Traditionally, floodplain meadows are 'shut up' in the spring to allow the hay to grow with no grazing animals, followed by a mid-summer hay cut. The subsequent grass growth is grazed by cattle, horses or sheep and is known as 'aftermath grazing'. The hay cycle shows you what is happening to the meadow at key points in the year, in terms of management, hydrology and nutrients.
The hay cut itself helps to prevent excessive nutrient accumulation in the system. Grazing the meadows into the autumn and winter is important to create gaps in the grassy sward to enable seedling establishment. This also prevents the growth of more competitive plants that are less appealing to cattle and reduce the diversity of the sward.
Animals should be removed from the meadows once the soil is saturated as they can cause soil compaction which can reduce species richness.
Hay yields in traditionally managed species rich systems are typically half that expected from intensively managed grassland. However financial incentives are now available to help landowners maintain a traditional farmed system in order to retain the high wildlife value of these sites.
Some plants of floodplain meadows can prove a problem for grazing animals. Marsh ragwort, for example, is toxic to cattle and horses and therefore requires control where there are grazing animals. Download a leaflet to find out more about non-chemical control of marsh ragwort.
Follow the link below to find out about what happened in Shakespeare's day when hay cutting was stopped for a period of time: