A PROJECT to protect and restore Cumbria’s upland flower-rich hay meadows has received a grant of £429,600 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

Cumbria has 31 per cent of England’s upland hay meadows, one of the rarest habitats in the country, and HLF’s grant will help halt their decline in the county.

It will also ensure that volunteers and staff are equipped with the necessary skills to maintain them.

Hay meadows are thought to date back over 2,000 years and are a product of man’s management of the land. They also provide a home to a huge variety of wildlife and are a precious part of the county’s landscape.

The project, run by Cumbria Biodiversity Partnership, will work with land owners and farmers to restore at least 65 hectares of upland flower-rich hay meadows and provide training in sustainable meadow management.

A volunteer programme will also train 60 volunteers to get to grips with carrying out hay meadow surveys.

Working with HMP Haverigg it will give inmates the chance to get involved with the project and benefit flower-rich hay meadows while learning new and valuable skills, gaining qualifications and helping with their overall rehabilitation.

Graham Jackson-Pitt, Cumbria biodiversity manager, said: “We are delighted to receive this grant from HLF. Not only will it kick start a programme of hay meadow restoration and volunteer surveys but it will also provide new opportunities to learn about and participate in hay meadow conservation.

“These meadows are biodiversity gems that are part of the farming landscape of Cumbria, however they are becoming increasingly rare and we can’t afford to lose them.”

Welcoming the award, Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron said the Cumbria Hay Meadows project was a ‘fantastic example of what we have to offer as a county.’

“It will enable essential restoration of our beloved landscapes and habitats in the hay meadows,” he said.