While the word ‘meadow’ may evoke images of sprawling fields and rolling rural pastures, any patch of grassland can be turned into a flower-rich meadow, from an unmown back garden to the overgrown corner of an urban park. Most important, from a biodiversity perspective, is that the plants are left to set seed in spring and summer – which means putting the mower away! This allows wildflowers to bloom, which in turn creates a feast for pollinators including bees, butterflies, moths and beetles.

NHS Forest sites with meadows

Many of our NHS Forest sites have created meadows on their land, which they have chosen to use in different ways. University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, for example, created a poppy meadow to mark the centenary of the First World War. In the spacious grounds at Bethlem Royal psychiatric hospital in South London, waymarked nature trails have been created through the on-site meadow and other habitats, designed for therapeutic use. Staff at Bristol’s Southmead Hospital are invited to join wildflower identification sessions in the hospital meadow, while at the weekends, butterfly counts organised for staff and their families are helping to monitor the site’s biodiversity.

Wildflower meadow at Southmead Hospital
Southmead Hospital meadow, in Bristol.
Photo: Vicki Brown / Centre for Sustainable Healthcare 2021. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).
Wildflower meadow at Highbury Community Garden
Highbury Hospital in Nottingham.
Photo: Miriam Dobson / Centre for Sustainable Healthcare 2021. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).

Why do we need meadows?

Meadows provide essential habitats for bees and other pollinators. Across the globe, including the UK, pollinators are in decline. Three bumblebee species have gone extinct in the UK since the middle of the last century, and more than half of our bee and butterfly species have declined in number in the past 50 years. They are threatened by habitat loss, loss of wildflowers and widespread the use of pesticides, amongst other things.

Since the 1930s, 97% of wildflower meadows have been lost in the UK.

British Bee Coalition

Pollinators support all kinds of plants, of course, but – crucially for us – they are also essential for around a third our food crops. In the UK alone, around 70 crops are dependent in some way on bees for pollination.

But the benefits spread well beyond the bees. We know from our research with NHS Forest sites how much health staff value opportunities to spend time in green space and fresh air, even just taking a short walk outdoors between shifts. Now more than ever we need hospital grounds to be restorative places of life, colour and wonder, and meadows are a wonderful way to do this.

How to create a meadow

Creating a meadow can be as simple as designating a ‘no-mow’ site on your hospital grounds. As any amateur gardener knows, there are usually plenty of wildflowers waiting to spring up given the slightest chance, including dandelions, daisies, buttercups and forget-me-nots. The poorer the soil quality, the better, as far as wildflowers are concerned.

You can speed things up by planting wildflower plug plants or scattering a wildflower seed mix in spring or early autumn; the RSPB offers good tips. For barer areas, buy seed mixes with a combination of grasses and wildflowers – suppliers will offer mixes suited to your soil type and sun/shade levels. Adding in a few annuals, such as cornflowers and poppies, will result in a vivid shot of colour during your first flowering season.

Don’t forget to check you are using native species, from a UK (preferably local) source! A key species to grow is yellow rattle, which Plantlife describes encouragingly as the ‘meadow maker’, as it suppresses the growth of grasses, creating more space for other species to thrive.

Gweirgloddiau Gwych Cymru: Magnificent Meadows Wales

The NHS Forest is working with Plantlife and the National Trust on Gweirgloddiau Gwych Cymru: Magnificent Meadows Wales. This ambitious nature recovery programme, funded by the Welsh Government, aims to restore over 500 hectares of wildflower meadows and grassland in Wales while connecting communities to these environments for their own health and wellbeing. This includes two ‘meadow health routes’ to link hospitals to nearby wildflower meadows. The project draws on the experience of our Green Health Routes programme, which co-designs mapped neighbourhood walking trails for groups and individuals to enjoy their local green spaces.

Magnificent Meadows Wales - meadow health routes
Photo: Plantlife. All rights reserved.
Butterfly in a meadow
Photo: Plantlife. All rights reserved.

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Get tips from Grow Wild at Kew Gardens on how to grow wildflowers.