At the March meeting of the Scottish Wildlife Trust in Duns, Shaun Hackett from the Northumberland National Park enlightened and entertained an audience of about 45 with his enthusiasm and knowledge of wild flower meadows and bumble bees.
His position in the Park is ‘Seeding Change Officer’, charged with the task of encouraging wild flowers to grow in grass meadows, along road verges, at schools, caravan sites and in people’s gardens, for the benefit of wildlife in general and pollinating insects in particular.
Some 21 fields covering 60 hectares have been inoculated with wild flower seeds in the past three and a half years and over 9,000 wild flower plants raised in pots and planted out. It has been found that to get the process underway it is best to scatter freshly collected seeds of Yellow Rattle, Rhinanthus minor, over an established grass meadow in August and September. The Yellow Rattle is an annual or biennial plant with yellow flowers, when the seeds are ripe they rattle around inside the seed capsules on windy days, hence the common name Yellow Rattle. This plant is a partial parasite, its roots latch onto the roots of grass drawing nourishment from them, restricting their vigour and so letting wildflowers compete with the established grasses
Locally collected wild flower seeds are then scattered over the selected meadows and in two to three years a rich and diverse flower meadow is established. Some 50 B&B establishments have entered a scheme whereby they plant wild flowers in their gardens to encourage pollinating bumble bees; if they can get six different species of bumble bee in their gardens on the day of an inspection they get a Bumble Bee Award and special publicity as a wildlife friendly establishment.
Caravan sites are given advice on how to encourage wild flowers and at one site changing the time that the grass was cut resulted in 1,000 flowering spikes of Orchids appearing in the first year! The time of cutting roadside grass verges is critical for wildlife and wild flowers and is some places netting has been attached to fences to stop cows stretching through the fence to eat the wild flower along road verges. Schools are encouraged to visit and use the flower meadows, more than 125 school visits have been made with the result that 4,250 children and teachers are learning more about species rich hay meadows and the wildlife associated with them.
Shaun has been visiting areas of Europe where natural flowers meadows are the norm. Some farmers there could not grasp the idea that our farmers grew grass in pure, clean swards, their idea was that meadows with a mixture of grass and wild flowers provided much richer and healthier grazing and their hay was much superior in nutrients and the resulting milk and meat had a better flavour.