by Guest blogger Rose Hancock Pook.

From kingcup to foxglove, goat’s beard to scarlet pimpernel, each spring and summer wildflowers and the meadows, woodlands and hedgerows they thrive in awaken in an incredible display of life and colour

Why are wildflowers so important?

Few habitats in Britain can match the diversity of life found in wildflower meadows. Formed by hundreds of years of traditional farming methods, grassland meadows are home to more priority species for conservation than any other habitat type in the UK. Meadows can be home to over 150 different species of flower and grass and can contain up to 45 species per square metre.

A bee orchid at RSBP Broadwater Warren Reserve. © Tim Webb

Wildflower species such as common knapweed, oxeye daisy and lady’s bedstraw are all rich sources of nectar for bees, butterflies, moths and other pollinating insects - which are, in turn, snapped up by insect-eating birds like wagtails, swallows, yellowhammers and diving skylarks. The tangle of flowers and grasses also supplies food for caterpillars, which then attract their predators: bats, mice, voles and larvae-loving birds like sparrows, blue tits and pied flycatchers.

Grass (or hay) cuttings, often found in these meadows, can provide shelter for threatened hares and endangered hedgehogs, amphibians and reptile species as well as ground-nesting birds like curlews and lapwings.  

A thriving field margin on a nature friendly farm on the South Downs. © Tim Webb

Our countryside was once full of these meadows, bursting with flowering plants and wildlife. But wildflower-rich meadows are now among the rarest wildlife habitats in Britain. 

Since the 1930s, we have lost over 99% of the habitat due to development and changes in agricultural practices. The turning point came during the Second World War when six million acres of grassland were ploughed to grow cereals. The grassland meadows that remain are increasingly fragmented.

 

How is the RSPB helping?

As well as working to make meadows a viable part of farming systems again and advising on the management of hay meadows for wildlife, the RSPB manages important reserves for wildflowers across the South East region.

Carpets of buttercups at RSPB Higham Marshes in North Kent. © Tim Webb

Dungeness

The Dungeness headland on the south coast of Kent is home to 600 species of plants - a third of all those found in the UK. The RSPB Dungeness reserve is set back from the sea with open shingle, fresh water pits, wet grassland and wildflower meadow habitats. The reserve protects important spring migrants including wheatear and little ringed plover.  

Throughout June and July the reserve is ablaze with the colourful viper's bugloss and yellow-horned poppies, providing a much-needed foraging ground for pollinators and the species that feed on them.

Honeysuckle at RSPB Broadwater Warren. © Tim Webb

Broadwater Warren

Set in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty near Royal Tunbridge Wells, this restored heathland attracts myriad insects and its track edges blossom with beautiful wildflowers including purple self-heal, common centaury and tormentil. Visit in summer and spot warblers, yellowhammers, grey wagtails and white admiral butterflies nectaring on honeysuckle flowers.

Honeysuckle is also crucial to one of our most threatened small mammals. Dormice construct their nests from shredded honeysuckle bark woven into a ball, which they often surround with layers of leaves. The South East region is one of the last refuges for Hazel dormice, and work is going on to try to save the species before it's too late.

How can I help?

Many native wildflowers that are becoming rare in the countryside are finding refuge in domestic gardens. You can help by:

Gardening for wildlife

Starting a wildflower meadow

Exploring the plants around you on a plant safari  

Discovering wildflowers at your local RSPB reserve  


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