There is very little lowland semi-natural grassland left in Scotland and so it is important to protect what little is left and ensure it is in the best possible condition.

One aspect of Save Our Magnificent Meadows is to restore Mosstown Fen, a large area of fen meadow that is part of Loch of Strathbeg, the largest dune loch in Britain.  The Loch and surrounding wetlands are of international importance for their nature conservation and are managed as a nature reserve by the RSPB, who are the lead Save Our Magnificent Meadows partner in Aberdeenshire.

The story so far:

Mosstown Fen had not been actively managed since the 1950’s and 60’s and had become overgrown by willow scrub and soft rush.  Although soft rush remains an important part of the fen meadow, its dominance needs to be hugely reduced; one of the aims of our Magnificent Meadows Project is to increase the number and diversity of flowering plants in the meadows, by reducing the amount of coarse grasses and rushes which will allow the more interesting small rushes, sedges and flowering plants to flourish.  

Konik ponies were introduced to graze the area and the impacts of their grazing are being carefully monitored.  The ponies themselves are thriving and our herd has expanded to 33. Data from the GPS tracking collars worn by some of the ponies is being gathered, and will need extensive analysis when it is all finally downloaded.

The height and density of rushes is also being measured in quadrats spread across the project area, to compare the different management regimes. These include mown one year and grazed, mown two years and grazed, just grazed, just mown, neither mown nor grazed, including control areas. Combining grazing with topping seems to be the most effective way to manage the rushes; the results so far are very encouraging.  The annual cutting of the soft rush (Juncus effusus) has been done on Mosstown Marsh; this is the third and final cut of the project.  

We’re also using our quadcopter drone to monitor the changes through fixed point and transect photography; the information that we can get by this method is quite remarkable and is already being used to inform day-to-day management of the reserve.

The annual count of lesser butterfly orchid in 2016 revealed a tremendous total of 377 spikes, 51 of which were actually on Mosstown Marsh itself – an increase of over eight times since the project began!  In Britain, colony decline began about 1930, and there has been a loss of approximately 60% of all recorded sites since 1987. Scotland is one of its strongholds, mostly in the North and West, so our little East coast patch is quite unusual.  It’s a lovely wee plant, with a single flowering spike that can reach up to 30 cm in height. The flowers themselves are white with a slight greenish tinge. Identification can only be reliably done while the plant is blooming – usually June and July - so our team have to be quick off the mark.  It appears in a wide variety of open, grazed or rough, damp to wet grassy sites, on both acid peat bog and heaths and on damp calcareous soils. Heavy grazing in spring/summer can prevent flowering and seed setting, whilst too little grazing, or no grazing at all, especially during early spring and autumn/early winter, can lead to the dominance of tall and dense grasses and sub-shrubs creating a sward that is unsuitable for lesser butterfly orchid, so it’s important that our four-footed grazing squad is in the right place at the right time! And as part of the Magnificent Meadows project we have completed many hundreds of meters of fencing to enable us to control this. Some of the fences are standard stock fencing but some are just deep ditches filled with water that the horses do not cross.

Hundreds of lapwing and curlew are using the marsh now as the breeding season comes to a close and the flocks build up for winter, and snipe numbers are also on the increase.

Our Meadows Celebration on National Meadows Day went extremely well, with over 130 people enjoying a variety of activities and the performances of our Doric Poetry winning entries. We had over 100 entries into the competition, and the judges, Jean MacKinnon, Les Wheeler and Robbie Shepherd, were very impressed with the standard of the poems.  The winning poems in each category can be seen here.

To Come:

As we head into the final six months of the project, we hope to increase the grazing on the marsh and continue to encourage more biodiversity both in the project area and on other parts of the reserve, using the information we’ve gathered over the duration of the scheme.

In Scotland, Magnificent Meadows is being delivered with support from Scottish Natural Heritage.