Here, in the eastern part of the U.S., meadows don't usually stay meadows for long. This is really a tree's world and before long, every meadow will become colonized by woody plants. While on one hand this change is totally natural, on the other hand we have a limited amount of meadows left and, without active management, they would simply go away. Essentially, if we want meadows (which a lot of people like for a lot of different reasons) then we must mow them to keep out trees and shrubs. This is exactly what we did at the Clark Preserve last week.
|A mower at the Clark meadow in late September. |
|In this picture, half of the Clark meadow is mowed. By the end of the day, the entire meadow was mowed.|
By mowing the meadow we killed the small shrubs that were starting to grow in the meadow. The meadow's non-woody plants - grasses, flowers, ferns, etc. - will grow again next year. In meadow management, different mowing cycles are used to benefit and attract different animals. See this pamphlet, put out by the Mianus River Gorge, on the frequency and timing of meadow mowing.
If meadows naturally turn into woodlands and forests, why should we keep a meadow open?
Or, asked a slightly different way...
Aren't we interferring with natural succession when we mow a meadow?
Eastern meadows - when left a lone - usually become colonized by woody shrubs and trees through a somewhat predictable series of vegetation changes. The following graphic depicts how a place's plants may change through time.
|A very general depiction of 'succession', the change in vegetation over time.|
Today, its a different ballgame: fires are squelched and beavers are a mere fraction of their former abundance. No meadows are being created while the remaining meadows proceed through succession into forests. Given enough time, we will simply run out of meadows - hence the need for meadow management. When we manage for a perpetual meadow we secure habitat for all the butterflies, birds, dragonflies and turtles that rely on them.
Becuase of their ecological and cultural history, meadows are the focus of conservation in Westchester County. Many uncommon birds and insects flock to these areas, attracting naturalists with binoculars and cameras. The following are managed meadows open to the public:
Westchester Land Trust's Pine Croft Meadow
Ward Pound Ridge Reservation
Bedford Audubon's headquesters is surrounded by fields
On a side note, I can reccomend two good books on the subject of America's historic landscape.