Magnificent meadow makers

Good urban greenspaces serve nature and people equally well. Had you visited Fernbrae Meadows a few years ago you would have found yourself standing on a derelict golf course which was neither delivering for people or nature. How things change. Fast forward to 2022 and you find yourself in the midst of a fabulous urban park. In the intervening period thanks to funding including the Green Infrastructure Fund, an astonishing transformation has taken place.

Karen Smith is particularly well placed to talk about the changes. She has been associated with Fernbrae Meadows since the days of Blairbeth Golf Club, and looks back with pride on how the local community has grasped the opportunity to revamp their local greenspace.

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Wildflower meadow

Karen, I understand that you have some big news at Fernbrae? 

Yes, we are absolutely delighted that Fernbrae Meadows, along with 16 other South Lanarkshire Council sites, was designated as a Local Nature Reserve in February this year!

When I visited recently I got a sense that the community is, if anything, more connected with the site than pre-pandemic.

I’d agree. The Friends of Fernbrae Meadows is functioning completely independently and since lockdown-restrictions eased have resumed community events. It held its AGM in January 2022 and moved on to a volunteer ditch-digging and path maintenance day in February 2022 to keep the water running where it should on the woodland path with Glasgow City Council Countryside Rangers.

A pond dipping event was held in April 2022 completely arranged by the group. They did invite me along, but it was funny to really be not needed any more!

What’s your favourite element of Fernbrae Meadows?

It has to be the Community Meadow.  This is my absolute pride and joy. After a difficult second year when a lot of the community thought the meadow had failed, as it wasn’t as pretty as it had been in its first showy year when a colourful display was aided by the inclusion of cornfield annuals, it is finally blooming with flowers and buzzing with bees.

It was quite a job to convince people that the meadow site was more biodiverse with more species, and hard for some not to see it as a bit untidy and full of weeds.

Fernbrae Meadows - Wildflower Meadow

We had a Meadow Maker session in August 2021 to gather seed from the meadow and this event is one we will do regularly as a series so that people see the connections and can create new meadow habitats. People got up close, treasured the seeds like gold dust and noticed the hundreds of ladybirds and bees living among the flowers and grasses of the meadow.

The Lunchtime Heroes raked the cut grass from the meadow in October and all our work is now finally paying off with a picture-perfect meadow which starts off very yellow with the yellow rattle and buttercup but is peppered now with pinks of ragged robin, white showy oxeye daisy and the purples of red clover and tufted vetch. We look forward to seeing teasel and yarrow later in the summer, and are watching again for musk mallow and viper’s bugloss.

The change of management of the grass is letting nature creep in everywhere and we are noticing yellow rattle is naturally spreading beyond our sowing sites. At the north east of the site bluebells and pignut carpeted the grass and woodland while cuckooflower was more noticeable across the whole site this spring. We spotted a clump of wood anemone on the woodland edge as we did the butterfly monitoring this spring and it did occur to me that beautiful ancient woodland indicator species may have previously been mown down to maintain the golf course.

Along the burn we have brooklime and meadowsweet. Our native hedging, at the outdoor classroom, has established well and there are roses in full bloom.

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Wildflower meadow

Volunteers it seems are increasingly important for Fernbrae Meadows's future. Can you tell us a little about that?

We had a group of butterfly monitoring volunteers from April to September 2021 taking turns to count butterflies and record species weekly after online training with the Butterfly Conservation Trust and support from myself.

When this finished in September some of the volunteers were keen to still come out and so we started fortnightly Lunchtime Superhero sessions to carry out a variety of light environmental tasks, still with an emphasis on wellbeing, nature connection and social contact. We advertise these sessions through colleagues in the NHS so there is also an outdoor option for social prescriptions in the area.

The idea is that you can come out with a packed lunch and spend time eating outdoors with others and do as much or as little as you like to improve the site. Lately we’ve been litter picking, cutting back overhanging vegetation, removing tree guards and counting butterflies of course.

It’s amazing how much work you can get done in just a small amount of time with a few pairs of hands. It’s also a move away from our traditional ranger service volunteer sessions which are usually a whole day of quite physical work which may seem too much for some people to participate in, especially those with health conditions or people working from home.

Scotland has long been known as a welcoming nation, and you’ve experienced that locally at Fernbrae too.

Our volunteers were particularly pleased when our VIP neighbour brought them some home baking to honour their contribution. Sabir Zazai, Chief Executive of the Scottish Refugee Council, lives with his family adjacent to Fernbrae Meadows. He runs, takes care of his own physical and mental health, and plays with his children in the site. I often see the family taking a walk with visitors and it’s lovely to know that Fernbrae Meadows has become home to such a diverse and caring community.

Fair to say there is something for all ages?

Certainly. We value play within South Lanarkshire Council and there are free weekly play sessions held at Fernbrae Meadows by local children’s charity Project 31 – named after Article 31 of the UN Rights of the Child – the child’s right to play. It seems that archery is a favourite activity!

Walking is popular around the site too. As well as the weekly health walk on a Tuesday, which accommodates around 10 people each week, there are plenty of informal groups who seem to meet to walk together. A new group, Connect All Walkers, has been using the site.

The Glasgow City Council Ranger, Gary Linstead, has also been walking people through the site on a short South Lanarkshire stretch of the Magnificent 11 walk – an 11 mile circular walk through Glasgow greenspaces. He guided the Friends of Fernbrae Meadows and has been busy taking school and other community groups out too.

Active learning is increasingly popular, is the site being used as an educational setting?

I am not able to actively monitor all the groups that use the site now, but I often bump into classes from Cathkin Primary School who seem to have embedded outdoor learning into their school curriculum. Fernhill School and nursery are regularly out and about and there were new Forest School Leaders from SLC nurseries being assessed in the woodland just last week.

Few things in life are perfect. What are some of the challenges at Fernbrae?

Car park pressures do exist from time to time, with allotment holders trying to spread woodchip to create extra spaces. We had some snowberry removed from the car park area as part of Nature Restoration Funding and are now in discussion with the Fernbrae Meadows Allotment Committee about managing the area around the car park in a way that will benefit nature and be aesthetically pleasing for visitors.

Annual wildflower seeds have been sown as a temporary fix but it may be that this area can receive a bit of extra care from the community most likely to be using the space. A few allotment holders have already started to raise wildflower plug plants and young trees.

Occasionally there are conflicts because of the amount of varied users of the site. We did have to put up some posters encouraging responsible behaviour with dogs in response to concerns. The community wardens regularly come to the site now because of some reports of dog fouling, quad bikes and anti-social behaviour. But by and large, the public reporting things is a sign that there are high expectations for Fernbrae Meadows and people care. Litter and vandalism is minimal and, three years on, the place is well used and well loved.

Logo - ERDF


The Green Infrastructure Fund is part of the Scottish Government’s current European Regional Development Fund programme, which runs through to 2023.  This is one of two ERDF Strategic Interventions led by NatureScot – the other is the Natural & Cultural Heritage Fund.

You can follow the European Structural Funds blog for ESF activities, news and updates. For twitter updates go to @scotgovESIF or use the hashtags #ERDF and #europeanstructuralfunds


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