Wood-meadows in Estonia
"Woodland and meadows are generally regarded as distinct habitats - but has this perspective reduced our appreciation of places where these habitats come together?"
So writes woodland ecologist and author George Peterken in a paper in British Wildlife*, inspired by seeing wonderful wood-meadows in Estonia.
What makes a wood-meadow?
Any combination of trees or scrub with meadow could be called a wood-meadow. They tend to be hay meadows under standard trees, perhaps pollards, perhaps with coppice, even orchards. The are characteristic of the Baltic countries but elements can be found in many parts of the UK - such as wide, grassy rides in forests and even some churchyards.
A special habitat in Estonia
Laelatu Wood-meadow in Estonia claims to a record: 76 vascular plant species in one square metre. This gorgeous nature reserve, run with a biological study centre, forms part of the Honeyguide Estonia itinerary.
Wood-meadow with cow-wheats, Estonia. Here the trees are a mix of standards and coppice.
The star flowers in Laelatu's wood-meadow is lady's slipper orchid (right). They take a little help to find in a shady area and are unlikely to be what first strikes you.
Surprisingly, cow-wheats are often what give the most visual impact. There are five species of these semi-parasitic flowers in Estonia, sometimes in colourful sheets.
Wood-meadow with lesser butterfly orchid, bloody cranesbills and wood cow-wheat.
From the Estonia recce report, 26 June 2015:
"We started at Tagamõisa wooded meadow, which was a little tricky to find as scrub had grown in front of its sign. A century ago, much of Saaremaa would have been meadows under standard trees, kept open by hay cutting, but many of these wooded meadows are now disappearing under tree cover, with Tagamõisa an example managed for nature conservation."
Three excellent plants in the adjacent woodland were May lily, lesser butterfly orchid and round-leaved wintergreen (right), and the meadow was the usual colourful mix, especially of yellow rattle and cow-wheat, with pale spikes of alpine bistort a surprise. There were tame black-tailed skimmers (right), and a wood warbler trilled as we returned to the vehicle. "
Wood-meadow with alpine bistort.
Chris Durdin, February 2017