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Havens for wild flowers and wildlife

Hay meadows

Hay meadows Show full screen Hay meadows

Some of the best upland hay meadows in Europe

Greenhaugh Hay meadow under summer sun

Find out what you can hear on this recording …

The sounds you can hear on this page were recorded and edited by Geoff Sample ( Geoff, who lives in Northumberland, has been recording wildlife sounds for 22 years and specialises in bird song. He is a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Tweet of the Day’.


Northumberland National Park has some of the best upland hay meadows in Europe. A blaze of yellows and purples in June and July, they are astonishing havens for wildlife. Our hay meadows contain beautiful flowers such as wood cranesbill and yellow rattle.

Did you know?

Hay meadows nearly disappeared because farmers needed more hay and silage to feed sheep and cattle. We’ve worked with landowners to return to traditional management regimes to bring back flowers for future generations to enjoy.

Birds to look out for

  • Skylarks

Take a look at Wildlife for more details.

Plants to look out for

Melancholy Thistle

This large, showy thistle is a welcome sight in July. Its large clumps of purple flowers droop, giving the plant its name. It has no prickles on its stem. Its leaves are white underneath, hence the alternative name of ‘fish belly’. You can see it on roadside verges. Cutting hay meadows later in the year allows it to survive there too.

Wood cranesbill

Cranesbills are part of the geranium family. Once it sheds its attractive purple flowers, the flower head looks like the head and beak of a crane. Although it usually flowers in woodlands some of the best hay meadows have it too.

Yellow Rattle

Yellow Rattle helps recreate flower-rich hay meadows. Its roots fix to grass roots to receive nutrients. This weakens the grass growth and allows other flowers to become established in the field.

In late summer, its dry seed pods rattle loudly. This was taken as a sign that it was time to harvest the hay, hence its other name ‘hay rattle’.

Where to see hay meadows

Positive Actions for Hay Meadows

Encouraging farmers to cut hay meadows after the middle of July means more flowers in hay fields in the future. Delaying cutting gives wild flowers a chance to grow, flower and set seed so they will re-grow the next year.

We have surveyed hay meadows to find the best remaining ones. We work with farmers to help them manage these fields in a traditional way. So instead of inorganic fertiliser which encourages grass growth, farmyard manure is used which helps the flowers too. Also farmers are planting native seed from remaining species-rich fields to increase the number of flowers.

Getting There


Car: From the A1, follow the A69 and then A68 through Bellingham to Greenhaugh.


Car: From the A1, follow the A696 and then B6341 to Barrowburn.

  • Current estimates suggest only 1,000 hectares of traditional upland hay meadow remain in England, and less than 100 hectares exist in Scotland.
  • Repeated cutting for silage instead of hay has been the major cause of loss of hay meadows, along with changes in farming practices such as heavy use of herbicides and fertilisers, extensive drainage, and heavy spring grazing.
Point of Interest

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Planning in the National Park

Northumberland National Park Authority is the statutory Planning Authority for the area of the Northumberland National Park. View our planning pages here.

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