Chew Moor: A Crusade of Flowers

Meadow and Hedge Management, Chew Moor, Lostock – September 10th 2023

Autumn Crocus
Autumn Crocus

Bolton’s history didn’t start and end with the Industrial Revolution, the meadow at Chew Moor is a good example of the area’s forgotten history.

In the 1990’s the meadow next to St. John’s Wood, Lostock, was to be turned into a car park until it was designated as a Site of Biological Importance because of the presence of autumn crocus. Autumn crocus (Crocus nudiflorus smith) is native to the Middle-East so how did it end up in Lostock? The answer goes back to around 1100 AD when the land was owned by the Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, better known as the Knights Hospitallers. A stretch of road in Chew Moor village is even called St. John’s Road. This religious order also owned land that included what is now the Smithills Estate and did so up until 1200 AD, at this time, being a Catholic religious order, they were suppressed by Henry VIII and their lands confiscated during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

The Hospitallers shouldn’t be confused with the Knights Templar who were more dedicated to martial skills and protecting the lands and wealth of the Catholic Church; the purpose of the Hospitallers was to aid pilgrims in the Holy Land, tend to the sick, and protect Christians under their care. The Hospitallers set up hospitals and hospices across Europe and to each they brought crocuses, the saffron they produced being used as a food additive and high quality dye and pigment; according to research by the late Fred Lovell clothing dyed with saffron was thought to provide protection against plague, the dye deterred fleas and their bites, something that would have been useful while tending the infected. But saffron was also a very lucrative cash crop that was, and still is, literally worth more than it’s weight in gold. In the Middle-Ages it was such an important commodity that saffron fraudsters would be burnt at the stake for their crimes, and in Germany they were buried alive.

The Hospitallers are still in existence and are responsible for establishing the St. John’s Ambulance Foundation which still carries the Cross of St. John as their emblem. Although the Hospitaller’s lodge at Lostock has long since vanished the crocus they introduced is still present and it is for this that the meadow is important. In the past BCV has helped the Chew Moor Conservation Group look after the site, more recently they were sponsored by Barton Grange Garden Centre. They have planted other species such as ragged robin to supplement existing species such as ladies smock and the late Fred’s famous yellow rattle.

Now that the Chew Moor group is unable to continue the work BCV has taken over the management of the site entirely. At the end of August the meadow was mown by farmer Stan and the cuttings removed to reduce the build up of nutrient, this will benefit wild flowers as they prefer nutrient poor soils. We also trimmed the hedge, this will help nesting birds. Our goal is to maintain the species richness that there is and build on it, to make this meadow the best wild flower meadow it can be and protect it for the future, continuing our crusade for wildlife.

Another job we did today was to cut back a few trees and re-install a fence post.

autumn crocus
autumn crocus

The crocus bloom around the end of September and at the time of writing were in evidence all across the meadow, although some have been stepped on or had been damaged by rain and wind. The fact that so many were in bloom last year is testament to the mowing regime, care and effort that has gone into our management of this site. So, if you visit be careful where you put your feet, you are walking through once and future history.

Find this and other posts about meadows here.

Ousel’s Nest Quarry: Flower Power

Meadow Management, Sunday, 4th September 2022

Ousel’s Nest Quarry Local Nature Reserve, Turton, is a site we have been working at since 2014. The site, which is managed jointly by BCV and The Wildlife Trust, has hedges, trees, ponds and the largest wildflower meadows we have ever worked on, today we are working on one of those meadows.

Species-rich meadows and grasslands have declined by 7.5 million acres (3.03 million hectares) since the 1930’s, only 2% of the meadows that existed at that time exist today and of those 75% are small, fragmented areas. The decline began during World War 2 when 6 million acres were ploughed under to provide food for Britain’s beleaguered population, but after the war that destruction continued as the requirement for housing and industrial development grew. Today these developments still encroach on greenbelt land; only 1% of land in the UK now support species-rich grassland.

Meadows are the cornerstone of our green and pleasant land, an intrinsic part of the UK’s natural and cultural heritage. Meadows provide habitat for wildflowers, bees, butterflies, moths, and many other insects, also spiders, small mammals, birds, reptiles and bats. Meadows can also act as carbon sinks and flood defences.

Common Frog
Common Frog

Wildflower grasslands do have some protection, mostly if they have been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest or as a Local Nature Reserve, but many won’t have this level of protection or are not properly managed leaving them at risk of being lost.

While Bolton’s meadows don’t have the range of species as chalk grasslands there’s still plenty we can do to improve what we have. Today we were mowing the grass, now that the flowers have died off, and removing it to the edges of the site. Raking up the mown grass stops the build up of nutrient in the soil, wildflowers thrive in a low nutrient environment while grasses prefer more fertile soils. Mowing also helps to distribute seeds; at the moment the meadows have knapweed, scabious, at least one type of orchid, and yellow rattle to name a few, but we hope to improve this over time. Thanks to all involved and also to the Wildlife Trust collaborating with us on this project.

Other Posts about meadows can be found in the Meadows category.

Where Ousels Dare

Ousel’s Nest Quarry LNR, Chapletown Road, Bolton. 2nd, 9th, and 16th August 2020

First we were 6, then we were 10, then along comes local lockdown and we’re 6 again. Covid came once more with a pocketful of posies but this time we didn’t fall down and our planned work on the Ousel’s Nest meadow continued with 6 safe volunteers.

We have been working at Ousel’s Nest Quarry, part of Jumbles Country Park, since 2014. The site is looked after by Sam Kitchen for the Wildlife Trust and hosts a range of species including damselflies, dragonflies, frogs, toads, yellow rattle, orchids, knapweed, numerous birds but oddly no ring ousels. At one time the meadow was much richer and Sam’s aim is to restore it to its original state.

Yellow Rattle
Yellow Rattle
Common Spotted Orchid
Common Spotted Orchid
Knap Weed
Knap Weed

Wildflowers meadows provide important nectar sources for bees, butterflies, hoverflies, and moths but they can become dominated by grasses, reducing the meadow’s diversity. To reduce the prevalence of grasses on this site BCV have used yellow rattle, a hemi-parasitic wildflower that literally drains coarse grass species of nutrient by entwining itself if the grass’s root system, weakening its growth. Over time the grass’ vitality is reduced and wildflowers have more of a fighting chance to recover.

2nd August 2020 involved mowing the meadow and removing the cuttings to reduce nutrient, improving conditions for wildflowers the rarest of which prefer low nutrient soils. The team also collected yellow rattle seeds to re-sow at a later date.

9th August 2020 – Today’s task was mostly raking up the grass cut down by Tom and Clayton the day before. More cutting was done by Dave and Clayton using Tom’s new toy but this time just the balsam. Although there was only 6 of us we managed to clear most of the meadow of mown grass which means less nutrient being returned to the soil.

16 August 2020 – Last time out on this epic task. Today our fearsome six bashed balsam, moved grass and cut up a fallen tree. But what to do with all the bits? The solution was to build a hibernaculum, a hotel for amphibians to hibernate in over the winter. 2000 years ago a Hibernaculum was a winter camp for Roman legionnaires today its a winter palace for frogs and toads. Well done team, the meadow should look great next year.

Photos: 2nd Aug – Caroline Bruce, 9th Aug – Colin Mather, 16th – Gill Whelan
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