There are just a handful of traditional lowland hay meadows left in Southern England. On a land use map of Kent, Marden Meadow looks like a short line of postage stamps stuck on a large, white envelope; a remnant from a time when the only implements to work the land were scythes, carts and barrows and the only inputs, the rich silt from the flooding stream and animal dung. At the time of the Penny Black, the large labour force cut the grassland for hay in July and grazed livestock in winter. The subtle beauty and rich diversity of the meadow flora, an ironic bequest from an era of brief lives and long days of hard, physical work. Back in the day, the classic English landscape was perhaps only appreciated by those detached from the exacting routine, such as country parsons and painters.
For a brief period through April and May, the meadows are transformed into a pointillist painting of green-winged orchids, meadow buttercups and yellow rattle with a well-hidden spattering of diminutive adder’s-tongue ferns; the grassland sward is dominated by meadow foxtail with patches of sweet vernal-grass. All are intolerant of the plough and application of modern fertilisers; hence why most lowland meadows have disappeared under a sea of rye-grass, rape and cereals
There are ponds on the edge of the meadow with a rich flora, one overhung with an old, wild service tree, decked in bouquets of white flowers. At dawn on a cloudless day in Spring, this is a dewy paradise; the adjacent railway line, a rude reminder of another rich heritage.
Today, conserving these relic habitats and expanding them through restoration projects within the modern agricultural landscape is the conservation zeitgeist; gardening on a grand scale. Such plans may have to be amended if the warming climate dictates otherwise and of course suspended for a time if the next glaciation descends to wipe the slate clean again. Thankfully, the consensus on the advent of the next glacial period suggests that we probably have many thousands of years to play but then again, no prediction is a confident one.