dominate the UK dairy cow population with relatively high milk yields from low maintenance grazed pastures - driven by low milk price and the need to cut production costs.

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Cynthia Reyes
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Cynthia Reyes

I read this last night and thought I’d come back to it today. Thanks for – among other things — introducing me to these authors and their writing.

navasolanature
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I hope turtle doves will recover. ‘Our’ one has just started turrrring again. It keeps out of sight though.