What’s in a name 2: Wild about Wildflowers – or are they weeds?

We met up with friends yesterday for a pub lunch which was great and afterwards, as the soft April rain returned for the 6th day in a row, visited the millennium green in the village where we had eaten. It was particularly nice one, with a chalk stream along one side, some really good sculptures, an excellent play area and a woven willow tunnel. The field had been a water meadow and despite being close mown still had some common wildflowers in the mown sward.

Along one hedgerow was an area of longer grass, and being a geeky grassland person I went and took a look. Greater knapweed, common vetch, bird’s-foot trefoil all peeked out from under the usual bully grasses of cock’s-foot and rye-grass. Reading the interpretation board later confirmed my suspicions that this was a meadow sown probably quite recently with a wildflower mix. The yellow-rattle mentioned on the sign hadn’t survived but otherwise it looked like it was going to be quite a nice meadow come the summer.

I noticed a patch of bare ground in one corner of the meadow – a small laminated sign explained that as part of Britain in Bloom Wild about Wildflowers had been sown and to do this the “weeds and grasses” that would otherwise have swamped these delicate wildflowers had been cleared. On my return home I checked out the Britain in Bloom website and discovered that the RHS had been supplying the local BiB group with wildflower seed comprising cornfield annuals (or arable weeds as they used to be called) including cornflower, corn chamomile, corncockle and corn marigold.I was relieved that at least a pictorial meadow had not been planted to replace the wildflower meadow that had been recently created. These arable weeds are now very rare in cornfields because of agricultural intensification – for more information about them see Arable Plants – a field guide, available from all good booksellers! I don’t get any royalties.

This brought me back to the previous discussions here and here about when is a meadow a meadow and when is it a garden planting of exotic annuals? In this case a wildflower meadow had been created for all the right reasons a few years ago, but now it’s regarded as just “grass and weeds”,  that need to be removed to be replaced by a more valuable planting of ….arable weeds? Not weeds, now they’re wildflowers valuable for pollinators according to the RHS Britain in Bloom website. Weren’t the perennials planted just a few year before equally or even more valuable?

Clearly we have a real problem here and the problem is mixed messages – when is a weed a wildflower, and when is a meadow actually a cornfield edge. How on earth are we going to get anywhere with conserving nature if we cannot explain to the public concepts such as what are wildflowers,  and the difference between a meadow and a cornfield.


About grasslandstrust

The Grasslands Trust is the only national UK charity that focuses entirely on saving grasslands that are valuable because they are rich in wildlife, history, or for other reasons.
This entry was posted in bees, biodiversity, meadow creation, Miles King, pictorial meadows, pollinators, wildife gardening and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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