Filled with as many colours as a Malcolm Mowat’s handmade worsted wool scarf, the meadows of Scotland are a natural wonder that is best seen between the months June and September. At this time of year the meadows are drawing towards the end of their Summer show, but they are still filled with flowers and seed heads of all shapes and sizes. Until they are cut in early October, they also continue to provide shelter to a host of animals.
Scottish meadows come in five main varieties. You get wet meadows, dry meadows, woodland meadows, Highland grassland meadows and coastal meadows.
Wet meadows are, unsurprisingly, located on ground that is damp. This ground will sometimes be flooded and can even be sodden for prolonged periods of time. The most recognisable plants are yellow flag iris, knapweed, ox-eye daisy, meadow buttercup and devils-bit scabious. En masse, flag iris in the North West Highlands will attract corncrakes that have become increasingly rare due to modern agricultural methods. They will also attract dragonflies by the dozen and caterpillars will often be seen munching the leaves. Have no fear, though, for if we had no caterpillars we’d have no butterflies.
Dry meadows are found where the land is steep and the soil thin. These can thrive in remarkably hostile conditions and they really do put on a magnificent show. Some of the more notable plants contained within them are cowslip, St John’s wort, wild carrot, rock rose and white campion.
My personal favourite are the Highland grassland meadows. These can be found wherever acidic soil is present and freely draining. Unlike all other meadows, there is no need for this type to be cut or grazed to ensure healthy plants. Heather, bluebell, harebell, white clover and common dog violet are most easily seen and they often provide a vivid visual contrast with the surrounding bare landscape.
People don’t often think of woodland meadows, as such, but they will invariably have a clear picture of what natural woodland plants should be present in undisturbed woods. This is the same thing. The classic combination of foxglove, bluebells, wild garlic, primrose and bugle is deservedly iconic and not a year passes without mesmerising shots of this natural floral miracle being present in our major newspapers. What makes these plants so special is that they are all hardy and that they flourish in areas of low light.
Along Scotland’s coastline, coastal meadows stand against all the odds and put on a scarcely believable annual performance. These plants withstand salt, next to no moisture and being sandblasted by gales whipping sand off the beaches. In this light, even the humble sea plantain can hold a special place in anyone’s heart.
All these meadows are of great benefit to our wildlife on all levels of the food chain. Ants, eagles, owls, mice, beetles, newts; they all benefit from meadows. It is partly for this reason, then, that we live in a time where the creation, restoration and expansion of meadows is seen to be fashionable. They allow people to connect to the Scottish flora and fauna in a really compressed manner and they also allow the owners to use scythes.
Long live the meadow.