Yellow Rattle

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It’s hard to ignore the discovery of “yellow rattle” in the hayfield. I felt like I’d seen this increasingly rare wildflower in the hay crop last year when the grass was dry, but it took a special visit to double check and confirm at the weekend. Sure enough, there it was in a carpet of creeping buttercup and yorkshire fog.

Yellow rattle is the gold standard for hayfields. Not only has it become scarce, but it seems to grow in tight colonies which actively suppress more productive grasses and thereby enable other wildflowers to become established. If you want to revert grassland to a species-rich meadow, yellow rattle is a useful tool to have in the box. Some people have to buy in the seed to help it get established, but it seems like we already had some.

I only spotted yellow rattle in our field because there’s an area which always turns up very patchy and thin when the mower comes. The yield falls through the floor, and the bales are all bitty when you slit the twine. Those “bits” are wildflowers and seedheads, and it’s no wonder they seemed odd to me because I’m used to long ribbons of productive grass. In amongst the seedheads, I found pieces of a small and strangely familiar seedpod which I’ve often seen in photos and books – the “rattle” of the flower’s name.

I’ve agonised about this field. I’d love to improve the wildflowers and the conservation value of the grass which grows along the merse, but the truth is that I can’t afford it. I need to feed the cattle, so I’m bound to this process until I can take on more land or reduce my stocking. As a compromise in the short term, the least I can do is work around the rougher parts of the field and manage them to best advantage so that when the shift comes and I can finally allow this grass to revert, I’ll have a good foundation of natural seeds.

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