Both the Cumbria Wildlife Trust and the Friends of the Lake District are involved in hay meadow restoration in partnership with local farmers.
To begin the soil is tested as low nutrient levels are essential to diverse flora. This may seem counter-intuitive, but species-rich hay meadows flourish where there is low soil fertility. Hay meadow plants such as Wood Crane’s Bill and Globeflower tolerate low soil nutrients. If the soil is too fertile (or had high levels of manure spread), then the fast-growing grasses out-compete the hay meadow plants.
Next, suitable donor fields are identified to collect “green hay” that is then used to seed the field to be restored. The recipient field is prepared by harrowing to create bare patches for the seed, the "green hay' is spread and the field is then rolled to ensure the seed is embedded in the soil. Plug planting may be used to increase species diversity.
In subsequent years, there are no additional fertiliser inputs, sheep are removed onto the open fells by about early May, and hay cutting is in late July. Every fourth or fifth year cutting is delayed until late August to ensure that the species that seed latest get a chance to do so. Leaving the hay to dry ensures that the invertebrates escape back into the ground.
Benefits to the farmers include high quality, mineral rich hay, increased organic matter in the soil and increased biodiversity.