Lugg Meadow

PUBLISHED: 16:27 30 November 2010 | UPDATED: 17:58 20 February 2013

Along the river banks, where the meadow meets the River Lugg, kingfisher, reed bunting, sedge warbler and sand marten all breed

Along the river banks, where the meadow meets the River Lugg, kingfisher, reed bunting, sedge warbler and sand marten all breed

Herefordshire has many historic treasures but the one Neville Hart, Herefordshire Nature Trust Reserves Manager, is really wild about is the living, breathing, ancient Lugg Meadow

Natural history

Herefordshire has many historic treasures but the one Neville Hart, Herefordshire Nature Trust Reserves Manager, is really wild about is the living, breathing, ancient Lugg Meadow

If you were asked to name some of the historic features that remain in and around the city of Hereford, you would probably include Hereford Cathedral (the oldest part is 11th century but it was mainly rebuilt by the Normans in the 12th century); the Mappa Mundi circa. 1300; the old, arched bridge built across the river Wye in the 15th century or the Old House in High Town built in 1621. Very few would count the Lugg Meadow as part of their list.

Situated on the eastern edge of Hereford City, the Lugg Meadow has a heritage that possibly goes back to the Bronze Age and beyond. The fertile, floodplains along the river Lugg have been valuable grazing land ever since man first cleared land from its wildwood origins and assembled grazing flocks or herds. The flat, open landscape of the meadow has been maintained by the annual flooding from the river which deposits nutrient-rich silt onto the land, affording it with enhanced fertility, suitable for supporting better growth of grasses and wildflowers and better eating for grazing animals.

Historians suggest that early settlements in the county looked for good grazing land for their livestock and would have walked their animals to graze these floodplain grasslands communally, with evidence of this dating back to the Bronze Age (c.650 BC). Grazing the land as pasture would have eventually given way to mowing a crop of hay, commonplace during Roman times.

Early management of the hay meadow would have been through sickles used to cut the hay, being later replaced by scythes (invented by the Romans but introduced into Europe later on). Hay management was physically demanding and after being cut with scythes, the grass would be raked and turned to dry in the summer sun and transported by horse-drawn hay wagons or carts to its winter home. The local pub, The Cock of Tupsley, is named after the lead or cock horse, a heavy, strong horse which would be hitched up in front of the existing horses when a hay wagon needed to be hauled up The Pitch. This was the name given to the steep incline that runs in front of the Nature Trusts HQ at Lower House Farm, the original route to Hereford from the east.

It is the value of hay as winter forage for plough oxen, horses and other livestock that has conferred the value of the meadow to Herefordians throughout history. It is listed in the Domesday Book of 1086, the great, Norman census of land, instigated to increase tax revenue for William the Conqueror. The meadows historical links to Hereford Cathedral are well documented with the Bishop of Hereford and cathedral dignitaries owning large tracts in the parishes of Tupsley and Holmer at the time of the Domesday, forming a valuable crop or source of revenue for the church. Its value to the historically rich and famous of Hereford must have contributed to the wealth and power of these individuals.

The Lugg Meadows other claim to fame is that it is the largest, remaining example of a Lammas meadow in the UK. This is a remnant of the early medieval, open, field system. In this system small settlements had enclosed paddocks surrounding them and additional land farmed in common by all of the people of the settlement. Some land was the waste or roughs, too poor to grow crops but used for livestock grazing throughout the year. Other land would be used to grow crops and additional, commonly used land, managed for the benefit of all. This system was not an egalitarian, free-for-all, but land management was governed by a manorial court, controlled by the Lord of the Manor, the King or the Church. The Lammas title is derived from this system, one whereby the hay would have to be mown by Lammas day (August 1), after which the people of the settlement or parish would have rights to graze the aftermath or re-growth with their oxen, horses, sheep or cattle up until Candlemas (February 2) of the following year, a date when the meadow would again be shut up to grow another hay crop. This aftermath grazing was invaluable for livestock as often the rough grazing pasture would be exhausted by the summer and other fields under crops. Aftermath grazing is an essential part of managing hay meadows across a number of Trust nature reserves, helping to maintain the right conditions to promote species diversity within our traditional hay meadows.

The Lugg Meadow today is better known for its natural history. It is partially designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest or SSSI, primarily for the nationally important wildflowers and grasses that grow here. It is famous for its snakes head fritillaries. Within the meadow, a nationally scarce plant, the narrow-leaved water dropwort grows in abundance. This plant is related to the wild carrot and has white, flowering heads, not unlike miniature cow parsley.

The meadow changes colour through the year due to the succession of wildflowers that abound. The first plants to appear are the pink-white of the cuckoo flower, seen right across the meadow in April. With these grow the locally famous, snakes head fritillaries, which are honoured at the Nature Trusts Fritillary Day every April. Later in May, come the golden profusion of dandelions which briefly fade before being followed by the intense yellow of the myriad of meadow, bulbous and creeping buttercup flowers, turning the landscape into a sea of yellow. After the yellow has faded in June and July, purple knapweed, ox-eye daisy, yellow vetches, the creamy flowers of meadowsweet and red of the scarce, great burnet dot the meadow with colour. Throughout, it supports many species of grasses and sedges, still conferring today, a high value as a hay crop.

Along the river banks, where the meadow meets the River Lugg, kingfisher, reed bunting, sedge warbler and sand marten all breed. Across the meadow, the iconic call of the skylark will greet any visitor in summer, this ground-nesting species preferring the open land on which to nest. Many species of damselfly and dragonfly can be seen on a summers walk along the riverbank and many species of butterfly and moth feed or breed on the many nectar and food plants on and around the meadow.

Each winter the river floods across the meadow which temporarily becomes an inland lake but soon drains. At these times, graziers need to act quickly to remove livestock before it becomes stranded by the rising waters. For centuries, the floods have brought fertility to the meadow but today, with modern agriculture further upstream dependent upon chemicals and inorganic fertilisers, these unwanted chemicals are also deposited on the meadow, bringing their own problems for biodiversity and to those managing the meadow.

The meadow is cut in two by the Ledbury Road, resulting in Upper Lugg Meadow to the north and Lower Lugg Meadow to the south. Upper Lugg attracts many walkers and as it is a registered common, the public can visit any time to walk its length.

Countless people have grown up knowing the meadow as the Lugg Flats or the place to cross in order to swim in the river Lugg. Today we get many youths enjoying the summer sunshine on the meadow and cooling off by jumping in the river. This practice can be dangerous due to the changing depth and nature of the river and is neither condoned nor easily policed. Over the past few years, we have seen an increase in individual dog walkers bringing four or more dogs to be walked at the same time on Upper Lugg. Although we welcome people visiting and appreciating the meadow, so many dogs do bring problems with a few irresponsible owners allowing dogs to attack livestock, fences being broken to allow doggy access and the accumulation of dog faeces. Although an offence not to remove dog muck, many owners seem disinclined to do so.

Lower Lugg, its accessibility being cut off by the Ledbury Road, has largely been unspoilt and remains a sanctuary for breeding curlew each year. The curlew is our largest breeding wader that commonly rears one brood of young in upland areas of the UK, but also within the lowlands regions, in rough pasture, some arable fields or as here, in hay meadow. They have a distinctive and evocative contact call and have, like many bird species, declined drastically in numbers throughout the West Midlands. They prefer solitude and do not react well to the disturbance from walkers and their dogs. Consequently, access to Lower Lugg is not permitted while the curlew are breeding between March 1 and July 31, continuing the necessary seclusion to this lovely bird.

Today, Herefordshire Nature Trust owns and manages large parts of the meadow, the national conservation organisation, Plantlife, does similarly and a variety of local farmers and land owners own and manage other sections of this great meadow. Commoners still exercise their centuries-old right to graze after Lammas day, but these are far and few apart. As commoners grazing rights are passed down with individual properties, when these change hands, the new owners often no longer have a need for the grazing.

So when you are next visiting or just driving past the Lugg Meadow on the way to Ledbury, remind yourself of how important this flat, open piece of land has been for the economy of Hereford City over the centuries; its unique historical importance and the wildlife that once and still abounds across the meadow and along the River Lugg. With the continuing threat of increasing population, increasing access pressures and the constant talk of a bypass being bulldozed through it, please remember the heritage and memories this unique and vulnerable meadow keeps hidden. This meadow begs more awareness and greater appreciation from the people of this county both today and for generations to come.

Much of the historical details for this article have been gleaned from The History and Natural History of Lugg Meadow, by the late Dr Anthea Brian and the late Peter Thomson. This book is a fascinating read and highlights the historical aspects of the meadow in greater detail and can be purchased from Herefordshire Nature Trust for 2.50.

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