Ecological Planning & Research
13th May 2015 - EPR helps the University of Reading to Open Langley Mead, a New Public Nature Reserve near Reading
On Wednesday 13 May, EPR helped the University of Reading to open Langley Mead, a new publically accessible nature reserve located near Shinfield to the South of Reading, in a ceremony led by Sir David Bell KCB; Vice Chancellor of the University.
The site comprises over 18 hectares of Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANG), designed primarily to be an attractive space for people to use for recreational activities such as dog walking, instead of visiting the nearby sensitive Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area (SPA).
However, because the area needs to be managed indefinitely as SANG, a unique opportunity presented itself for ‘building in’ biodiversity and ecological restoration as part of the proposals so that this could be secured by management into the long-term; both to deliver significant ecological enhancements, and provide a more attractive and stimulating environment for local people.
Above: Sir David Bell KCB, Vice Chancellor of the University of Reading, Officially Opens Langley Mead with the planting of an Oak tree
The History and Context of Langley Mead
Old maps dating as far back as the Earl of Fingal’s Estate map of 1756 show the site of Langley Mead as being typical of ‘ancient’ countryside, with; old sinuous hedgerows and field boundaries, small worked coppice woodlands, meadows, pastures and common land. This landscape would have been traditionally managed in a low intensity way and would have been very much more biodiverse that it is at present.
In 1984, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) carried out an audit of grasslands across the UK, and concluded that in the preceding 50 years, 97% of all of the semi-natural grasslands in lowland England and Wales has been destroyed; with losses continuing at 2-10% of the remaining resource per annum. This was as a result of agricultural intensification after the Second World War, when farmers were under significant pressure to produce more food at lower cost to keep the country fed; fertilisers, re-seeding, silage cuts and ploughing all took their toll. At the time of the audit, there were estimated to be only 1500ha of species-rich floodplain meadow remaining in the UK.
Unfortunately, Langley Mead reflected this national picture; the meadows had either been ploughed up or biologically impoverished through modern farming methods, and an Ancient Woodland that once existed here called ‘’Costrill’s Coppice’’ on the old maps was removed at an unknown point in the 20th Century.
The Restoration of Langley Mead
Despite the above, investigative works showed that Langley Mead had unusual potential to be restored. Some of the fields had apparently escaped ploughing, and due to its position on the floodplain, testing showed that the surviving pasture fields had not been fertilised quite as much as others in the area; meaning that wildflower reintroduction had a good chance of success. There were also limited relict pockets of wildflowers such as Meadowsweet and Yellow Flag Iris clinging on in some of the ditches.
Working in partnership with the University of Reading, and with Planners and Landscape Architects from Reading-based consultancy Barton Willmore, EPR drew up plans for restoring Langley Mead; including extensive habitat creation and restoration, as well as the installation of new paths, bridges, boardwalks, kissing gates and interpretation boards to help people to enjoy the reserve and get close to nature.
The Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) kindly donated wildflower seed-rich green hay from their nearby reserve at Moor Copse; the only registered Coronation Meadow in Berkshire. This was collected up by a team led by the University of Reading’s Farm Department, and spread over the fields at Langley Mead that had been pre-prepared by harrowing. You can read BBOWT’s article about the project here.
The assistance of the University’s Farm Department was essential to the success of the project, as the restoration work required tonnes of green hay to be collected from the donor site and spread on Langley Mead within a few hours of being cut; to prevent bacteria from building up heat in the hay and killing the seed. Moving such large amounts of hay in such a short time required modern skills and equipment.
Above: Seed-rich green hay beingharvested at the donor site.Above: Seed-rich green hay being spread overLangley Mead by a muck spreader. The field hadbeen harrowed beforehand to prepare the ground.
In addition to the grassland restoration, thousands of new trees and hundreds of metres of new species-rich native hedgerows have been replanted. The long-lost woodland known as ‘Costrill’s Coppice’ has been replanted, and a line of old pollarded willows has been reinstated.
The fields will now be managed as low-intensity hay meadows and pastures in a regime that mimics ancient practices. Spring grazing will suppress the growth of vigorous agricultural grasses, allowing wildflowers to establish. Cattle will then be removed from the hay meadows, crucially giving wildflowers time to flower and set seed prior to a traditional hay cut being taken in late summer, which helps to spread seed before cattle are then reintroduced for ‘’aftermath’’ grazing; a practice that helps seed to be trampled in ready to germinate for the following year. This regime should ensure that Langley Mead will be a little more biodiverse and wildflower-rich each year than it was the preceding year.
Sir David Bell, on opening Langley Mead formally to the public, said:
"The University of Reading is proud to have worked on this project with a number of important partners. I am delighted to see that our hard work is paying off, with wildflowers and native grasses already returning.
"I hope Langley Mead will become a special resource for everyone in the local community. It demonstrates the enduring value of ancient land management techniques and the fact that the benefits of nature can be enjoyed by all."
Extract from the Earl of Fingal’s 1756 Estate Map, showing the area of Langley Mead. Costrill’s Coppice is still present, and the medieval pattern of farming on the Loddon floodplain has not yet been removed. The extract is reproduced by permission of The Berkshire Record Office, Reading.