Recent History

Spring at Rawcliffe Meadows

The beginning – York Natural Environment Trust
York Natural Environment Trust (YNET) was established in 1986 as a group campaigning to preserve the green spaces around York that were starting to be rapidly eaten up by industrial estates, shopping malls and large private housing estates.

Sustrans on the scene
In 1990, the cycle track charity Sustrans wanted to establish a route from the centre of York to Beningborough. As part of the route they wanted to establish a track across land near the River Ouse owned by the National Rivers Authority, the predecessor of the Environment Agency, which was part of York’s flood plain. The National Rivers Authority would only permit the passage through their land if the adjacent pasture was managed as a nature reserve.

Cyclists at Rawcliffe Meadows

Rawcliffe Meadows is born
Phil Gray, the Greater York Countryside Project Manager, took a group of YNET members to visit the site, some 25 acres of poached pasture covered in creeping thistle and almost begged us to take it on. For some mad reason we did and that site, after some debate over a name, became Rawcliffe Meadows.

What the meadow looked like in 1991

The meadow in 1991

Challenges faced
Land that is not managed or is excessively grazed, becomes what is known as poached and soon reduces in its wildlife value. A concentration of a few species take over, hedge boundaries become lines of trees with nowhere to hide for small birds and mammals and useless retaining stock and wildlife disappear as their food and shelter disappear. This is what the newly formed Friends of Rawcliffe Meadows were faced with.

The early years
The first few years were spent removing noxious weeds such as creeping thistle and dock. This was done by reintroducing traditional Ings management, along with some spraying to initially kill off the acres of weeds. Many, many hours were spent by a small band of dedicated volunteers attacking the weed problem.

Along with improving the pasture, the volunteers planted large numbers of trees and shrubs, and established a large wildlife pond. A process of laying the hedges was started that saw 100 metre sections being layed each year, so that the wildlife was not too upset. Unfortunately our biggest problem was from people who didn’t appreciate that management is necessary to maintain wildlife habitat.

TCV hedgelaying 1994

TCV hedgelaying 1994

Ancient methods reintroduced
HayThe ancient methods of Ings or flood meadow management that were reintroduced basically consisted of grazing cattle for a few weeks early in the spring, allowing a hay crop to develop during the summer, cutting the crop for hay in late June or early July, allowing regrowth and then grazing again for a few weeks in the autumn. This compensated for river residues deposited during flooding and kept nutrient levels in balance to ensure a rich herb crop within the hay – a tasty meal for any cow. The hay crop for the first few years was only fit for bedding, but as the herbs returned the quality and quantity increased.

Rich in biodiversity
Tansy BeetleRawcliffe Meadows has over 180 different types of wildflowers and grasses. The grasslands, wetlands and copses provide home to many different birds, mammals and invertebrate including a number of nationally rare species such as the beautiful and iridescent Tansy Beetle, that now only occurs by the River Ouse around York.

Becoming a Countryside Stewardship site
In the early days when we struggled to find funds to manage the project, we became one of the early Countryside Stewardship sites. An agricultural scheme encouraging environmentally friendly methods of managing rare landscapes, which flood meadows are. The scheme was originally operated by MAFF, but now the Rural Decvelopment Service (RDS) of Defra, and supplies the main funding for day-to-day management. We are now in the second 10-year phase of the funding.

Improving the copse
Along with the meadow area, there is also a small copse, possibly the remnant of the ancient Forest of Galtres that had a number of dead elm trees. Replacement trees were planted along with setting up nest boxes for the resident tree sparrows, a nationally declining species. The boundary hedge has also been replanted.

Cornfield created
CornfieldThe Friends have also taken responsibility for the adjacent cornfield that was created to compensate for the loss of arable land when the Rawcliffe Bar Park & Ride was built.

Large numbers of Grey Partridge, Skylark and Corn Buntings had traditionally fed and nested in the field and this was an attempt to keep them using the area.

Some Skylarks briefly returned but the loss of these and Grey Partridge has to some extent been compensated by large numbers of farmland birds such as Linnets and Tree Sparrows. Corn and Reed Buntings. The future management is now focusing on providing food for them, along with increasingly uncommon cornfield flowers.

Ongoing projects
Two projects ongoing are ‘Save Our Sparrows’ (SOS), with which we put up another 50 Tree Sparrow nest boxes in 2005, and ‘Grow More Tansy’ (GMT) with which we hope to expand the numbers of Tansy plants with the aid of a local nursery, plant them by the water courses and see if there is a corresponding increase in the very rare Tansy Beetle.

Impact
From this can be seen that a very small band of enthusiasts with initially little experience of agriculture have made an impression on declining wildlife numbers around York and thus in global terms. The success was such that in 2013 the site, along with the adjacent Clifton Ings, was notified by Natural England as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for the rare MG4 grassland and tansy beetles.

Find out more
For further information, please contact us.

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