We spent Easter Sunday hunting wildflowers rather than Easter eggs. Not as tasty I’ll grant you but it was a lovely way to spend the morning. I’ve always loved wildflowers and then I found out last year that the charity Plantlife need volunteers to record the native flora in their local area. Intrigued I signed up and not long after a form, map and small identification guide came through the post. We had a great time last year doing the survey so were keen to take part again.
On Easter Sunday the weather was better than predicted so we drove a couple of miles to the spot we surveyed last year. It’s a track that is now only used by the local farmer and perfect for wandering along looking at wildflowers. With no traffic, the sun shining and birds singing we walked for 1 km down the track recording the plantlife we could see. In just a short stretch the habitat changes from hedgerows open to light to a wooded hollow as the track drops down to a small stream before it then climbs back up and into sunlight again. In a relatively small area it is surprising the number of plant species that can be seen.
Last year we carried out the survey on 24th April, so we were interested to see if we would see anything different and how the warm March had affected our local wildflowers. Armed with a camera to record what we saw and a wildflower guide we wandered down the path. Pretty much immediately we spotted our first wildflower, a wild strawberry. As we walked along there were dog violets, yellow archangel, dead nettles, native bluebells, hart’s tongue ferns, herb robert, lots of lesser celandine, wild primroses, wood sorrel and wood anemones, greater stitchwort and lady’s smock. The great thing about this sort of activity is it really makes you stop and look at something you might ordinarily just walk past.
We’re often guilty, I think, of under appreciating our native flora and fauna. Maybe because it is so familiar to us, we see it driving past roadsides or when we’re walking the dog and therefore it doesn’t feel exotic. However, fairly common plants such as Yellow archangel have beautiful, delicate flowers similar to an orchid. Then there are the white, lilac veined flowers of wood sorrel with it’s trefoil leaves, which it folds down at night. Apparently this is a good indicator of ancient woodland and hedgerows.
One of my favourite spring flowers which is popping up all over at the moment is Lady’s smock. Also known as cuckooflower it likes damp, grassy places. It’s white and pale lilac flowers can often be found en masse creating a lovely white cloud.
All these flowers were providing an excellent source of nectar for the huge bumblebees flying around.
The only downer to the walk was discovering at the end of the track an interloper, the Spanish bluebell. Introduced back in the 17th century, the Spanish bluebell can hybridise with our native bluebell but it’s the characteristics of the Spanish bluebell that dominate. Our native bluebell is a much more delicate plant, the bell-like flowers form on one side of the stalk and when the flowers are fully formed the stalks droop, forming a distinctive arch. The Spanish bluebells on the other hand look much more robust, have slightly larger, fatter leaves and the flowers are not confined to one side of the stalk and as a result the stem doesn’t droop. The Spanish bluebells are perfectly fine as a garden plant but the problem is when they find their way into our woods and hedgerows and mix with our native bluebells.
The survey really is easy to do, simply tick which plants you can see and then send this information off to Plantlife. We’re hoping to do the survey a couple of times this year to see what different species appear as the summer progresses.
For more information about native British wildflowers and how you can take part in the Wildflower Count Survey take a look at Plantlife’s website.