The meadows are a surviving part of ancient and secondary woodland, scrub, fringe grassland and spoil from past mining activities.
In August 2003 the Arkwright Society purchased the Dunsley Meadows as an act of rescue. Designated a County Wildlife Site by the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, the old hay meadows became Derbyshire Dales District Council's first Local Nature Reserve.
The meadows, which adjoin Slinter Wood, consist of seven small fields that once were part of the extensive upland commons of the villages of Cromford and Middleton on which the villagers had grazing rights. Five of the fields were enclosed by the mid eighteenth century and the two upper ones, nearest to the woodland, almost a century later. Over time the stone walls became derelict but conservation work is under way to rebuild them, enabling volunteers to learn the age old craft of dry stone walling whilst helping to return the meadows to their former glory.
Dunsley Meadows were purchased by the Arkwright Society because of their intrinsic association with Slinter Wood. The meadows are important as a surviving part of the mosaic of ancient and secondary woodland, scrub, fringe grassland and spoil from past mining activities which characterises the limestone dales. They are recognised as a traditional hay meadow habitat, which is a “priority biodiversity habitat” both locally and nationally. Moreover it was clear that recent management, ranging from complete neglect to overgrazing, was degrading the site but that timely intervention might reverse the process.
The essential tool of management which was agreed to restore this habitat is carefully controlled grazing which now occurs between July and November of each year. As a result, it has been necessary to install fencing and gates to regulate the movement of cattle and to protect species from being grazed at vulnerable times.
Volunteers are crucial to the work achieved in Dunsley Meadows and there is still much to be done: continual monitoring of the site, controlling the invasive weed ragwort, ongoing restoration of the many more hundreds of yards of dry stone walling, as well as future restoration of the derelict hay barn. To volunteer please click here.