What we do

Hay Time

Hay Time – North Pennines

This project aimed to enhance and restore upland hay meadows at carefully selected sites within the North Pennines AONB by harvesting seed from species-rich meadows and spreading it on sites that had lost their special species.

We also aimed to increase public awareness, enjoyment and understanding of this internationally important habitat.

Hay Time was launched in May 2006 and ran until October 2012.

Priority habitat

Upland hay meadows are a UK priority habitat for biodiversity and an Annex 1 habitat of the European Union Habitats Directive. They are now almost exclusively restricted to upland valleys of the North Pennines and North Yorkshire. The North Pennines, together with some of the Yorkshire Dales, are widely acknowledged to possess the finest concentration of upland hay meadows anywhere in the UK. This is one of the rarest grassland types in the UK with recent estimates indicating that there are less than 900ha in the UK, of which 350ha (around 40%) are in the North Pennines AONB. Through Hay Time, the North Pennines AONB Partnership restored and enhanced hay meadows by harvesting seed from species-rich meadows and spreading it on sites that had lost their special species and by providing habitat management advice.


In the early summer, between May and July, we carried out botanical surveys of upland hay meadows in the North Pennines. These surveys helped us to identify sites that were suitable for restoration or enhancement, sites where seed could be harvested from and sites where we could provide habitat management advice. Between 2006 and 2012 we surveyed 1,211 fields and visited 295 farms to give hay meadow management advice.

Restoration and enhancement

Following these surveys, we identified and matched a series of ‘donor’ and ‘receptor’ sites. ‘Donor’ sites were upland hay meadows which contained a good mix of typical upland hay meadow plants from which we could harvest seed. ‘Receptor’ sites were meadows where the conditions were suitable for restoration or enhancement through seed addition. Once the sites had been matched, specially designed machinery was used to harvest the seed-bearing top of the hay crop, or the entire crop, in July and August. Different machines were then used to spread this ‘hay concentrate’ or ‘green hay’ on sites being restored. Between 2006 and 2012 we spread locally-harvested seed on 236ha of hay meadow in this way.

Agri-environment schemes such as Higher Level Stewardship were central to the operation of the Hay Time project. This scheme provided funding for contractors to operate the harvesting and spreading machinery and purchase of the seed from the ‘donor’ farmer.

After the first three years of the Hay Time project, we produced a ‘step-by-step guide to upland hay meadow restoration in the North Pennines’ which sets out in detail the approach we took. This can be downloaded from the sidebar to the right.

We have analysed all the botanical data gathered during the seven years of the Hay Time project. This has enabled us to evaluate the impact of our work. The results show that the addition of seed has been successful in introducing new species to meadows and increasing botanical diversity. The following species were found to statistically significantly increase in frequency after seed addition: common bent, sweet vernal-grass, crested dog’s-tail, pignut, eyebright, red fescue, changing forget-me-not, ribwort plantain, meadow buttercup, yellow rattle, great burnet, lesser trefoil, red clover and yellow oat-grass. Quadrat surveys furthermore found significant increases in: meadow vetchling, autumn hawkbit and common sorrel. Evidence was also found that wood crane’s-bill, bird’s-foot trefoil, self-heal and rough hawkbit were beginning to establish in some quadrats.


We have developed a range of ways to inform and inspire farmers, local residents, young people and visitors about the management needs and special qualities of upland hay meadows. Since May 2006 we have produced a number of reports and publications some of which can be downloaded from this page.

Between 2009 and 2011 we ran a series of hay meadow events and activities for local communities. Through these we:

  • trained a team of 12 volunteer botanists to enable them to monitor in detail meadows where seed has been spread;
  • worked with a team of volunteer seed collectors to gather seed from more unusual hay meadow plants from which they grew more than 400 ‘plug plants’ which were planted out in nine meadows;
  • ran a series of 20 hay meadow history roadshows for local community groups attended by more than 460 people;
  • provided a hands-on hay meadow education programme for 19 primary schools involving 577 children;
  • held a week-long exhibition celebrating hay meadows and their history attended by more than 330 children and members of the public; and
  • worked with eight volunteers to transcribe 20 oral history interviews with retired farmers.

A full summary of the highlights of the Hay Time project can be downloaded from the ‘related files’ section to the right.

The defra toolkit Engaging People in Biodiversity Issues has used the Hay Time project as a case example of best practice.


Hay Time – North Pennines was supported by a County Durham Environment Trust CDENT PREMIER Award under the Landfill Communities Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

Further information

For further information about the Hay Time project please contact:

Rebecca Barrett (rebecca@northpenninesaonb.org.uk)

Ruth Starr-Keddle (ruth@northpenninesaonb.org.uk

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