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When you can’t see the wood for the trees

Battle to save two of Wales most precious wildflowers that are disappearing into the darkness of our woodland.

April 05 2012

Bastard balm © Andrew Gagg / Plantlife

Bastard balm © Andrew Gagg / Plantlife

Plantlife are carrying out urgent conservation work in Pembrokeshire, Monmouthshire and Montgomeryshire in order to stop the dramatic decline of two of Wales most rare wildflowers. The bastard balm and the spreading bellflower are struggling to survive in our dark overgrown woodlands and are now top conservation priorities in Wales.

Trevor Dines from Plantlife Cymru explains: “Spreading bellflower and bastard balm are amongst the top priorities for conservation in Wales. They are both threatened and populations are very small and sporadic, usually being found in neglected patches of ancient woodland and along old hedgebanks. These habitats are vulnerable to neglect, with a lack of coppicing and hedge laying leading to overgrowth with coarse herbs and woody plants.

For spreading bellflower, the situation is especially critical – it’s identified as being in imminent risk of extinction in Wales within 5 years with less than 5 plants recorded across all sites in some years. In order to save these species, we want to encourage a return of traditional woodland and hedgerow management, with coppicing being used to provide a sustainable source of timber and woodfuel and hedgerows made stock-proof through proper laying. These activities provide precisely the conditions the plants need – light and disturbance. And it’s not just the rare flowers that benefit, but also welcome favourites like primroses, wood anemones and wild daffodils.

The rare woodland species have a clever trick that allows them to survive in our ever-changing woodland – their seeds. These tiny time capsules lie dormant, buried in the soil for decades until disturbance brings them to the soil surface again. Disturbance usually means an opening of the canopy and light flooding to the forest floor, and this light triggers the seeds into germinating, filling our woodland with colour once again. In one case, we know of spreading bellflower appearing at a site in Monmouthshire after an absence of 140 years”

Did you know?

  • The spreading bellflower is classed as Critically Endangered and exists on just 11 sites in Wales.
  • Bastard balm has the Latin name “Melittis” which comes from the Greek word for “honey bee” and relates to the properties the flower has for attracting these insects, but bees don’t like dark woodlands in which it grows and so avoid pollinating flowers that grow here.
  • Bastard balm is known as a healing herb used for the treatment of anxiety, wounds and kidneys.

Plantlife are able to carry out this vital conservation work thanks to funding from the Welsh Assembly Government.

For more information and images, please contact Justina Simpson on 07833 700 177 or email justina.simpson@plantlife.org.uk.