by Kirsty Leishman
Are you there? I thought I’d lost you.
A once summer meadow, gone;
Your south-west face scarred by sheep that bit and bit again.
This winter, we built a fence around you.
It bites back at beasts that help themselves.
Could I once more lie on your yellow bedstraw mattress
Watch bees gorge on purple thyme?
As June sun rises, so do I remember
A shy seedling of a girl who picked and pressed
Into a parchment book your ancestors,
Now I her daughter turn these pages as
Seed by seed we wait for you.
Are you there?
In 2004, we bought a meadow. We didn’t realise it at the time. It was January, and the mist was down. We stood on the frosted hillside, surrounded by a half-broken dyke, through which a few black-faced sheep came and went. With the field came a tired farmhouse, but it wasn’t until April that we could move in.
By now, the field was emerging from winter’s grip with a scattering of primroses, followed by mauve dog-violets. June brought flurries of forget-me-not, tormentil, speedwells, and vetch. Birds-foot trefoil, bedstraws, and thyme trailed the limestone rocks. Delicately skinned campanula – our Scottish bluebell – blew in the breeze. A patch of bog turned purple with Northern marsh, heath-spotted orchids, and ragged robin. Heavy scented bog-myrtle lingered in the air of thundery summer afternoons.
With the coming of the meadow, a wise friend advised us to re-fence it. But, in these early days, our primary concern was to secure a safe water supply and an income for us to live here. So, the sheep came and went through the gap-toothed wall. But, as the years passed, we realised the flowers were disappearing.
With lockdown came space to rethink. Working with the encouragement and advice of like-minded neighbours, we bought a special, mobile electric fence. Earlier this year, and despite ferocious late-frosts, two brilliant local fencers bashed in the final posts and we switched the current on.
We hoped we might see a few flowers in this first year. We weren’t expecting the full orchestra to return. Bedstraws, clovers, trefoil and thyme have resurged in a triumph of purples, whites, yellows and blues. Orchids, like purple corn-cobs, accompany cotton grass and marsh thistles. The air is filled with clouds of common-blue and orange-tip butterflies, moths, large green fritillaries, and bees in their humming dozens.
Neither was I expecting the invitation to take part in a writing project whose subject was a flower meadow. My mother would have liked that. In 1944, she began collecting and pressing flowers into a book. I found this book and have it beside me as I write.
This project has raised pressing and difficult questions about my responsibilities as a (very small) landowner. It has also brought a flow of interested folk and new ideas about how humans and habitat can work in concert.
Funny how it takes a fence for unforeseen beauty and ideas to arise.
Thank you to:
- Alex & Jane Brewster, Rotmell Farm, Dunkeld Perthshire. A leader of regenerative farming practices & supplier of electric fencing (https://www.poweredpasture.co.uk/).
- Gregor Thexton, Fencing & Forestry, Perthshire.
- Jamie Burrows, Perthshire Wild Foods Ltd
- Steve Rawson, Lettoch Films Ltd.
- Jamie Jauncey, Richard Pelletier and Dark Angels friends.
Meadows are an increasingly rare site in the UK, and yet they are home to an abundance of wildlife. Find out more about why meadows matter via The Wildlife Trusts’ website.