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High Hirst Woodmeadow flower meadow

High Hirst


An exciting project in West Yorkshire is creating a unique habitat to benefit people, nature and the environment

Photos by Cllr Richard Needham

An exciting West Yorkshire project entering its second year aims to create a rich mosaic of wildlife habitats to help tackle the nature and climate emergencies.

High Hirst Woodmeadow – a four-acre site near Hebden Bridge – aims to offer a lifeline for local wildlife, while soaking up carbon dioxide and benefitting local people.

Its creation was inspired by a visit to the Three Hagges Woodmeadow near York, an acclaimed biodiversity hotspot run by the Woodmeadow Trust charity.

A woodmeadow is a unique habitat, little known in the UK but once common in Scandinavia and the Baltic countries. The combined areas of native woodland and flower-rich meadows are exceptionally rich in life – more than 60 flora species per square metre have been recorded in some existing woodmeadows in northern Europe.

The messy edges between woodland and meadow offer niches for a wealth of species – a system famously described by Charles Darwin at the end of The Origin of Species as a 'tangled bank'.

Hebden Royd Town Council began the High Hirst Woodmeadow project in 2020 to 'do something tangible' in response to the climate emergency and biodiversity loss.

The site is leased from Calderdale Council and is a rare grassland habitat with around one acre of native trees – planted in 2014 by local group Treesponsiblity, with help from local schoolchildren.

High Hirst Woodmeadow
High Hirst Woodmeadow native trees

As wildflower meadows capture and store significant amounts of carbon dioxide, the project will help to mitigate the impact of climate change. Biodiversity on the site will be boosted, and flooding risk will be reduced, thanks to selective planting and creation of a willow coppice.

The site will benefit people too. Local residents and visitors will have access to the green spaces of the site, allowing them to connect with nature. Local people will also have fair access to any food grown on the site.

There will be opportunities for volunteering and education, with the site raising public awareness about the climate emergency and biodiversity, as well as natural land management, crafts and skills.

High Hirst Woodmeadow group

A botanical site survey completed in autumn 2021 identified several ancient meadow indicators such as pignut, wood anemone, yellow rattle and sweet vernal grass – despite the site not having been actively managed in many years. This illustrates the site's potential as a rich and diverse meadow habitat.

So far more than 850 hedgerow plants – many granted by The Woodland Trust – have been planted along the boundary. Treesponsibility have created a willow coppice for harvesting for willow revetments – structures used to slow water flow and reduce flood risk in the valley below.

A heritage orchard has also been planted. The local community will be able to help themselves to the fruit, with any surplus given to good causes.

High Hirst Woodmeadow moth
High Hirst Woodmeadow butterfly

Neil Diment is a natural hay meadows expert volunteering with the project. He spoke to longstanding local residents and farmers about the history of the site, who remember the site as a 'field of flowers' many years ago.

Neil, along with botanist Steve Hindle, has given advice on a management plan to restore the upland hay meadow to something like the wildflower meadow it once was.

"Britain has lost 97% of its meadows since the Second World War, and many of those that have survived have lost much of their biodiversity," said Neil.

"It is so important we try to restore those that remain. The best way to approach this initially is to try and replicate the farming methods that produced them in the first place."

Towards that aim, sheep were welcomed to the site last autumn and will be returning again this year. Scything and hay making courses will be hosted this summer.

High Hirst Woodmeadow sheep in the meadow

High Hirst Woodmeadow was recently awarded £7200 by the National Lottery, which will go towards the continued development of the woodmeadow.

Priorities this year are to improve access at the top of the site, install interpretation boards to explain the significance of the woodmeadow, and develop a wildlife pond area.

Visitors are welcome – but, in consideration of neighbours, are asked to park at Hebden Bridge, a short walk away. Hebden Bridge is well-connected by train and bus services, and has a wide choice of cafes where visitors can enjoy some post-visit cake!

For more information follow High Hirst Woodmeadow on Facebook.

Little Green Space May 2022

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