I don’t know if you got a chance to catch the first part of the new gardening programme, The Great British Garden Revival, last night. A series of ten programmes kicked off with Monty Don extolling the virtues of our native wild flowers and highlighting the decline in our native species. It’s a subject I’m really passionate about. We’re lucky here in south Wales to have some stunningly beautiful meadows. Tiny pockets of land, which have been protected by the local wildlife trust, sparkle every summer with wild flowers and teem with insects.
I’ve written here about my favourite spot, just outside Monmouth several times. Last year as part of Wellyman’s degree we spent a morning recording species on the site comparing the diversity of plants between two fields. One was classed as unimproved pasture land and had been managed without any fertilisers for over ten years. The other field had been fertilised up until about two years ago. It was a fascinating few hours. Using a grid system we randomly selected squares to record. We were finding between two and ten species per square in the improved grassland but once in the unimproved field the distinction was clear almost immediately. Here recordings ranged from the high teens up to thirty. It was impressive that there could be such a difference when no more than 30 metres separated the two sample sites.
Wild flowers thrive on soil lacking in fertility and this ability is something we could exploit. We can all probably think of a patch of scruffy unused land somewhere, seemingly not much good for anything, that sits there unloved and makes our hearts sinks every time we see it. So I was really excited when I was contacted about a new initiative devised by the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and funded by the Big Lottery Fund. Grow Wild will transform sites across the UK into wild flower gardens. The first Grow Wild Flagship site has been awarded to Barrhead in Scotland which will see a former sewage works transformed into an oasis of native flora. There’s even a plan for the derelict sewage tanks to be used as huge planters showcasing Scottish native wild flowers. Nominations are now open for a flagship site in England, with projects in Wales and Ireland to follow in 2015 and 2016. The winning English project will be given £120,000 to create a mini nature reserve in their town or city.
Kew and the Big Lottery Fund hope to encourage over 3 million people to get involved with wild flowers through this initiative, distributing 1 million packets of seeds through a variety of partners such as Girlguiding, Groundwork UK and the Prince’s Trust. There are also smaller grants available for community projects but you’ll have to act fast as the closing date for these is in January 2014.
There’s something very special about wild flowers. Perhaps it’s their simplicity, maybe it’s because they were often the first flowers we encountered as a child; whatever the reason, a meadow is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful sights in the British landscape. It would be desperately sad for us to see our native flowers disappear and it would have a terrible knock-on effect on biodiversity. So, if you were watching Monty last night wishing you had the space for your own meadow then maybe this is an opportunity to get involved in creating a space for wild flowers. If you can think of somewhere local to you which is currently a temple to shopping trolleys, rubble and brambles, a disused, neglected patch of land which has become an eyesore, then why not nominate it and who knows, maybe by the summer of 2015 you will be walking past a sea of grasses and wild flowers swaying in the breeze.
To nominate a potential site in England and for more information go to the Grow Wild website. The closing date for nominations is 14th February 2014. A short-list of four sites will then be drawn up and announced in August. Each of these four locations will be given £4000 to develop their proposals and a voting campaign will take place with the ultimate winner announced in October 2014. Work will commence on the winning site with the first wild flowers transforming the chosen project in 2015.