“The Main Thing is Just Getting Out There”: Interview with Emma, Meadows in the Making Intern

Friday 7 June 2024

The University’s Meadows in the Making project has sowed dozens of new meadows across North East Fife, and three of them sit surrounding the Guardbridge’s Eden Campus. These three large plots of wildflower meadows gleam in soft Friday afternoon sunshine. Their long grasses sway in the wind, whilst the sturdy wildflowers dotted about remain firm and still, like little lighthouses of colour amongst a sea of green.

Meadows in the Making, meadows

Meadows have always been a big part of UK popular culture and it’s great to see them growing in St Andrews, Credit: British Library

Emma and I walk along the established paths through the meadows, chatting as we watch small butterflies flit around the vegetation. Although the plants may look wild and left to their own devices, the meadows are in fact meticulously planned. Emma eyes some doc leaf growing amongst the grasses disapprovingly: it’s taking nutrients away from other plants that are more suited to pollinators.

Every so often, she stops and tells me about a plant. “This is ribwort plantain,” she says at one point, gesturing to a grass-like plant with a little bud on the top.

A little further on, she highlights some forget-me-nots growing on the side of the path. They’re the sort of thing that you read about all the time in books, but never know what they actually look like. They turn out to be minuscule blue flowers with tiny white centres. Germander speedwell is another small flower which she points out, very similar to forget-me-nots to my untrained eyes, but with a little yellow dot in the centre.

Ribwort Plantain in the Guardbridge Meadows, Credit: Georgina Parbrook

Emma then gets to work. She’s currently a summer intern for the Meadows in the Making Project, a grant-funded scheme which aims to increase the number of meadows in and around the university in order to create more habitats for essential wildlife such as bees and butterflies.

Emma pulls out her quadrat, a circle of string that can be pulled into a square shape to create a small segment of meadow and starts to try and identify the plants within. I observe with interest, having missed the obligatory day in GCSE biology where everyone got to use a quadrat to estimate the number of daisies growing on the football pitch. I’ve only seen quadrats made of wire rather than string, and when I ask the reason behind it, Emma explains that “it’s so it’s more portable, and also so that it doesn’t damage the plants”.

As we head back to St Andrews, we see some rabbits dashing through the trees around the edges of the meadow, which make us both smile. The meadow habitats appeal to more than just bees, birds and butterflies, it seems.

There are meadows across St Andrews and Fife as part of the project. As for those close to campus, you can head over to the North Haugh area and find several of them. To get involved in similar projects, please email [email protected]

Written by Georgina Parbrook


Tell me about yourself Hi, I’m Emma, I’m in my second year, studying biology. I’m part of the Meadows in the Making Project and I’m doing an internship for six weeks.

What is the Meadows in the Making Project? It is a project with the university that is trying to increase biodiversity around St Andrews and also Guardbridge area around where the campuses are, they’re trying to create these meadows like the one we’re in at the moment. These meadows will hopefully increase plant abundance and also the number of pollinators that we find in these habitats which we need to increase the biodiversity of.

And before you started the internship, you also volunteered here. What makes you so passionate about this project? It’s so nice being outside and being out in these lovely habitats. It’s actually good for your wellbeing, being out in these areas. I hope that more students find out that they exist so that they can come out here and have a break and be around nature, around the bugs, around the plants. I just feel like it’s such a positive environment to be in, and I wanted to get involved.

Can you let us know some of the meadows that are closer to St Andrews?
So there’s a lot around the science buildings like North Haugh area. There’s a few meadows around Gateway and they’re also seeded meadows, so you’ll find a lot more bright flowers around there. We also have one in the botanics. There’s normally a meadows in the making sign which will show you where they are. There’s also one in Craigtoun, a little bit further away but if you’re in that direction you should definitely check it out, and also one in Spider Park, they’re all over St Andrews!

Could you tell me about some of the threats to biodiversity that this project is trying to prevent? The biggest threat to pollinators is habitat loss. So, the idea of this project is to increase the area of meadows that will be able to be used by pollinators, especially things like bumblebees who are in critical need of having new environments which they can go into.

What’s your favourite plant? I love the big poppies you find around Fife- well, they’re found all around Scotland- and then there’s also the Yorkshire Fog, which is a type of grass. It’s really easy to identify because it’s got a soft, fluffy feeling on its stem. Even though it’s not the most visually exciting, it’s just now everywhere I go! I see it and I’m like: oh that’s a Yorkshire Fog!

What are your favourite plant facts? One thing that I’ve learnt very recently (I’m going back to the Yorkshire Fog!) is for identifying grasses. One of the biggest telltales for what type it is, is if you pull back the leaf slightly, there’s a ligule. It’s this little kind of spiky bit, they have different shapes and sizes and it’s one of the biggest things to look out for when identifying grasses which you’d never know unless you’d done field work before!

The ligule of a Yorkshire Fog, Credit: Georgina Parbrook

Thank you! Now onto the final question: what’s some top tips you have for people to get involved in identifying plants who are maybe just average students who want to get out for a walk and see what’s around? I would say the main thing is just getting out there and actually getting into the areas and finding the plants which interest you the most. One tip- it’s not always the most specific for identifying plants- but there’s apps that help you identify things by taking a picture, or you can just use Google Lens. I’ve used that when I’ve seen butterflies out and about, especially ones that are quite distinct looking. For example, the orange tip butterfly, I was able to find that out through Google Lens!

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