WITH only a handful of traditional wildflower meadows left across Britain compared with the immediate pre and post war periods (97% lost at the last count), it’s no wonder there are so many organisations and businesses now trying to encourage us to help restore old ones or establish new ones.
Their aim is to prevent the decline in the incredible range of plants that grow in these rare environments, let alone the associated complex food chain of insects, birds and mammals that have declined at a similar rate through changing agricultural practices, building and development.
One of our previous Garden of the Year winners, Carol Puszkiewicz, was lucky enough to have a 1.42 hectare ( 3.5 acre) piece of pasture that went with the 1836 house she and her husband, Andrew, brought in 1996 in Outlane.
The land is now only grazed by sheep from September to April after when the field is left to grow, flower and set seed.
The sheep droppings are the only form of direct fertiliser application that the field receives – a key factor in the success of any wildflower meadow is the low levels of nutrients contrary to what us gardeners seem to spend our lives doing – feeding our plants to get extra performance.
The field has a hay crop taken off in August because by this time all the meadow flowers have set seed and the harvested hay crop, once again, removes some nutrients from the field to help suppress the more vigorous grass species that complete with the wild flowers.
The result of this annual cycle, so typical of more traditional agricultural practice, is that the number and variety of wild flowers gradually increases.
Carol has now identified 17 distinct species of wild flowers and upwards of 10 different grass species – some are still unidentified.
The latest addition to the meadow, seen for the first time last year, is the Yellow Rattle, Rhinanthus minor, that is one of the true indicators of a successful wild flower meadow.
Carol is monitoring the fauna that live in this diversity as well, although this is partly being influenced by some tree planting and a pond that has been dug out.
So, do you have a piece of land that you could convert to a wildflower meadow instead of routinely cutting the grass every week?
Do you want to enjoy the huge diversity of insect, bird and animal life that can be associated with these floral havens?
There are a host of organisations and businesses waiting out there to help you with advice, plants, seeds, management plans, expertise and much more.
To make a start, why not visit the National Wildflower Centre near Liverpool, where you can talk to the experts. It is just off Junction 5 of the M62 – visit www.nwc.org.uk or call 0151 738 1913 for more information. To source wildflowers check out www.wildflower.org.uk or call 0151 737 1819; www.wildflowers.co.uk or call 01603 716615. For images of wildflowers to aid identification, visit www.british-wild-flowers.co.uk or www.ukwildflowers.com.
There are two charities directly involved in the preservation, conservation and re-establishment of wildflower meadows that can provide useful information and can arrange visits to established wildflower meadows for you to see what can be achieved.
Visit www.grasslands-trust.org or call 02380 650093; visit www.floralocale.org or call 01672 515723.
` Just to clarify a website address in last week’s column should read www.nemasysinfo.com or www.nemasysinfo.co.uk .