CONSERVATIONISTS are today calling on countryside-lovers to visit Oxfordshire’s fragile meadows to support their efforts to protect the threatened wildlife habitats.

The county is home to some of the country’s finest surviving examples of meadow – a landscape feature once common before the advent of mechanised farming.

More than 97 percent of the country’s wildflower meadows have been destroyed since the Second World War – a result of increased farming productivity partly driven by European subsidies to farmers.

The destruction of our meadows has led to a huge decline in numbers of bees, birds, insects, mammals, reptiles and wildflowers.

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However organisations such as the National Trust and the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) have conserved meadowland, maintaining them as pristine habitats. Today they celebrate their efforts with National Meadows Day – and are inviting lovers of the countryside to enjoy the meadows – and their crops of wildflowers and sprinkling of butterflies – at their colourful best.

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The National Trust looks after many meadows around Oxfordshire, from the rare chalk grassland landscapes at The Holies on the Berkshire border, to the butterfly-rich parkland at Coleshill, near Faringdon.

It also makes space for meadows in its gardens, such as in the orchards at Greys Court, to encourage wildlife to thrive in even well cultivated corners of the county.

BBOWT looks after meadows across the county, including Chimney Meadows, near Bampton.

BBOWT supporter Wendy Tobitt said: “Haymaking is likely to start on or around July 15, so make the most of the swaying sea of wild flowers and grasses now.

“Oxey Mead, one of the wildlife trust’s nature reserves on the banks of the River Thames, is a typical hay meadow which at this time of the year is a colourful tapestry of wild flowers and grasses with butterflies flitting among them.

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“In early summer, the deep burgundy heads of great burnet tower over smaller flowers such as common bird’s-foot-trefoil, fairy flax and yellow rattle. These attract butterflies including orange-tip, meadow brown and ringlet. After midsummer the flowers and grasses will set seeds which are loosened and drop to the ground during hay making.

“Stay on the footpaths to avoid trampling the flowers and take a camping stool so you can pause for a few minutes. Sit among the butterflies, watch the blissful waves of colour sway around your and listen to skylarks – what could be more nourishing for your soul.”

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