In recent months, many of us have been focusing on the wildflowers in our local areas; some botanists have been doing what they could to enhance the botanical diversity on their doorstep and provide more benefit to the other wildlife species, such as bees, butterflies and moths, that depend on our wildflowers. Things don't always go smoothly and there can be obstacles to overcome.
Read on to find out what Sarah S. aka 'MightyMothGirl' did in her local area, the difficulties she encountered and how she is trying to find ways round them. She also provided all the images on this blogpost:
"After moving to a rural village in Somerset in 2019, I quickly joined the village Wildlife Group and offered my skills as a botanist and naturalist. One of the first things I offered to do was a botanical survey of the churchyard as I had noticed there was already a wildlife area, but despite being left to grow long during the summer the wildlife area was generally rather floristically poor. Coarse grasses were dominating, preventing any wildflowers establishing. It was decided that the first step would involve seeding the most suitable areas with Rhinanthus minor (Yellow Rattle, above right), also known as the Meadow Maker.
"This UK native meadow species is semi-parasitic on grasses, reducing their vigour and dominance within the sward. This in turn will allow more wildflower species to be successfully introduced. To ensure this initial stage was successful, the area needed to be scarified before sowing. I also reassured interested parties that none of these activities would in any way affect the appearance of the purple cultivar Anenome nemorosa (Wood Anemone) and Primula vulgaris (Primrose) in the spring, as these plants would have finished flowering before the Rhinanthus minor (Yellow Rattle) begins to get established (image on left).
"I was absolutely thrilled to discover that so much of the (Yellow Rattle) had successfully germinated, especially as it can be a tricky plant to get going, as the seed needs vernalisation over winter. I was also interested to discover that it was possibly Rhinanthus minor subspecies stenophyllus as pointed out by Josh Styles on social media. Other areas of the churchyard that I highlighted as particularly interesting have been left to grow long during the summer, mainly the bank on top of the perimeter wall that was awash with Leucanthemum vulgare (Oxeye Daisy).
"Other projects I decided to get involved with included the grass bank below the local school’s hedge opposite my house that runs parallel to the pavement and is currently just mown short all year round. Previous attempts have been made by the wildlife group to plant a mix of native and non-native species, but only in a 1m2 area which was mostly just left to its own devices. However it was upon discovering that even this tiny area was being strimmed into oblivion that I decided I needed to do something. It took some detective work and several emails to the Parish Council, County Council etc to finally find out it was actually being managed by the school. Before I had found out who was managing it I had been running out in my pyjamas in a panic at the sound of any strimmer or mower.
"Finally the school and the Parish Council agreed to let me manage it and the maintenance team would not mow between April and August. I put up a very temporary sign, but before I could even contemplate my plans for the bank a local resident from further up the road had taken it upon himself to strim the majority of the bank for some unknown reason. This included the only remaining flowering specimens of Leucanthemum vulgare (Oxeye Daisy), Centaurea nigra (Common Knapweed) and Sanguisorba minor (Salad Burnet) which had been introduced by the wildlife group (image above right).
"I have now updated the sign to attempt to gain more local understanding and support. I was also asked by a friend to create some signs for her newly developing wildlife area at the school she teaches at to prevent the constant comments of ‘that’s untidy and weedy’. I chose to create the signs (image on left) with quotes from famous authors, artists or scientists that have been inspired by nature. For example, ‘There are always flowers for those who want to see them’ - Henri Matisse or ‘Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better’ - Albert Einstein.
"Meanwhile I have been growing from seed several appropriate species for introduction as plug plants (image on right) in both the churchyard area and my own garden meadow area. I am growing Lathyrus pratensis (Meadow Vetchling), Lotus corniculatus (Common Bird’s-foot Trefoil), Galium verum (Lady’s Bedstraw), Centaurea nigra (Common Knapweed) and Knautia arvensis (Field Scabious). The Lotus and Lathyrus have been very successful and easy to grow, the others are somewhat slower to start and in particular the Galium is still very small and hard to get big enough for planting out.
"The plan will be to involve the school children with planting of these in both the bank and the churchyard, Covid 19 restrictions allowing. For now, I will be only seeding areas of the bank as I’m not sure I could bear to see the plants I have tenderly grown being strimmed by the ‘neat and tidy brigade’. Both the churchyard area and my garden will be mown at the end of August and the risings removed to limit nutrient deposition.
"A small section of my garden that is of lower herb diversity is going to be completely reseeded. I will take off the turf and prepare the soil for seeding with a meadow mix obtained from a neutral meadow only about four miles away. During all these projects, several approaches to creating native wildflower areas are being employed including an area in my garden being simply left long for the summer months and allowed to develop naturally over time. Perhaps in an ideal world this is how we would manage all the wildflower/ nature areas, with a less hands-on approach other than mowing in autumn and removing the risings.
"However, we live in a world where people are expecting results much more quickly or are falsely given the impression of wildflower areas being a rainbow display of annual and non-native species. So after consideration I came to the conclusion that by accelerating the appearance of suitable and appropriate species for the soil type and geographic location by seeding or plug planting, I could increase my chances of being allowed to create more of these areas locally and maybe further afield. I hope that the final results will show just how important our native wildflowers are to pollinators and other invertebrates when the churchyard and bank are buzzing with life". (Image above left shows a Dark Bush Cricket in the garden meadow area; image on right shows Bush Vetch in the churchyard).
Good luck Sarah and thanks for telling us what you've been up to in your local area - I love the nature-inspired quotes on your signs, that's a great idea! We'll look forward to seeing your photos next year when, fingers crossed, the churchyard and bank are buzzing with more wildlife than ever before.