The UK population is rising fast, and with a finite amount of land to be used for housing, infrastructure and food production, the pressure is on for native flora and fauna. Landscape architects, parks and gardens managers, and gardeners can all help. This article explains how.

Biodiversity statistics are worrying

Bee-friendly wildflower meadows have all but disappeared

The disappearance of flower-rich meadows has had a lot of press coverage. Not least because the loss of nectar-rich native plant species is having an adverse effect on pollinating insects, without whom many food crops would be threatened.

97% of species rich grassland has disappeared since the Second World War and bumblebee numbers have fallen by 60% since the 1970’s. Intensive farming techniques seem to be taking the blame but arguably changes in population density, lifestyles and garden design are also partly responsible for the decline in wildlife habitat.

The UK population density has increased from about 500 per square mile in 1945 to 660 per square mile in 2011. That means more houses, schools and hospitals; more roads, car parks and retail parks; and fewer fields, hedgerows, heaths and meadows.

Consider too that we’re all eating far better than our grandparents did 60 years ago, and it’s clear that farmers are trying to produce more food from less land. Little wonder then that there is no room in agriculture for what have, until recently, been regarded as unproductive wildflowers.

Government schemes to re-introduce wildflowers into agricultural land have been successful in some areas but are in danger of falling foul of economic cutbacks, so it’s up to local authorities, gardeners and the general public to bring back wildflowers.

Therein lies another setback.

Changing lifestyles mean fewer plants in gardens

A survey by the London Wildlife Trust shows how busy lifestyles and a reluctance to spend time maintaining a garden have resulted in householders swapping their lawns and flower beds for decking and paving. Many garden designers will verify that “minimal maintenance” is often high on a client’s wish list. So much so that 3,000 Ha of greenery, aka wildlife habitat, disappeared from London alone between 1998 and 2008. Presumably similar results could be generated almost anywhere in the UK. Certainly photographs taken in the 1950’s and 60’s feature a lot more trees, open spaces and greenery that is seen today.

Dame Miriam Rothschild, writing in the preface of Pam Lewis’s book “Making Wildflower Meadows”, tells us that the acreage of gardens in England is greater than the acreage of nature reserves and she goes on to suggest that it is possible to nurture wildflowers alongside more conventional planting schemes. Obviously cultivated plants need different management, so rather than plant native species among the roses, create a mini wildflower meadow in part of the lawn or use an island bed to grow cornfield annuals.

Small changes can  make a big difference

Colourful native flowers are easy to care for and support pollinators whilst looking good

As a rough estimate, if just 10% of garden acreage was turned back over to native plants, we would reinstate some 10,000 hectares of butterfly habitat.

It seems that a change of mindset is in order, and who better to set a good example and inspire householders, than those who manage public open spaces such as parks, gardens, sports fields and even roadsides?

The traditional wildflower meadows were managed cheaply and carefully by farmers past who wanted maximum nutritional value for minimal cost. No expensive inputs such as herbicides, pesticides and chemical fertilisers were used. The whole ecosystem thrived on a combination of grazing, resting and haymaking and a healthy respect for Mother Nature.

Saving maintenance costs

With prices rocketing and budgets shrivelling, the prospect of cutting back on inputs sounds quite inviting. Especially when you consider that the maintenance costs for area of meadow is estimated at around £1.23/m2 per annum compared to £9.00/m2 for bedding plants.* Not everyone has room for a flock of sheep, but the whole meadow management system can easily be replicated without hoofed helpers.

The most difficult part of establishing a wildflower area is just that; establishing it. I’ve been running a small trial in my own garden and I’ve found that getting wildflower seeds to germinate and out-compete what’s already in the soil seed bank is quite a challenge. I found that using a wildflower mat may have cost a little more in the first instance but gave much better coverage and 4 months on, shows no sign of being swamped by weeds.

The mat I used was a standard seed mix comprising 4 species of native grasses and 30 species of perennial native flowers. I hesitate to use the term wildflower, even though the seed was derived from UK wildflowers, I always think that if a flower has been placed and nurtured by man, it’s not exactly wild.

Flowers are beautiful but grasses are essential

In a meadow area, grass is essential. It shelters the soil from the heat of the day and from drying winds, it’s the perfect perch for butterflies and other insects and it makes a great hiding place for small mammals and amphibians. However, grass also has the potential to outcompete the flowering plants and so the meadow must be carefully, but not necessarily intensively, managed.

Whether by seeding or installing a pre-grown mat, low fertility soil is the key to a successful and floral meadow. Too much nitrogen will allow the grasses to swamp the more delicate flowering plants. If fertility can be reduced, either by removing topsoil, or by an intensive program mowing hard and taking away all clippings for 12 months or so before starting work, managing the established meadow will be much cheaper and easier.

For seeding, an autumn sowing will probably be most successful. That’s when Mother Nature does most of her planting and many species actually need a period of vernalization (cold) to break their dormancy. Matting is available all year round and can be ordered to fit in with work loads.

Wildlife habitat means easy maintenance

Ongoing management simply involves allowing the meadow to grow freely between April and September, cutting it back at the end of the growing season, taking off the hay crop and then mowing between September and March to keep the grasses in check. Never add fertilizer.

Winter mowing should be to a height of around 4cm and all clippings need to be removed.

Mowing and hay cutting needn’t be done in one fell swoop either. Paths mown through a meadow will encourage people to walk through and see the wildflowers up close. In a larger wildflower area, add a fun element by creating a maze. Mown paths will also help support creatures like the blackbird that prefers to forage in short grass.

Consider mowing part of the meadow in June / July and the rest in September so as to extend the flowering period and maximise the benefits to wildlife. If mowing in September, consider adding extra interest by sowing some cornfield annuals in the sward in March / April. Cornflowers, corn cockle, poppies and corn marigolds are excellent sources of nectar and bring colourful vibrancy to a grassy area.

There can be no doubt that it’s time to bring native wildflowers back into the forefront for the sake of pollinating insects and ultimately, our food crops. Raising public awareness and teaching people to respect and appreciate flora and fauna is not just a job for the media. By re-establishing native species on road verges, in school grounds and in parks and gardens we can support the planet and save ourselves a fortune in maintenance costs.

Creating a wildflower meadow

Angela’s wildflower meadow was established using MeadowMat, a UK-grown product using British native species. Click 'Visit website' opposite or complete the enquiry form for more details, or phone Q Lawns on 01842 828266.

*www.npt.gov.uk/biodiversity


The UK population is rising fast, and with a finite amount of land to be used for housing, infrastructure and food production, the pressure is on for native flora and fauna. Landscape architects, parks and gardens managers, and gardeners can all help. This article explains how.

Biodiversity statistics are worrying

Bee-friendly wildflower meadows have all but disappeared

The disappearance of flower-rich meadows has had a lot of press coverage. Not least because the loss of nectar-rich native plant species is having an adverse effect on pollinating insects, without whom many food crops would be threatened.

97% of species rich grassland has disappeared since the Second World War and bumblebee numbers have fallen by 60% since the 1970’s. Intensive farming techniques seem to be taking the blame but arguably changes in population density, lifestyles and garden design are also partly responsible for the decline in wildlife habitat.

The UK population density has increased from about 500 per square mile in 1945 to 660 per square mile in 2011. That means more houses, schools and hospitals; more roads, car parks and retail parks; and fewer fields, hedgerows, heaths and meadows.

Consider too that we’re all eating far better than our grandparents did 60 years ago, and it’s clear that farmers are trying to produce more food from less land. Little wonder then that there is no room in agriculture for what have, until recently, been regarded as unproductive wildflowers.

Government schemes to re-introduce wildflowers into agricultural land have been successful in some areas but are in danger of falling foul of economic cutbacks, so it’s up to local authorities, gardeners and the general public to bring back wildflowers.

Therein lies another setback.

Changing lifestyles mean fewer plants in gardens

A survey by the London Wildlife Trust shows how busy lifestyles and a reluctance to spend time maintaining a garden have resulted in householders swapping their lawns and flower beds for decking and paving. Many garden designers will verify that “minimal maintenance” is often high on a client’s wish list. So much so that 3,000 Ha of greenery, aka wildlife habitat, disappeared from London alone between 1998 and 2008. Presumably similar results could be generated almost anywhere in the UK. Certainly photographs taken in the 1950’s and 60’s feature a lot more trees, open spaces and greenery that is seen today.

Dame Miriam Rothschild, writing in the preface of Pam Lewis’s book “Making Wildflower Meadows”, tells us that the acreage of gardens in England is greater than the acreage of nature reserves and she goes on to suggest that it is possible to nurture wildflowers alongside more conventional planting schemes. Obviously cultivated plants need different management, so rather than plant native species among the roses, create a mini wildflower meadow in part of the lawn or use an island bed to grow cornfield annuals.

Small changes can  make a big difference

Colourful native flowers are easy to care for and support pollinators whilst looking good

As a rough estimate, if just 10% of garden acreage was turned back over to native plants, we would reinstate some 10,000 hectares of butterfly habitat.

It seems that a change of mindset is in order, and who better to set a good example and inspire householders, than those who manage public open spaces such as parks, gardens, sports fields and even roadsides?

The traditional wildflower meadows were managed cheaply and carefully by farmers past who wanted maximum nutritional value for minimal cost. No expensive inputs such as herbicides, pesticides and chemical fertilisers were used. The whole ecosystem thrived on a combination of grazing, resting and haymaking and a healthy respect for Mother Nature.

Saving maintenance costs

With prices rocketing and budgets shrivelling, the prospect of cutting back on inputs sounds quite inviting. Especially when you consider that the maintenance costs for area of meadow is estimated at around £1.23/m2 per annum compared to £9.00/m2 for bedding plants.* Not everyone has room for a flock of sheep, but the whole meadow management system can easily be replicated without hoofed helpers.

The most difficult part of establishing a wildflower area is just that; establishing it. I’ve been running a small trial in my own garden and I’ve found that getting wildflower seeds to germinate and out-compete what’s already in the soil seed bank is quite a challenge. I found that using a wildflower mat may have cost a little more in the first instance but gave much better coverage and 4 months on, shows no sign of being swamped by weeds.

The mat I used was a standard seed mix comprising 4 species of native grasses and 30 species of perennial native flowers. I hesitate to use the term wildflower, even though the seed was derived from UK wildflowers, I always think that if a flower has been placed and nurtured by man, it’s not exactly wild.

Flowers are beautiful but grasses are essential

In a meadow area, grass is essential. It shelters the soil from the heat of the day and from drying winds, it’s the perfect perch for butterflies and other insects and it makes a great hiding place for small mammals and amphibians. However, grass also has the potential to outcompete the flowering plants and so the meadow must be carefully, but not necessarily intensively, managed.

Whether by seeding or installing a pre-grown mat, low fertility soil is the key to a successful and floral meadow. Too much nitrogen will allow the grasses to swamp the more delicate flowering plants. If fertility can be reduced, either by removing topsoil, or by an intensive program mowing hard and taking away all clippings for 12 months or so before starting work, managing the established meadow will be much cheaper and easier.

For seeding, an autumn sowing will probably be most successful. That’s when Mother Nature does most of her planting and many species actually need a period of vernalization (cold) to break their dormancy. Matting is available all year round and can be ordered to fit in with work loads.

Wildlife habitat means easy maintenance

Ongoing management simply involves allowing the meadow to grow freely between April and September, cutting it back at the end of the growing season, taking off the hay crop and then mowing between September and March to keep the grasses in check. Never add fertilizer.

Winter mowing should be to a height of around 4cm and all clippings need to be removed.

Mowing and hay cutting needn’t be done in one fell swoop either. Paths mown through a meadow will encourage people to walk through and see the wildflowers up close. In a larger wildflower area, add a fun element by creating a maze. Mown paths will also help support creatures like the blackbird that prefers to forage in short grass.

Consider mowing part of the meadow in June / July and the rest in September so as to extend the flowering period and maximise the benefits to wildlife. If mowing in September, consider adding extra interest by sowing some cornfield annuals in the sward in March / April. Cornflowers, corn cockle, poppies and corn marigolds are excellent sources of nectar and bring colourful vibrancy to a grassy area.

There can be no doubt that it’s time to bring native wildflowers back into the forefront for the sake of pollinating insects and ultimately, our food crops. Raising public awareness and teaching people to respect and appreciate flora and fauna is not just a job for the media. By re-establishing native species on road verges, in school grounds and in parks and gardens we can support the planet and save ourselves a fortune in maintenance costs.

Creating a wildflower meadow

Angela’s wildflower meadow was established using MeadowMat, a UK-grown product using British native species. Click 'Visit website' opposite or complete the enquiry form for more details, or phone Q Lawns on 01842 828266.

*www.npt.gov.uk/biodiversity


 
 
 
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