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Study On Fairfield Hills High Meadow Management To Continue With BOS Funding



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With a three year study on the pollinator expanses at High Meadow finished, the Board of Selectmen approved a $7,000 appropriation to continue the study again in three years.

Holly Kocet, chairman of the Conservation Commission, and Deputy Director of Planning Rob Sibley attended the September 5 BOS meeting to explain about the study and its benefits.

Kocet said that in May 2016, the BOS charged the Land Use Agency staff with developing a management plan for the future of High and East Meadows, located on the Fairfield Hills Campus. In August of that year, an ad hoc committee, the Study Group for the Restoration of High Meadow, under the Conservation Commission, was formed.

The High Meadow Management Plan was published on February 8, 2017. The purpose of the plan, according to Kocet, was to assist Land Use Agency staff in developing short- and long-term strategies for High and East Meadows that would enhance habitat and overall health, diversity and vigor of those sites.

The plan divided the property into two areas to be studied: site A, a meadow test site, a five-acre plot that was left unmanaged for three years, and site B, the pollinator meadow, a six-acre plot that was seeded with native wildflowers and warm-season grasses by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection in June 2017, at only a cost of the seed to the town.

A study was done in August 2017 by botanist Bryan Connolly on site A. Over time, native plants have been added on three separate occasions by Conservation Commissioners, volunteers and master gardeners.

A follow-up study by Connolly on site A was done in September 2021, and the data collected was compared to the 2017 study. The study found a total of 52 species in the High Meadow area, 16 more species than in 2017.

The field was found to be dominated by European forage grasses, though they are “giving way to weedy broad-leaved species such as wild madder, butter and eggs, and horsenettle,” species that are not native but also not invasive and produce flowers that are more useful to pollinators than grasses.

The study states that several native plants of high pollinator value are expanding and increasing in the meadow.

Plants that were observed in 2021 and “should be encouraged” in the meadow include: White snakeroot, common milkweed, wild basil, grass-leaved goldenrod, rabbit tobacco, short-toothed mountain mint, narrowleaf mountain mint, giant goldenrod, wrinkleleaf goldenrod, and calico aster.

Some plants were found in 2017 that were not found in 2021, and were believed to have declined due to weather conditions or deer foraging.

“In summary, the meadow is becoming more biological (sic) diverse, and several plant species of high pollinator value are now present,” stated Connolly. “But at the same time invasive plants are on the rise as well as woody plants. Management will be needed in the High Meadow area of the Fairfield Hills campus. If left on its own, the meadow will likely become filled with invasive and woody species.”

The study recommends the removal of all invasive species observed, especially mugwort which it says should be removed immediately. It also recommends mowing once every three years, coupled with selective invasive removal which “may allow high pollinator value species to further expand.”

Site B was not studied, but Kocet stated that “observation does suggest the addition of native plants and grasses to site B have enhanced pollinator habitat and aesthetic value of the meadow.”

Sibley said that the meadow study has “borne a lot of fruit,” and has modified how Parks & Recreation is running its meadow management program. Invasive plants can cause problems for town roads due to erosion and other issues. The study has not only been useful for the town, but also as a public study, other municipalities have been making use of the information in it, as well as residents.

“Fairfield Hills has become the poster child for retirement of farm meadows,” said Sibley.

The Conservation Commission believes that further study can “further enhance our knowledge for future meadow restorations. The Board of Selectmen approved $7,000 for a future study of both sites A and B, likely to be done in 2024 or 2025.

Associate Editor Jim Taylor can be reached at jim@thebee.com.

A view of the wildflower meadow with the Fairfield Hills buildings in the background.
Pedestrians walking along the trails past the wildflower meadow. —Bee Photos, Taylor
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