There are several meadows within the Park, varying in size, from about 17 acres down to about 6 acres. The size of the larger meadows allows for a variety of habitats to be created by using different mowing regimes. The map below (click on it for a larger version) shows the different
mowing patterns for the park in the year 2004 - A slightly changed regime is being followed at present. These large areas of open space provide a great place for dogs to run and people to use in many ways, as well as providing habitat and hunting areas for the wildlife.
There are also some smaller grass areas that are maintained primarily for the wildlife and flowers, but not all of these are accessible to the public. There are records of over 330 species of flowers and grasses within the park, so it looks as if the mosaic of habitats maintained here is providing a wide range of places to live.
The main meadow is about 16 acres and is divided into separate smaller parts for management which allows a variety of grass heights to be maintained. This is important for conservation as the greater range of habitats we can provide will encourage more different species to use them.
The conservation meadow areas are cut and baled when funds are available and other areas are maintained as paths or closely mowed for general public use. The margins of the meadow are are maintained for conservation, providing a transition into the plantations. They generally progress from short grass, to longer grass with small shrub re-growth (1-2 years), then to older scrub and into the plantation.
This gives a height and age structure to the margins of the meadow, which makes it better for the wildlife.
This meadow is the main area of the northern side of the park, running from the New Cut (its southern boundary) up to Riverside Pond (near Tesco's roundabout). It has the river Great Ouse to the east and it contains the Riverside Brook, which feeds Riverside Pond.
This is a flood meadow and acts as one most years, the grass is quite coarse and there are wet spots, which are visible by the change in vegetation. The margins to the brook are generally reeds and tall plants, such as willowherb and Purple Loosestrife. The edge of the meadow near the housing is quite good for seeing butterflies at the right time of year. There is also an associated meadow on the far side of the Riverside Pond, which offers a short circular walk from the car parking area.
These meadows are cut annually and the cut grass will be removed by baling if funds are available. This helps prevent the build up of a thatch on the ground and promotes wildflower growth.
The floral meadow is situated next to the river Great Ouse. It is managed slightly differently to many of the meadows and therefore it has some slightly different plants within it. In spring there are a good population of cowslips. The side opposite the river has the remains of a
hedgerow that spans from the new cut to the river, the line of which crosses the main lake at the start of the conservation area - This is visible on the aerial photograph, located in the visitor’s centre. The hedgerow has a good variety of plants near it and proves to be a good area for seeing butterflies.
This route forms part of the Park's butterfly transect (a route used for the scientific monitoring of the butterfly population). The information gained about the butterflies becomes part of a national monitoring programme.
Press mead is a small meadow located between the south side of Priory lake and the river Great Ouse. It has the leat stream running through it on the lake side and is part of the ‘round the lake’ walk - winter route. The ‘snail’ bench is located within this meadow and it
provides a place to rest about half way round the lake. This meadow is cut twice a year to try and prevent the grass becoming too coarse and overpowering all the flowers.
Kings mead meadow is situated on an island between the navigable and back channel of the river Great Ouse. It is managed by grazing with cattle and therefore has no public access. The cattle are not present all year round, this allows the vegetation time to recover
and also reduces the damage caused by the repeated trampling by hooves. There are also limits to the number of cattle allowed to graze at any time for the same reasons. The northern end of the island is a reed bed, but this appears to be drying out due to reads getting higher above the water. This happens because the reeds trap the sediment when the river floods and also their dead stems fall to the ground like leaves.
The overall effect of this is a build up of the land surface, effectively raising the reed bed above the water level. This then allows land plants to thrive on the land and changes the overall structure of the reed bed.