24 HOURS WITH… Matt Pitts

The important work carried out by meadows advisor Matt Pitts as he works with landowners nationwide to restore wild flower meadows.

Field of flowers under conservationNo two days are the same in my role as meadows advisor at the conservation charity Plantlife. My job is to help others create meadows – from small community meadows to large estates – and I am delighted my work is supported by The Prince of Wales’s Charitable Fund.

It took around 6,000 years to create the meadows for which the UK is globally famous. Yet in less than a century, we have lost 97 per cent. This matters. Stand in a field of intensively farmed grassland and, despite the lushness at your feet, barely any life will be evident. No movement, no sound, no colour. Stand in a meadow in midsummer and the hum of life around you is almost overwhelming: bees, butterflies, birdsong – and colour.

That’s why my job is great… I meet interesting people, spend time in beautiful landscapes, get up close to wild flowers and rare plants, and learn new things every day. I feel lucky to be doing this; it’s hard but rewarding work.

As a charity, Plantlife relies on voluntary funding. Our action plan for saving and restoring the UK’s meadows is available on our website and is called ‘Hay Festival?’ Created by the Save Our Magnificent Meadows partnership, led by Plantlife, it is a clarion call to protect, love and restore our meadows and species-rich grassland against their devastating disappearance from our countryside and the impact that this is having on wildlife.

I work with many different audiences, from schools keen to create wild flower meadows for children to owners of large estates. Meadows currently under creation or restoration also include gardens of up to 25 hectares. While many enquiries come from small landowners wanting to make a difference to their local environment, we work on landscapes such as The Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, providing advice and support to other charities and agencies.

Surge in interest

In July 2019, we were delighted to be involved with BBC Gardeners’ World for a wild flower special. With a viewing audience of over two million, this special edition with Monty Don meeting Plantlife’s Botanical Specialist Dr Trevor Dines, was hosted from our own Joan’s Hill Farm reserve in Herefordshire. The one-hour programme led to a huge rise in interest and enquiries, including from local communities and parish councils.

Although the UK has lost an astonishing 97 per cent of its meadows since the 1930s, I feel positive about the current situation. Plantlife and many other conservation bodies are driving the restoration and creation of meadows and the health of the environment is now on the public’s radar. We can all make a huge difference to wild flowers and the wildlife that depends on them.

Meadow under conservation of PlantLifeFrom May to September I am away from home frequently, with long days visiting sites across the country. Most of the visits are to new potential meadow sites, some owned/managed by Plantlife members or supporters. I may go away for a few days at a time to look at a particular locality, clustering visits for both cost and time efficiency. Although I am based in South East England, my work in 2019 took me from the Lake District to Cornwall. Everywhere and every site is different and I never quite know what it’s going to be like until I get there. The really good days are when I discover a wonderful rare wild plant; while walking through a meadow near Bristol last year, I came across a cluster of beautiful waxcap fungi which were a joy to find. After site visits, I provide reports on creation or restoration and offer ongoing support to owners and managers.

Much of my day might be spent dealing with enquiries by phone or email from individuals, groups and organisations who are interested in either creating or restoring a meadow. Many have specific issues. Plantlife has expertise in lots of different grassland habitats and if I come across something new, I make it my business to find out more, often by asking other Plantlife colleagues who are incredibly supportive and knowledgeable.

Yellow flower in a fieldI work closely with our team around Britain, including national offices in Wales and Scotland. We have a new Magnificent Meadows project in Wales, run by Plantlife Cymru, which will run for three years. Plantlife Scotland is currently looking at meadows in the Cairngorms and at special coastal meadows.

While much of the help I give is free of charge or low cost, we offer a full consultancy service for larger sites where we can give bespoke advice. All proceeds from consultancy contracts fund Plantlife’s direct charitable activities to benefit our native flora. Detailed advisory work can range from land management and botanical surveys to interpretation, publicity and stakeholder reporting.

Plantlife is keen to share knowledge and best practice for meadows management through publications including our members’ magazine and websites. I am currently working with our communications team to create a new online meadow ‘hub’ for our website, encompassing interactive information and advice including videos, downloads and tools to enable everyone to manage their grassland more positively for wild flowers and biodiversity.

I also help promote National Meadows Day, an annual celebration of wildflower meadows across the UK, held during the first weekend of July when meadows are at their finest. Keep an eye on Plantlife’s tweets for more information – just follow @Love_Plants. Every year organisations and individuals across the UK open their meadows for people to visit. Events range from guided walks and bug hunts to training workshops and arts and crafts. This is a chance to see the huge range of wild flowers, insects and reptiles found in the meadows, plus find out more about the management and the value of meadows. Last year, more than 125 events took place and we are always looking for new meadows to join in on this wonderful day.Conservationists in field

Feeling good

Staff wellbeing is important at Plantlife; we encourage each other to get away from our desks at lunchtime and for breaks. I often go for a cycle or into the garden to look at the birds. When not working, it’s often a busman’s holiday for me with a recent visit to the Knepp Estate in Sussex, for example, to see their rewilding project and its progress (Open Air Business, May 2019).

I am proud of all we do for meadows, but highlights include working with the South Downs National Park helping the ranger service develop a seed harvesting network, producing wildflower seed for local restoration. I worked with Natural England on a National Nature Reserve in Wiltshire to reseed arable farmland restoring species-rich grassland but there are also important smaller projects, such as community groups starting to manage meadows more positively or creating new ones.

I am delighted when something practical happens after I’ve been in touch with someone. The work I do is vital to the survival of the species-rich grassland which is part of our heritage and critical for a wide range of wildlife including many butterflies, bees and insects. As Plantlife says, where wild flowers lead, wildlife follows…

Purple flowers in field


PROFILE

MATT PITTS
Matt PittsMatt is a meadows adviser at Plantlife. He advises and supports anyone interested in restoring, creating and managing wildflower meadows. Matt has over 20 years’ experience advising landowners on conservation management and enjoys getting out and exploring meadows and sharing his passion for wild flowers.

PLANTLIFE
Plantlife is a British conservation charity working nationally and internationally for over 30 years to save threatened wild flowers, plants and fungi. It owns nearly 4,500 acres of nature reserve across England, Scotland and Wales and has 11,000 members and supporters.

Its team of experts work with landowners, businesses, conservation organisations, community groups and governments to help save the rarest flora and ensure familiar flowers and plants continue to thrive.

Plantlife was instrumental in the creation of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation that the UK Government is signed up to and is a member of Planta Europa, a pan-European network of over 60 conservation organisations.

With headquarters in Salisbury, it has field staff across Britain and national offices in Wales and Scotland. HRH The Prince of Wales is its patron. www.plantlife.org.uk