Where Have All Our Wildflowers Gone?
In 2012, Plantlife published a report called Our Vanishing Flora, highlighting the loss of wildflowers across Great Britain since the Coronation. Plantlife's Patron, HRH The Prince of Wales, called for the creation of new wild flower meadows in his foreword for the report. He wanted at least one in every county, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Coronation. Currently there are 149 Coronation Meadows, 90 of which are new meadows created through the Coronation Meadows Project.
Led by Plantlife and in partnership with The Wildlife Trusts and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, the project is working to celebrate our existing wildflower meadows, create new meadows, and encourage people to discover wildflower meadows across the UK.
According to experts, the UK’s meadow flower species have decreased by 97% since the 1930s, so there has never been a better time to begin creating your own wildflower areas and to help halt the rapid decline of our native wildflowers.
Plants and flowers support many forms of wildlife including birds, bees and other pollinators and as the flowers decline so do the creatures that rely on them. In fact, over 80% of all plants are pollinated by insects, with 87% of those being pollinated by honey bees. If the plants die out then so do the bees, and if the bees die out then it would have a severe effect on the global food chain. There has been a quote widely used recently (and incorrectly attributed to Albert Einstein) “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live”. Although Einstein didn’t actually say this, there is no getting away from the fact that there is a certain amount of truth in it.
Whilst other creatures such as butterflies also pollinate, there is nothing quite as efficient as the bumblebee.
How Do You Encourage Bees?
According to experts in ecology and pollination, the UK has lost at least 23 bee species since 1800, including 3 bumblebees, and this decline is continuing.
Bees thrive on the nectar produced by our native wildflowers so one of the best ways to support the bee population is to restore wildflowers wherever possible. Don’t worry, this doesn’t have to large area of meadowland, even the smallest area can be a huge help including verges, gardens, and even a reasonable size pot or planter. Once the wildflowers are established the bees will quickly respond.
There are many nectar rich wildflowers suitable for gardens including Yellow Rattle, Agrimony and Betony to name a few, and it’s not as difficult as you may think. It will obviously take a bit of work to get it up and running, but once established will only require minimal maintenance and the results will be well worth the effort, not only aesthetically but also environmentally.
How To Create A Wildflower Area
1. Prepare the ground
Remove turf (if necessary) and about 5cm of topsoil. If you are removing turf then make the job effortless with a turf cutter and then rotavate the ground to leave a fine tilth. Leave the area for a few weeks, perhaps 4 to 6, and then remove any weeds that appear.
2. Sowing seeds
Sow your seeds during March or April, or in September, preferably on a calm (windless) day. Follow the instructions provided by your seed supplier.
Always use native species as they should flourish in your ground conditions and be suitable for local wildlife. Organisations such as Cotswold Seeds or Landlife Wildflowers, founders of the National Wildflower Centre in Liverpool, can supply native wildflower seeds from plants grown in the British Isles.
The meadow plants will take time to establish, so you will need to be patient. However, if you want some colour while you are waiting, then consider planting some annuals such as cornflowers and poppies.
Once the flowers have established themselves they will need to be cut. Ideally this would be done in August or September and the best method is with a strimmer, or a power scythe. The cutting action of these machines allows the seed heads to remain intact so that the seeds can drop back into the ground and reflower. DO NOT use a rotary or flail mower as these will damage the seed heads and they won't be able to repropagate.
Leave the cut material where it lays for a few days, turning it a couple of times during this period. For larger areas a hay rake is a fantastic tool for turning and rowing up.
After a week (maximum), remove all the cut vegetation. Removal of the cut material is very important as if it is left for too long then nutrients will penetrate the ground increasing fertility and compost.
If all of that sounds a little bit daunting and you are in need of some inspiration, there are plenty of places to see some stunning examples of how people have created wildflower areas, below are some that we are know as they use the BCS Power Scythes or BCS Commander to maintain their meadows, but there are many others across the country.
There are also many resources available that will help you create and maintain a wildflower area, including the following books and websites: