This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol2-4", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
Originally meadows and pastures were forest lands. Gradually, owing to one cause or another, these forests were cut down. A great part of the land not under cultivation or planted with trees was common land, upon which the countryman could graze his cattle, etc, free of rent or tithe. But gradually these rights of the people, as they were looked upon, were taken from them, and to-day very little common land exists. In some cases these lands were enclosed so long ago as the sixteenth century, but the bulk of the common land was enclosed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
The significance of the enclosure of land is very important, and is usually ignored in studying the character of vegetation. But upon a meadow or pasture the effect has been profound. Instead of wide stretches of pasture or meadow we have the squares, rectangles, or irregular areas known as fields, separated from each other or from roads by boundary fences.
In a pasture, particularly, the effect is very marked, and has a tendency to encourage the supremacy of the Grasses and the ousting of the less sturdy, herbaceous, succulent plants. In fact, they are driven to the boundaries or hedges and ditches in many cases, such plants as White Dead-nettle and a host of others not being able to cope with the stronger plants. The planting of hedges with trees at intervals, whilst quite artificial, has a tendency to equalize matters or to preserve the balance, and woodland types find a suitable habitat there. The moisture-loving plants, driven from the open field by over-drainage, can be shown to have found refuge in the ditches.
Where walls and dykes (i.e. deep ditches or streams used as fences) are the boundary fences the conditions of course vary again, rock plants growing on the walls and aquatic plants in the dykes.
To-day it can be shown in each district that there are few heaths and commons left. As a rule, they are the special resort of gipsies. They may also be shown to have a different type of flora to that of the meadow or pasture, which are derived very largely from them. These points made clear will throw a flood of light upon the character of meadow-land vegetation.