Meadow habitats vary according to the type of soil on which they are located and the nature of land use. They can range from well-fertilised agricultural pasture, with few different plant species, to diverse unimproved wildflower meadows, supporting a wide range of flora and fauna.
Where land use has been uninterrupted, i.e. constant and unchanging, meadows tend to be better from a biodiversity perspective, with a greater variety of resident plants and animals. If the meadow in question has not been sprayed with pesticides and fertilisers, so much the better. Meadows with soil that has a low nutrient level are more diverse than those with a higher nutrient level. This is because nutrient rich soils favour fast-growing, invasive species that out-compete the slower, less aggressive plants. The result is a lush, dense sward of few plant species, which in turn support a smaller range of associated invertebrates and the birds and insects that prey upon them. Where the soil nutrient level is low, the aggressive species are held back and the shier plants get a chance to grow and spread. Thus the sward is more diverse, floristically, and there is a wider range of associated fauna.
A meadow that has not been converted from arable land (which will have been fertilised and probably sprayed with pesticides in the past) and/or which is unimproved (not fertilised whilst a meadow) is likely to have a relatively low nutrient status. It will, therefore, support a wider range of plants and invertebrates. It is possible to reduce the soils nutrient levels through management. This can be done by a) not applying any more fertiliser and b) mowing the sward regularly (usually in late summer) and removing the cuttings. By taking away all arisings in this manner, the cut plant material does not return the nutrients to the soil as it decomposes. This is the reason why traditional hay meadows tend to be very diverse in terms of their grasses and wild flowers; the mowing takes place after the plants have produced their seeds, providing the following years crop.
Examples of diverse meadows in Redcar and Cleveland include:
- Coatham Marsh wet meadows near entrance, plus mounds with calcareous grassland communities.
- Hunt Cliff Reserve (TVWT) orchids etc.
- Catterstey Gill near Hunt Cliff reserve.
- Flatts Lane Woodland Country Park.