The Prince of Wales is encouraging the planting of at least 60 new wildflower meadows in honour of the diamond anniversary of The Queen’s coronation this year.
Species-rich native grassland in this country has been pretty much decimated over the past 70 years, with 97% loss since the 1940s.
During our current monarch’s reign – ten species of flowering plants including the wonderfully named Summer Lady’s Tresses, Lamb’s Succory, Interrupted Brome and Stinking Hawksbeard have become extinct.
More alarming, 16 counties in Britain are now losing a plant species every two to three years. These include Cambridgeshire where I live, where arable agriculture has been the major culprit, and Middlesex where native grassland has been all but concreted over.
According to a new report ‘Our vanishing flora’ from nature conservation body Plantlife; Wiltshire is the safest place to be if you are a wild flower. A range of different habitats and Salisbury Plain – one of the largest areas of calcareous grassland in North West Europe, has kept species loss down to less than one per decade – although the trend is still downwards.
In the UK, of 1346 wild plants – including flowers, mosses, liverworts and lichens, 45 are critically endangered, 101 are endangered and 307 vulnerable.
Bio-diverse meadows have much to offer, apart from being beautiful to look at and providing home and food for animals and insects. Wild plant habitats can help reduce CO2 emissions, capture and store carbon, defend eroding coast lines and help control floods; in many cases at less cost than man-made solutions.
What can be done?
While conserving what remains is best left to the botanical experts in places like the Yorkshire Dales (www.ydmt.org), restoration or recreation of meadows seems to be the way forward – or back, however you look at it.
I know farmers who are successfully restoring wildflower meadows on a large scale. Others are introducing species to smaller parcels of land – the hospital paddocks and little orchards around the farmhouse, and along the driveway and verges.
And of course gardeners can play their part too – by doing the decent thing and allowing some, or all of their lawns to revert to something more natural.
Plantlife offer tips on how to do this:
- The average lawn, possessing a few weeds: Simply leave the lawn unmown. If it is old and weedy you’ll be amazed at what comes up. If you want to add more types of flowers, plant plug plants in the autumn or grow plants from seed.
- Well tended, weed-free lawns: If the lawn is new or beautifully tended it might be better starting from scratch. Mowing regularly and removing the clippings for a few years will reduce fertility, but it could be some years before wildflowers appear. Speed things up by planting plug plants or sowing seed in small bare patches.
- Patch of soil or a dull lawn: It is best to start from scratch. Remove the top few inches of very fertile top soil in late summer – wildflowers need poor conditions to thrive. Rake and sow a mix of flowers suitable for the soil. Buy seed from suppliers who source native British plants.
A meadow has to be maintained by mowing hard and regularly from July to September. Remove all the cuttings until Christmas. Leave alone and enjoy the flowers that should flourish the next summer. This cycle mimics the traditional pattern of hay cutting following by grazing to which many meadow flowers are adapted.