Thoughts, news and updates from members of the Plantlife team.
Fen orchids saved at Catfield Fen
October 06 2016 - 13:13
Many consider Catfield Fen to be the "jewel in the crown" of the Norfolk Broads Important Plant Area.
As well as providing a home to the rare Swallowtail Butterfly, it also supports a community of endangered fen orchids (Liparis loeselii) and other wild flowers. So when we heard it was under threat, we were, naturally, concerned.
Eight years ago, owners Tim and Geli Harris noticed the fen was drying out. The cause? A local farmer who was abstracting water from the site. Whilst lost groundwater can be replaced by rainfall, doing so can make the land more acidic. This presented a danger to the fen orchids and other species who lived in the area.
In response the Environment Agency stopped the farmer's activity by refusing him an abstraction licence. But the farmer appealed and an inquiry was launched. Plantlife and other environmental charities submitted evidence supporting TIm and Geli's claim: that the abstraction was making the land more acidic and thus threatening the wildlife on the site.
At the end of last month we heard the good news: the inspector dismissed the challenge, ruled in favour of the Environment Agency and halted any future abstraction. Catfield Fen has been saved!
That's not the only good news from the East of England. Some of you may remember, earlier this year, that one of our botanists was babysitting some fen orchids. We're happy to say that, not only did they survive their move, many of them flowered this summer!
Preparations are now underway for a full-blown reintroduction this winter. You can help us keep up the good work.
The State of Nature in Wales
October 03 2016 - 15:53
On 21 September 2016, a coalition of more than 50 leading conservation bodies across Wales united to highlight the State of Nature in Wales.
This new report reveals that 56% of species studied have declined across the UK over the last 50 years. In Wales, one in 14 species is heading for extinction – with a worrying 57% them being wild plants.
Over the long term, 57% of vascular plant species declined in Wales whilst 29% of the 55 fungi and lichen species that were assessed were also declining. For the 52 bryophytes featured on the priority species list and we assessed 49 of them and 47% of these were declining.
We now know more about the state of nature in Wales than ever before and the threats it is facing. For the first time, we’ve been able to identify and quantify the main reasons why our wildlife is changing - and it’s clear that changes in land management and climate change are the two greatest factors that impact nature.
However there is good news. We know that, when implemented well, conservation measures work and can help reverse species and habitat decline. This is evident with the rise in numbers of lesser butterfly orchids (Platanthera bifolia) on the two Plantlife nature reserves and work to increase the population of pillwort (Pilularia globulifera) in North Wales and yellow Whitlow-grass (Draba aizoides) on the Gower.
How we protect and manage our environment is key to reversing nature’s decline. It needs a coordinated approach across government, business, conservation organisations and the public. The National Assembly for Wales recently passed a landmark piece of law which, if implemented effectively, could see Wales leading the way for biodiversity recovery in the UK. We need the Welsh Government, supported by the people of Wales, to rise to the challenge.
The State of Nature in Scotland
Building diversity and having fun
September 20 2016 - 09:55
On Wednesday 14 September, the State of Nature partnership launched the second State of Nature report. At its launch in Edinburgh, I gave this speech. I was aiming to help people remember what fun nature can be and inspire them to act with us to save nature.
Let me start with a massive and heartfelt thank you! THANK YOU to all the volunteers who have contributed the data on which this report is built. It would not exist without the estimated 60,000 hours of volunteer time (and that is just part of the data collecting volunteer team – there are another 66,000 getting out mending paths and fences, and leading walks) dedicated to Scotland’s nature.
They have witnessed and verified first hand the decline in species. What are they seeing? More to the point, what are they not seeing.
Have you seen a moth snowstorm this summer? A murmuration of starlings? A shiver of basking sharks? A coterie of orchids?
We are all witnesses to the decline in species diversity across Scotland to such a point that 9% of our species are now at risk of extinction.
Does it matter that we, and our children are much less likely nowadays to see a curlew, a mountain pansy or a common blue butterfly? Our children are much less likely to be finding newts in their pond, collecting ladybirds from the field or making whistles from elder trees. Does that matter?
Well yes I would say. That sort of experience is what enriches a childhood and fires the imagination. But even beyond that it also matters because our ecosystems across Scotland are becoming more simplified. They have fewer species, which results in less diversity, which in turns leads to less resilience to change. A simplified ecosystem is one much more likely to fall over in times of change – times of climate change even. We have measured this through the Biodiversity Intactness Index, which in Scotland falls below the 90% levels recognised as the level beyond which our ecosystems can reliably met society’s needs. And while that sounds dry and boring, these ecosystem services include those we know about like flood prevention and fertile soils, as well as those we don’t know about but still take from granted: future medicines and alternatives to plastic for instance.
Above: cloudberry © Laurie Campbell
Scotland trades on our image: Scotland is renowned across the world for its majestic landscapes and species diversity. Where else can you see alpine gentians growing next to arctic cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus - above)? Nowhere else of course. But we are not doing enough to conserve it and with it our own future.
So what can we do other than drown our sorrows with the help of a Botanist gin? What can we all resolve to do so that the next State of Nature report shows us a reverse in this decline?
We need to work together. This report show how, when we work together, we can achieve good things. Look at the examples in the report. Then, if you already volunteer – thank you and please carry on. If you don’t, how about it? There is a very exciting range of opportunities out there and again the organisations in this partnership can help you get involved or inspire you to get involved.
And finally use this report, and its sister report, Response for Nature, launched last year, to implement change in your own area of work. Use the report, reflect on its messages and join us in doing something about it. Biodiversity loss is the biggest threat to the world but has been largely forgotten. This report shows why that is a dangerous oversight.
Above: the Cairngorms, an Important Plant Area. © Laurie Campbell
We need nature – much more than it needs us. In Scotland, we’re making good progress towards climate change and the government’s targets. But we’re only tackling half the story. There are only two ways to combat climate change: one through reducing emissions and one through maintaining species diversity so our ecosystems are able to sequester carbon. Scotland has positioned itself as a world leader in setting and attaining targets on emissions reductions and it could equally become a world leader in enhancing biodiversity and its attendant sequestration capability. Until we reverse the decline in biodiversity across Scotland, our future, and our children’s future is getting less diverse, and dare I say it, less fun , every day.
So help us make a difference, bake blaeberry tarts, make nettle string, watch an eagle soar. And with it, your resolve to help halt the loss of Scotland’s amazing nature.
Let me know of your memories of nature and the memories you would like to foster for future generations in the comments below or on twitter #naturememory.
The State of Nature
A copy of Dr Trevor Dines' speech at the launch of the State of Nature 2016 report.
September 13 2016 - 15:31
I was lucky enough to grow up on a farm in the rolling hills of the Hampshire downs.
Dad’s corn fields were full of poppies, or - as they were once called – the “thunder flowers” that heralded the arrival of summer storms. Up on Barrow Hill, Night-flowering Catchfly (Silene noctiflora) breathed its rich, clove scent into the air at dusk to attract pollinating moths. And then there was that long hot summer – full of hushed excitement and secrecy – when a Montague’s Harrier took up home in one of our fields (“Don’t tell anyone”, said my Dad, “or they might scare her away”).
But I also remember vividly the day when a steep little bank on our neighbours farm – a tiny fragment of ancient grassland - was ploughed into the ground. It was the only place I knew where an enchanting little orchid - Autumn Lady's-tresses (Spiranthes spiralis) – grew. I just couldn’t see any rhyme or reason why this flowery bank had to be destroyed.
This sort of gradual attrition, though, - a field corner here, a small copse there - has been the story of our countryside for many decades. It’s a story of a death by a thousand cuts – each small act seemingly insignificant, but each one carving out a much bigger picture. The poppies shrank back to the field gateways, the Catchfly dwindled and the Montague’s Harrier never did return.
The truth presented in this State of Nature report is startling. This is a clarion call – a unified voice from our bugs, bees, birds, bats and bellflowers – that our countryside is in crisis:
- Of nearly 4,000 species studied, 56% show a decline in the long term, and by that we mean since 1970 (now, I was 1 year old 1970, so this is within my own lifetime).
- Over the same period, 213 of our Priority Species have declined by 67% in abundance and 35% in range.
- And more than 1-in-7 of all our wild species are now threatened with extinction. Heartbreakingly, 142 species have already met this fate; Downy Hemp-nettle (Galeopsis segetum - below), Apple Bumblebee and Large Copper butterflies are some of those now extinct in the UK.
But if we look at smaller areas of land – such as individual counties – the rate of extinction is even higher. My mother grew up and now lives again in Northamptonshire – a county that includes your own constituency, Secretary of State for the Environment. In this county alone 103 wild flowers – including Meadow Saffron (Colchicum autumnale) and Lesser Butterfly-orchid (Platanthera bifolia) - have become extinct, making it the county with the second highest rate of plant extinction in England.
What is driving all this change in our wildlife? Taking evidence of both positive (green) and negative (red) effects on 400 species over the last 40 years, we can see which ‘drivers of change’ are most active:
Climate change is often thought to be the biggest threat, but, interestingly, the positive and negative effects are rather evenly balanced. We are seeing more southern species moving northward than northern and montane species declining. However, as our climate warms, this balance is likely to tip – a few weeks ago it was reported that Snow Pearlwort (Sagina nivalis), which grows on just a few peaks in the Scottish Highlands, has disappeared from half its sites since the 1980s.
There is, however, a much more profound and immediate threat. By far the biggest impact comes from our day-to-day treatment of our land. It’s these day-to-day actions – the intensive management of agricultural land, drainage, undergrazing, and the abandonment of woodlands – that lead to most losses.
Take a tractor and plough and an ancient wildflower meadow like this...
...can be destroyed within a single morning, with the loss of maybe 100 or more species of wildflowers.
Most have been replaced with this...
... intensively farmed pasture with just a handful of tough plants.
This quiet catastrophe has befallen over 97% of our wildflower meadows and grasslands since the 2nd World War. Pause for a moment to reflect on that figure – if I said that over 97% of our woodlands had gone there’d be a national outcry. It amounts to 7.5 million acres – and if you struggle to visualise that figure it equates to an area of meadow one and a half times the size of Wales.
I want to challenge this notion that ours is “green and pleasant” land. The increase in agricultural production, underpinned and driven by agricultural policy, has fundamentally changed our countryside.
As a boy, even as I was learning the names of the plants around me – Ragged-Robin and Venus’-looking-glass - I was aware of the herbicides ... the fertilizers .... and the insecticides that were being poured, spread and sprayed onto the fields. As Sir David Attenborough once put it so eloquently - we developed an “extraordinary expertise in destroying, poisoning and knocking down things”.
Where there were once flowers at our feet, there is now a factory floor - little more than green concrete. Yet, within one generation – we’ve come to accept this as... well... entirely acceptable.
This impact on our habitats cascades through the food chain. When our flowers go, so do the pollinators. When the leaves go, so do the caterpillars. When the seeds go, so do the finches that feed upon them. It always amazes me when people ask “Where are our birds? Where are our bees? And where are our butterflies?” My response is simple: “Where are the plants & flowers that sustain them?”
Ask any member of the public which of these they want – wildflower meadows or productive pastures, and I bet they actually want both. But the pendulum has swung too far over towards production – big agribusiness has won - and we need much more of a balance across our entire landscape – both wildlife and production, not one or the other.
So... what next? The State of Nature partnership has many of the solutions. And we know they work. Two of the best include creating new habitats – new flower-rich grasslands, new magnificent meadows and new wetlands - and the introduction of wildlife-friendly farming through agri-environment schemes.
We have very good evidence that well designed, well targeted and well funded agri-environment schemes do work. Wildlife can thrive thanks to public money being used for public good. And adequate funding is essential - as one farmer said, “you can’t do green when you’re in the red”. Many farmers want wildlife on their farms. They want to do the best they can and they want to achieve that balance. We need to do all we can to work alongside all farmers to encourage and support them.
This really is the crux of it. For all the doom and gloom of the statistics, our wildlife is opportunistic and resilient. If we provide them with the right conditions, they will come back from the brink.
Back on the farm in Hampshire, agri-environment schemes now mean that field margins are left unsprayed and unfertilized. The poppies and Night-flowering Catchfly have appeared again on Barrow Hill, springing up like buried treasure from the soil seed bank. We just have to give them a chance.
And so, Secretary of State... as these declines continue on what is now your watch, we offer you our support. We’re ready to work with you, just as we are with farmers and others, so that we can bring about real benefits for wildlife and people.
In these challenging times - you, me and we - all need...
- A robust policy framework that genuinely supports the restoration of species, habitats and ecosystems, rather than simply handing over £3 billion a year to those fortunate enough to own land.
- Our remarkable special sites - our most protected areas – to be looked after so that they really do brim with wildlife and help re-seed nature, rather than the 50% of SSSIs in the UK that are currently in unfavourable condition.
- A holistic plan to deliver the truly landscape-level changes so that we all benefit from the services that nature provides, like flood prevention, carbon capture, and healthier and happier lives
Now, I'm going to finish with a little botanical quiz. Don't worry, it shouldn't be too challenging. Can you name any of the following?
Yes, that's right - they're bluebells, buttercups and conkers. Now, the Oxford Junior Dictionary – aimed at 7 year olds - has removed quite a few words from its most recent edition. These include the words “bluebell”, “buttercup” and “conker”.
They’ve been replaced with words that the OED have found to be used more often by children these days, words like “broadband”, “blog” and “chatroom”.
As a reflection on the State of Our Relationship With Nature, this speaks volumes. It says more to me than any statistic describing the decline of a species. And this isn’t the fault of a dictionary. It is our responsibility – each and every one of us - to do something about it.
Next spring, take your sons and daughters, nephews and nieces, grandchildren and godchildren into your local wood and show them the sheer joy of bluebells in all their glory. In the summer, take them into a meadow - put a buttercup under their chin – and see if they like butter. And this autumn – in the next few weeks - take them into your nearest park and have a good old fashioned conker fight with them.
And for once, let’s not just think about doing it, let’s all actually do it.
Because the future of our nature depends upon it.
Making a wildflower meadow in the heart of London
As it happened: the creation of the 90th new Coronation Meadow.
September 08 2016 - 14:44
Tuesday 6th September was a special day for us: we got to make a meadow in the heart of London!
And this meadow was no ordinary meadow. Together with the Wildlife Trusts and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust and supported by BiffaAward we have been creating new "Coronation Meadows" across the land and this would be our 90th. Dubbed the Queen's Meadow - in recognition of The Queen's 90th birthday - it was to be grown in London's Green Park.
The brainchild of our patron, HRH The Prince of Wales, Coronation Meadows were created both as his tribute to The Queen on the anniversary of Her Majesty's Coronation and as an answer to the devastating loss of wildflower meadows in England, Scotland and Wales since the Second World War. The aim? To create a new meadow in every UK county.
A lot of hard work goes into making an authentic wildflower meadow – it’s not as simple as it looks. So to give a little insight, here's what happened on the day.
If you're going to make a meadow in London, you need flower power: Agrifactors' especially decorated tractor and power harrow prepared the ground for seeding.
Then the real horse power arrived: Aragon and Royale II from the Royal Parks.
The Meadow Makers recieved a warm welcome from our vice president Rachel de Thame.
Led by our patron, HRH The Prince of Wales, local children scattered the first wildflower seed, taken from Valebridge Common in West Sussex. An ancient Coronation Meadow, its a closer match to Green Park's soil than the London Coronation Meadow at Horsenden Hill - although we did add some Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor) seed from the latter.
Finally the public joined in - not to mention the Plantlife team! Left to right, below are: Dr Trevor Dines (Plantlife's Botanical Specialist), Professor David Hill CBE (Plantlife's Chairman), Rachel de Thame and Marian Spain (Plantlife's Chief Executive).
Who knows, next year it might look something like this (Valebridge Common in bloom):
We'll be back in the summer of 2017 with photos and an update!
Find out more:
One man went to mow…
Poldark's back, so what better time to look at the ancient art of scything?
September 02 2016 - 10:23
Who will ever forget Poldark’s topless scything scene in the BBC’s popular drama?
It was enough to get housewives’ hearts a flutter and good reason for Radio Times to ask 44,000 readers to vote for their top TV moment of 2015. And perhaps unsurprisingly, actor Aidan Turner took the honours, with 45% of the vote.
However, not wishing to belittle that memorable TV moment, experts have pointed out that Poldark’s overexuberant technique left a lot to be desired, claiming that it didn’t have to be quite so intense to get this sedate job done. They said that the only time anyone would mow with as much effort as Poldark demonstrated in his macho meadow-mowing scene is in a competition.
Popular with both sexes, the ancient art of scything is enjoying a revival and is favoured by smallholders who might not be able to afford expensive equipment but who make hay on a small scale, perhaps with an acre or two to mow. Equally, a scythe is useful for areas inaccessible to other equipment, such as steep slopes or sensitive habitats – and it’s a great work-out and helps keep you fit.
Says Richard Brown of the Scythe Association of Britain & Ireland (SABI): "We feel that the good news story most relevant to Plantlife members is how much the 21st-century renaissance in scythe use is empowering individuals and community groups to manage grassland, and help conserve endangered plants and plant communities.
Plantlife's Coronation Meadows initiative - where we're making new meadows all over the UK - is making use of this phenomena, and it's also a brilliant way to engage people in meadows and their conservation."
Fashioned for cutting vegetation at ground level, the scythe first came to the British Isles 2,000 years ago and is an ancient cutting tool that was used for centuries, prior to horse-drawn and modern mowing machinery. It was probably first designed to cut grass, but as animals were increasingly fed on different types of straw, the importance of cutting oats, barley and other grains close to the ground became more important and the scythe began to replace the sickle as a way of harvesting crops. The scythe is, therefore, found in most areas of the world where grass and grains such as wheat, barley, oats or rye are the predominate agricultural crop.
However, the resurgence of interest in scything today is largely down to the efficiency and design of the super-slick Austrian scythe – it’s lighter in weight, easier to manoeuvre and more elegantly constructed than traditional English scythes. The Austrian (or continental) scythe’s blades are waferthin and hand-forged into an elegant curve, and with an ashwood snath can weigh as little as 1,8kg (about 4lb), compared to heavier Anglo-American scythes that come in at a hefty 3kg (almost 7lb).
So does this ancient tool have a place in the modern world? Absolutely... talk to any enthusiast dedicated to keeping this age-old art alive and you’ll soon see that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. And Poldark’s portrayal of scything as an exhausting exercise couldn’t be further from reality.
Instead, scything has been described as a "poetic way of cutting", a pleasurable, relaxing activity rather than a back-breaking chore. And, most importantly, a task that helps relax the mind and maintain that valuable connection with nature.
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Rare woodland wildflower returns
Let sunshine in to the forest floor and the stars will shine
August 26 2016 - 11:42
Spreading bellflower (Campanula patula) is one of our most elusive – and beautiful – wildflowers.
Unlike other campanula’s, with their bell-shaped flowers, the five petals of this species spread wide like a star - hence the name. Living in the dappled shade of woodland glades, rides and edges, it loves the spots where sunshine and shelter provide sufficient warmth for it to grow. It’s a biennial, growing in the first year to flower and die the next, and its often transient appearance in many sites reflects the ever changing conditions that are typical of these habitats.
Over the last three years, we’ve been working with many landowners to help them provide the conditions it needs, work supported by donations from Plantlife members as part of our Woodland Appeal.
So I was very pleased to receive news that it, after an absence of several years, this wonderful flower has returned again to an area of restored coppice in Silk Wood at the National Arboretum, Westonbirt. This is not an easy plant to encourage, so it’s really good to know that by maintaining active coppice management it can flourish.
Trials are also being done here to find new ways of protecting the early coppice growth from deer browsing, using special fencing kindly donated by a Plantlife member. This is a novel technique using two lines of netting, running parallel to each other, to deter the deer from jumping over; early signs that it works are encouraging.
Plantlife has also been supporting coppice management as part of the Back from the Brink project at Frith Wood near Ledbury, working with the Forestry Commission to coppice chestnut and hazel along ride margins. And it’s worked, with vigorous plants growing this year!
This really highlights how important it is, in the right places, to open up woodlands by restoring traditional management in our all too often neglected woodlands. It is not just the bellflower of course that enjoys the warm sheltered conditions created by such sensitive management, the insects and many other woodland plants all need the light to shine in.
Plantlife can only do this, however, with your support.
We can restore our wonderful woodlands and bring them back to life. Donate to our Woodland Appeal today and let’s protect our internationally important woodlands and their special plants for future generations to enjoy.
What Scotland can learn from Slovenia
The two countries share common ground when it comes to wildflowers.
August 19 2016 - 10:33
Last month a group of Scottish conservationists went on an investigative trip to south-west Slovenia, to see what they could learn.
Wildflowers have a high cultural cachet in the Karst region of Slovenia, you see. Hay meadows are a common sight in the flatter agricultural lands, surrounded by thickly wooded hills. This hay crop provides essential fodder for farm animals through the year and it's rather surprising to see such a traditional method of land management continue in Slovenia when flower-rich grasslands have become a very rare sight in Scottish agriculture.
Above: traditional land parcels near Cerknica
This lies in a large measure to the system of land tenure still in existence, where land is passed on from generation to generation by subdividing it. This results in what looks to our eyes like a pre-Enclosure landscape from the 18th century, with long, narrow strips for hay and other crops striping the landscape in shades of green and ochre, and an absence of stock fencing over much of the landscape.
A farmer’s landholdings then may comprise a number of these strips, and may not even lie next to each other, with a strip here and another one there, to be cut or dug over at the farmer’s convenience. This land tenure is replicated in the forest too, with small plots scattered over an area.
This system of land tenure has maintained a rich diversity of wild flowers in the landscape, as the plots are too small to be able to accommodate the large machinery that is in use in many parts of Scotland – plenty of old Fiat tractors were in evidence – so intensive agriculture hasn’t become standard in the hill country:
Commonly used machinery, able to access small strips of land.
In addition it is rare to see domestic stock out to pasture, which would reduce plant diversity over time as the flowering heads are browsed. Stock is traditionally kept indoors and fed hay – possibly because the land parcels are so scattered that grazing would be impracticable in many instances.
Our visit took in the limestone karst region in south-west Slovenia, where water behaves strangely. The bedrock is scattered with eroded sinkholes of varying sizes, like an Emmental cheese as our host put it. So when snow melts, the pores in the rock fill up and can flood the alluvial plains between the hills, creating seasonal intermittent lakes. When the water flows away it goes deep underground into interconnected cave systems, leaving the surface dry. Some springs were evident in the low-lying marshes near to Ljubljana, but in the hills the sound of rushing water that we are so used to hearing in Scotland was absent.
The water regime, the mineral-rich geology and the low-intensity farming all conspire to produce a landscape rich in wild flowers, a landscape both visually colourful with the sprinkling of bright colours through the sward, and audible too as the air hummed with wild pollinators doing what they do.
The air thrums with the sound of wild pollinators
The best comparisons that can be made in Scotland are the coastal fringes where crofting is the main agricultural activity. The scale of management, size of machinery and sharing of resources were similar, only this type of farming was much more widespread in Slovenia. However crofting also involves grazing beasts on extensive areas of land which was not a common activity in Slovenia.
Plants formed a basis for the farm produce: herb-rich hay for cattle, fruit for both food and drink, fresh salad produce from the abundant small allotment plots that lay in and around the villages.
Clearly the local people lived close to the land and appreciated what it gave them – traditional management of resources produced small batches of seasonal produce. These do not produce large incomes by themselves although they are sustainable over the longer term, so the diversification of activities was also very important in order to create diverse income streams.
Family allotments are common across the region.
On visiting a couple of eco tourist farms and asking if they thought they were being successful, the reply was yes. On asking if they wanted to expand their operations, the reply was an interesting no. Apart from a few improvements to infrastructure, they had sufficient to maintain the family group, and had little interest in mass production. This might have been peculiar to this hilly limestone region and a different tale might be told in the flatter arable lands in central Slovenia though.
A particularly telling encounter was when asked if the farmers had thought about ploughing and re-seeding the land with productive high-calorific agricultural grasses. A puzzled no was the response. “Do farmers like having lots of wild flowers in their hay?” “Yes, it is good for their animals, they wouldn’t want just grass.”
Maybe our rural colleges teaching agriculture to students might wish to reflect on this response from practitioners living close to their beasts on the land. Good for their animals, and also good for the wild pollinators in the fields that help produce the fruit that flavours so much local produce, not least the excellent local brandies and schnapps that accompany food.
Not just grass – wildflowers too!
What was evident though was that public funding was available to maintain this social cohesion – infrastructure funding, agri-environment support, collaborative tourism initiatives. They all combined to create a landscape and an experience that lay pleasantly on the senses: the colourful landscape needed pollinators to keep the wild plants blooming, the farmers needed both plants and pollinators for the produce to maintain their families, and the farms and villages needed a thriving workforce for a sustainable way of life.
Sounds idyllic, and it certainly looked that way on the surface, but challenges are facing these rural communities, the same as elsewhere, in that the children grow up, go to college in the cities and many stay for higher paid, urban-based careers, fewer returning. In addition, villages close to main transport routes become expanding dormitory villages, where the people in the houses aren’t working the land.
It was noted by some that this is resulting in greater neglect of the traditional land management for both hay and forestry. There is renting of land to farmers as the folk in the cities don’t tend the family plots. But the difficulty in this renting out is that the plots can be scattered around, not able to be consolidated, and the renting farmer has to make the calculation if the time taken to get around cutting, baling and storing the hay is worth the return from it.
What to bring home to Scotland from this? The need for farming policies that recognise the biodiversity value, and the socio-economic value, of maintaining small-scale agricultural systems. These are less intensive, low-input systems. They support a range of wild plants and pollinators on which we are all reliant. They also provide a focus for co-operative activity in rural communities. But, they can’t compete with the large consolidated agri-businesses in an open market. There is a need to recognise that the smaller systems can provide the highest nature value, and produce quality food, but that this product requires support. And that wild flowers are a key feature of the landscape – for food, for health and wellbeing, and just for the sheer pleasure that they give to us.
The bumblebees are buzzing at Caeau Tan-y-Bwlch!
Plantlife's Welsh reserve is blooming with wildflowers.
August 18 2016 - 09:54
There's a bit of a buzz going on at our north Wales reserve at the moment:
Packed full of common knapweed (Centaurea nigra) along with the last of the bird's-foot-trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) and tufted vetch (Vicia cracca), the bees are having a feast before the end of the flowering season. Common knapweed, also known as black knapweed, is a firm favourite with pollinating insects including bees, butterflies and beetles. Birds also love this plant and feed on the seeds in late summer and autumn.
Why not take a trip to this lovely reserve yourself and admire the view overlooking the Irish Sea? You can find all the details here: Caeau Tan y Bwlch
The strongest and fastest wildflowers and fungi
August 12 2016 - 15:20
Imagine plants and fungi had to prove themselves at gymnastics, or on the athletics field or in the pool, which species would you choose?
With Team GB beating their medal target at the Olympic Games in Rio, here are the native British plants and fungi we’d want on our team:
Gorse (Ulex sp.)
Straight off the starting blocks is gorse. This spiny evergreen with yellow, coconut-scented blooms, fires seeds from its pods with an audible crack. Heat is is what pulls the starting gun's trigger - whether during warm weather or from a heathland fire. Four to eight seeds are shot up to 3m - not quite 100m, but still fast enough to compete with Usain Bolt.
Dodder (Cuscuta sp.)
A parasitic plant with impressive technique, as it initially anchors its roots before sending out a stem to twine around its opponent. Then it is only a matter of time before dodder establishes itself, drawing nutrients from the host plant via its penetrating “haustoria”, and going on to form a dense web of twisted stems around it. Image: © Hans Hillwaert/CC BY-SA 4.0
Branched bur-reed (Sparganium erectum)
A beautiful, elegant plant both in and out of the water. Branched bur-reed has graceful, linear leaves that lie broadside to the stem. It’s wonderful at balancing its delicate, ball-like flowers as it pirouettes alongside riverbanks and water edges, marshy ground and ditches – with its fellow plants, this gives the illusion of synchronised movement.
Shaggy ink cap (Coprinus comatus)
This distinctive fungus with black gills crops up in the most unexpected places, such as roundabouts and other urban environments. Which just goes to show how tough it is. The stalks function as vertical hydraulic jacks and can even push up Tarmac. Did you know that one discovered in Hampshire reportedly lifted a paving stone 4cm above the pavement in about 48 hours. Image: Steven Cook
Bramble (Rubus fruticosus)
Ever wondered why brambles are so prolific in the countryside? Perhaps it’s down to their ability to climb over anything in their way. The bramble does this by first putting down very strong roots among other shrubs and in hedges. Then its arching canes clamber over other plants in what is surely British plant life’s answer to human hurdling.