Reversing the decline of wildflowers in Dorset
PUBLISHED: 09:59 24 May 2016 | UPDATED: 09:59 24 May 2016
Wildflowers connect us to the heritage of our local landscape, which is why we must reverse the decline of our traditional wildflower meadows, writes Sally Welbourn of Dorset Wildlife Trust
Wildflowers have been part of our landscape for thousands of years. However, over the last 70 years, there has been a dramatic decline of traditional wildflower meadows across the UK, so we are extremely lucky to still see them in Dorset today.
This is not just a happy coincidence; conservation officers and volunteers for Dorset Wildlife Trust (DWT) have been working tirelessly to restore local wildflower meadows so future generations can enjoy the architectural spikes of yellow rattle or admire drifts of oxeye daisies.
“Wildflowers have an intrinsic connection to the heritage of our landscape,” says Nick Gray, DWT’s West Dorset Conservation Officer. “They are also a vital resource for wildlife. It’s not just bees who benefit from wildflowers, so do moths, hoverflies, butterflies, small mammals and birds; wildflowers are very much part of a huge and complex food web.”
Some wildflowers have even been ‘engineered’ by nature to appeal to certain species of wildlife, such as kidney vetch for small blue butterflies and ragwort for the cinnabar moth.
In 2013, Lady’s Mead at Kingcombe Meadows, West Dorset was selected to be one of 60 ‘donor’ sites across the UK (one in each county) in a project initiated by HRH Prince Charles, called Coronation Meadows to mark the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s coronation. The aim of the project is to reverse the decline of wildflower meadows, by planting new ones with seed from existing sites. Dorset Wildlife Trust took seeds from 3 hectares of Lady’s Mead, and created 16 hectares of new wildflower rich habitat at Asker Meadow in Bridport, and Mount Pleasant in Maiden Newton.
“The project has helped us to raise awareness of the plight of wildflowers, which many of us take for granted,” says Nick, who was involved in the project from the start. “If you’re visiting a meadow, or notice some wildflowers on a grass verge whilst walking, it’s worth dwelling on the diversity of pollinators which depend on them, and recognising the important role they play in our wild heritage.”
5 Wildflowers to look for
Lady’s Smock (Cardamine Pratensis)
Lilac or white flowers 1 to 2cm across with four petals, blue-green coloured upright stems with very narrow leaves in a rosette at its base.
• Wildlife it supports: Food plant of the orange tip butterfly and other early season pollinators.
• Where: April and May on Brownsea Island and Kingcombe Meadows.
• Other names: Cuckoo flower - as its blooms coincide with the arrival of cuckoos. Details on the reserves where you can find all 5 flowers at dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk/reserves
Bird’s-Foot Trefoil (Lotus Corniculatus)
Slipper-like egg-yolk yellow flowers in small clusters, followed by seed pods that look like bird’s feet or claws. A low-growing plant, its leaves have five leaflets and are downy.
• Wildlife it supports: Widespread food plant of common blue butterfly popular with many other butterflies and bumble bees.
• Where: May to September at DWT’s Peascombe Reserve near Bridport, and Corfe Mullen Meadows in East Dorset.
• Other names: There are over 60 other common names for this wildflower including bacon and eggs, bellies and bums, crow’s toes, granny’s toenails and Tom Thumb.
Oxeye Daisy (Leucanthemum Vulgare)
The daisy-like flower head is a composite of tiny flowers which make up the yellow disc in the middle. It has spoon-shaped leaves at its base and thin jagged leaves along the long stem.
• Wildlife it supports: Abundant pollinators attracted by its large ‘landing pad’ including hoverflies, bumble bees, butterflies and moths.
• Where: July to September on roadside verges and waste grounds, as well as traditional hay meadows at Kingcombe, or DWT’s Lorton Meadows in Weymouth.
• Other names: They appear to ‘glow’ in the evening, hence their common names of moon daisy and moon penny.
Common Knapweed (Centaurea Nigra)
This showy, purple, thistle-like flower is the perfect landing pad for pollinators. Leaves are oblong and hairy and the stem is very tough.
• Wildlife it supports: Many species of butterfly including the marbled white and meadow brown, plus bees, hoverflies and birds likes goldfinches.
• Where: It flowers between July and September in wildflower meadows, chalk downland, roadside verges and at DWT’s Brackett’s Coppice Reserve.
• Other names: Black knapweed, hardheads, hurt sickle and shaving brush (for its shape).
Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus Minor)
This meadow plant has a pretty yellow flower earlier in the season, but by July the ‘fruits’ of the seed pods have dried and rattle with seed, hence its name - yellow rattle.
• Wildlife it supports: Known as the meadow-makers helper it is ‘hemi-parasitic’, and gains some of its nutrients from the roots of nearby coarse grasses. This helps to restore species-rich grasslands by suppressing competitive grass, thus making more space for wildflowers.
• Where: One of the signature flowers of the Kingcombe hay meadows, and at DWT’s Townsend Reserve. See them from May to August.
• Other names: Rattlebags or shacklebags, also named ‘poverty’ by farmers as it suppresses the grass they need for decent forage.
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