Hay meadows can often be quite uniform in structure, particularly immediately following cutting. Mowing the majority of the meadow is of course a vital part of conservation management; but it is also important to leave some rough edges and uncut areas to provide refuges for wildlife. These 'rough' areas help insects, birds and small mammals, particularly if left to overwinter when they provide shelter and foraging.
On every site there are always corners that are awkward for machinery and these make ideal areas to leave rough. We also try to leave uncut strips at hay cutting time, to leave a source of nectar and seed. The strips that are left uncut are rotated each year, so that we do not lose hay meadow to scrub.
I was struck by the value of these rough areas on a cold windswept December day. The open grassland was exposed and distinctly bracing, but at the edge of the meadow conditions were much more equable. As I walked along the edge, I watched a wren busily foraging amongst the long grass and blackthorn suckers, a group of long-tailed tits flicking along in the hawthorn hedge and could hear the reedy fluting of bullfinch. There were numerous vole tunnels visible in the base of the grass and a collection of rosehip and hawthorn seeds left presumably by a mouse that had eaten the fruit.