UK wildflowers receive a much-needed boost

To some, they’re just a bunch of pretty flowers, ten a penny which can be grown anywhere. In actual fact, Britain and Ireland are home to roughly 1,600 species of wildflower, which play a vital role in preserving biodiversity in our natural environment.

As recently as the early-1900s, the UK countryside was awash with a rich palette of colours, thanks to the wide variety of wildflowers which were growing as they had done for thousands of years before. Sadly, since the 1930s, much has been done to damage these beautiful plants, which did much to harm the biodiversity of the UK’s natural environment. However, help is finally at hand.

Going blooming wild for wildflowers

Wildflowers such as cornflower, poppies, cowslip, bluebells and brambles are so important for protecting biodiversity as they stand at the base of a delicately balanced biological pyramid, supporting populations of insects, small animals and birds native to the UK. Bees, for example, love to drink the nectar from wildflowers and wildflower meadows are like an all-you-can-eat buffet for hives, helping them sustain themselves during the year.

As well as supporting pollinating insects that are valuable for many food crops they help mitigate flooding by holding on to rain water and capture vast amounts of carbon

– Dr Trevor Dines, botanical specialist at Plantlife speaking to BBC Earth

Since the 1930s, however, it has been estimated that 97 per cent of the UK’s wildflower meadows have disappeared. Much of the damage was done in the Second World War, when such meadows were torn up and converted into arable land to help boost the production of cereals as part of the war effort. While the Second World War was fought and won decisively, the destruction of most wildflower meadows created a new onslaught of humans against their natural habitat.

A single square metre of wildflower meadows can be home to as many as 40 species, if left to thrive without being disturbed. Preserving our wildflowers hasn’t been ignored, thankfully, and has even become a major political issue, especially on the local level (at the very grassroots, we should say). Charities now exist which are actively encouraging a change in how we treat our wildflower meadows, and it’s starting to trickle down into local politics.

Council on the verge to save wildflowers

Warrington Borough Council, Cheshire, made headlines recently, when councillors from the Labour Party, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats put aside party differences to back a motion protecting the local environment. Councillor Judith Wheeler proposed a motion in line with the Plantlife charity’s Cut Less, Cut Later guidelines, which urges people to limit the cutting of grass verges to support wildflowers and the organisms that rely on them.

While verges had traditionally kept well-trimmed to keep up a tidy appearance in Warrington, the local borough council changed tack, seeing the value of allowing these roadside verges to grow long enough to allow wildflowers to flourish. Rather than seeing long-growing verges as unsightly and undesirable, the borough council now is helping extoll the virtues of allowing wildflowers to take root again and bring colour to the area’s verges.

Speaking to a local reporter, Councillor Mike Biggin, who seconded Councillor Wheeler’s motion, claimed: “Research has shown that reducing mowing to just once or twice a year provides more flowers for pollination, allow plants to seed and creates better habitats for other animals. Verges rich in native wildflowers support more wildlife and are more resilient to environmental change.”

If more local councils follow suit in the coming years, just imagine how many more meadows could be restored to their former glory, and just how many beehives could be protected, as well as other wildlife which can be better-protected.

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