Sunday, 8 December 2013


Commonly sighted at Christmas parties at this time of year, mistletoe can also be seen growing in dense clumps, high up in the branches of trees particularly in orchards and in species like poplar and lime. 

It had a reputation as a magical plant long before Christianity came to the British Isles, however - most famously as a plant favoured by druids whose reverence during the winter solstice was described by Pliny and Caesar. 

Friday, 6 December 2013

A Walk Across Mynydd Cilan

Posted by Dave Lamacraft, Plantlife Cymru Lower Plants Officer

Mynydd Cilan on the Lleyn peninsula is a fantastic place for walking with stunning views across Cardigan Bay and the Irish Sea, taking in Bardsey Island, the St. David's peninsula, Cadair Idris, Snowdon and the Lleyn. Unfortunately these views weren't much in evidence when I met ITV Cymru Wales' Coast & Country crew to film for the series recently.

Ifan the director had hatched a plan for presenter Ruth and I to walk some of the coastal path and explore some of the wildlife - the birds, wild flowers and lichens that make Mynydd Cilan so special - along with some of the local mining history. The weather most definitely was not on our side, with a strong wind coming off the Irish Sea to add to the thick mist and persistent drizzle.

The beauty of being on a peninsula in the Irish Sea is that although you do cop some weather, it often changes fairly rapidly, and we were in luck. The mist started to lift and had cleared by the time we reached the trig point, revealing the sweep of Hell's Mouth and Bardsey Island sitting off the western tip of the peninsula.

First stop was one of the old manganese mines that dot the western flanks of the headland. They were most likely 'trial' mines and not worked extensively, unlike the buildings of the old lead mine nearby which suggest  a more intensive operation. The old engine house, and the name of the houses alongside - Cornish Row - hint at the use of Cornish mining expertise.

Mynydd Cilan is one of the best sites for the chough in north Wales, a bird for which Wales is really important; three quarters of the UK's population of this rare bird call it home. We were hoping to film the choughs, and other species such as peregrine, stonechat and linnet, but thanks to the gale force wind, they weren't playing ball for Mark the cameraman; we decided to focus on the plants and lichens.

The heathland of Mynydd Cilan is a special habitat, there is considerably less of it in the world than there is of tropical forest, and it is mostly found on the Atlantic coasts of Europe. Created and maintained by man's interaction with the habitat over hundreds of years it supports a range of rare plants that have evolved to flourish with grazing. Chamomile, a well-known herb, which will most likely have been here for centuries is flourishing on a natural chamomile lawn maintained by grazing sheep and ponies. The muddy edges of the adjacent pond where the ponies disturb the mud provide a home for pillwort and three-lobed water crowfoot. These plants then make more use of the ponies as their seeds hitch a lift in mud stuck to their hooves and are dispersed to other pools and track-ways on the headland.

That changeable weather changed again, and a bit for the worse, as we went to film the golden hair lichen on the cliff top. The wind was howling, making it difficult to hear ourselves, and making it near impossible for Nick the sound man (and chief waffle eater). The golden hair lichen is a rare species of coastal heath in south-western Britain which, ironically, likes 'dry, sunny, warm temperate areas' according to the books. Lichens are pretty robust things, able to survive in some of the harshest environments on the globe, this one even surviving being leant on by Nick's elbow.

It was a long day, but a good day nonetheless. A real eye-opener for me was seeing the crew going about their work with such professionalism, they did an amazing job in some pretty adverse conditions. Hopefully tonight's programme will inspire a few people to get out and look at some of the wild plants and lichens on the Welsh coast, and not worry too much about the weather!

Saturday, 30 November 2013

LICHEN OF THE WEEK: Cladonia floerkeana

Also known as Redcoats, British Soldier and Devil's Matchstick.

This flamboyant lichen has a fondness for dead wood so rotting logs and fence posts are a good place to look for it. It also grows on well drained soils with lots of organic matter such as those found on heaths and moorland.

More information here.

Image by Ilja Knutman under Creative Commons licence.

Friday, 22 November 2013


Have you noticed a road, path or lane become more hirsute recently? 

In the month of "Movember" its not just upper lips turning hairy: the fluffy seed heads of our native clematis adorn many a hedge at this time of year. John Gerard, the noted herbalist, loved this plant and gave it another common name: Traveller's-joy. Has it brightened a hedgerow near you?

For more about this plant and many others visit our website.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Nature Check: Where is Defra The Defender?

Posted by Nicola Hutchinson, Head of Conservation Programmes, England and Wales.

Wildlife and Countryside Link and its members, including Plantlife, today launched its third annual report on the Government's progress against its initial claim to be "the greenest government ever".

In previous years the score card had a distinctly "could do better" feel.  Unfortunately there have been few signs of improvement and indeed in some keys areas, such as the England biodiversity strategy, the situation needs urgent attention.

Biodiversity 2020 was launched as the Government's new wildlife strategy in 2011, yet two years on progress with taking real action is achingly slow.  Defra niftily handed responsibility for 'delivering the strategy' to Natural England and it showed in Lord de Mauley's speech at the Nature Check launch; Defra clearly sees itself at a distance from actual delivery as all the biodiversity progress mentioned was in the form of Agency action.  Yet despite the best efforts of Natural England & Co it is too often the case that the barrier to progress is down to a combination of Government departments, Government resources and Government policy.  So it begs the question what positive strides will Defra itself take in the near future to make a contribution to improving species, habitats and ecosystems?

Nature Check asks for strong leadership and this is where Defra must start.  The Government Department with environment in its title should be an environmental champion.  It should have conserving and enhancing wildlife and the environment as its core purpose. Its programmes and projects should lead by example and put increased wildlife at the heart.  It should draw red lines on environmental matters which will not be crossed (yes, even by you, Treasury).  It should not be an apology for wildlife and the environment.  It should be Defra The Defender.  Have you got what it takes?

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Five "Fashionably Late" Wild Flowers

Posted by Dr Trevor Dines

There’s something extra special about flowers appearing in the autumn. It’s as if they’re challenging nature’s clock and you feel they deserve an extra cheer, putting on a final brave show before winter.

Some plants, like sea aster and western gorse, actually time their flowering for now, while others such as meadowsweet, dead-nettles and dandelions are just flagrant opportunists, getting in a quick flowering while the weather holds out. As well as providing a splash of autumn colour, they’re an essential source of nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies and other pollinators, a final feast before they tuck themselves up for the long winter hibernation.

Five late bloomers that prove they’re worth waiting for:

1. Devil’s-bit scabious

The beautiful purple pincushion-like flowers of the Devil’s-bit scabious can be found in damp meadows, heaths and old limestone grassland until October. This native wildflower gets its name from ancient times when its stunted appearance was believed to have been caused by the devil eating its roots!

More about this flower.

2. Meadowsweet 

The fluffy white flower heads of meadowsweet will often reappear after hay cut and bring an elegant touch of colour to meadows, ditches and riverbanks in autumn when its nectar is popular with butterflies, hoverflies and other insects. In the past, its sweet-smelling foliage was cut and strewn on floors to freshen the air.

More about this flower.

3. Sea aster

Aster is Greek for 'star' - certainly an apt name for this beauty, a wild flower that likes to arrive late with a burst of colour. Also known as 'Michaelmas daisies' most arrived from America. Our native aster - the sea aster - adds a splash of vibrant purple and yellow to our coasts in the autumn.

More about this flower.

4. Meadow saffron

A femme fatale of the wild flower world, as beautiful as it is deadly (meadow saffron contains the poison colchicine).  It flowers in autumn hence another name, Autumn crocus, although it’s not actually a crocus. It’s also known as Naked ladies as the flowers appear after its leaves have died away.

More about this flower.

5. Western gorse 

And this plant will certainly add a splash of colour to autumn, and a lot more! Legend has is that when gorse is out of bloom, kissing is out of fashion! Thankfully for all you romantics out there western gorse flowers from July-December and common gorse from December to June, so you can kiss your loved one all year round!

More about this flower.

So instead of the gold, orange and reds that often steal the limelight as trees put on magnificent displays, why not think pinks, purples, and even white? Celebrate the remarkable array of native wildflowers that bloom well into the autumn or even early winter.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

A Bumper Year for Blackberries

Posted by Richard Moyse, Ranscombe Farm Reserve Manager

At Plantlife's Ranscombe Farm Reserve, the wood-edges and path-sides are fat with blackberries as the summer draws towards its close. The first fruits are already temptingly glossy and black, while behind them the mass of tight, green unripe berries suggests a bumper harvest yet to come.

It looks like it's going to be a great year for our favourite wild fruit. Perhaps it's just the pleasure of a classic British summer showing us everything through rose-tinted glasses, but I think not. The last year's dullness and wet may have made for poor flowering and fruit production, but it provided good growing conditions for a whole range of wild plants. As a result, when the good weather arrived, there was plenty of energy to put into making flowers.

Earlier in the year, Ranscombe's woodlands were a mass of living colour, as orchids and other flowers had a jamboree. That the brambles were also fit and vigorous was obvious in midsummer, as their prickly, arching stems romped across paths and tracks, making it necessary to be out with the strimmer much earlier than in most years. Brambles are nothing if not mobile: questing stems spread out from the centre of the plant, and, where the stem-tips touch the ground, they root to eventually form a tangled, impenetrable mass.

Impenetrable to us, that is, for the dense, thorny cover is a great place for nesting birds such as wrens and long-tailed tits, as well as for small mammals. Young trees, too, if not completely swamped, can grow up through the bramble patch, safely protected from the predations of deer.

The other key to the mobility of brambles is, of course, the thing we love most about them: blackberries. The sweet, juicy berries (more accurately, a blackberry isn't technically a berry, but an aggregrate of many small fruits called drupelets, each with a single seed) are eaten by blackbirds, thrushes and other birds, which unwittingly carry and eventually pop out the seeds some at distance from the parent plant. The droppings in badger latrine pits are often stained dark at this time of year, as the animals fill themselves with as many blackberries as they can find, and the fruit is also popular with foxes, voles, mice and dormice. Even insects like butterflies and wasps will come to damaged fruit to sip at the juices.

It's known that Neolithic people ate blackberries around 5000 years ago, so going blackberrying to make jam, or blackberry vinegar or (a personal favourite) blackberry and apple pie is continuing a tradition as old - if not older - than any other. Brambles are so widespread in countryside and town that they are available to almost anyone for the price of a pleasant hour and a few scratches. So why not grab a bag or plastic tub and head out to your nearest bramble patch and play a small part in an ancient association between people and an indomitable wild plant?

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Counting Orchids in North Wales

Posted by Dr Trevor Dines, Plantlife Cymru Conservation Manager

Last Saturday we held a little event in partnership with
the North Wales Wildlife Trust (NWWT) in the village hall at Clynnog Fawr, just below our Caeau Tan y Bwlch reserve in Gwynedd. The idea was to raise the profile of the reserve amongst the local community. I gave a talk about meadows in general, looking at their sad demise and the species we’ve lost, such as Globeflower, as a result. As Caeau Tan y Bwlch is the Coronation Meadow for Gwynedd I showed some slides from the launch of this project at Highgrove and went on to illustrate the botanical interest at the reserve. Rob Booth from NWWT then gave a talk about management of the reserve, which was followed by tea, cake and sandwiches. We had a great turn-out from the local community, many of whom didn’t know about the reserve. There were also Plantlife members, NWWT members, and we made a few new members too.

In the afternoon, we made our way up to the “fields below the mountain pass” (the translation of the reserve name) for the annual count of Greater Butterfly Orchid (Platanthera chlorantha), the main feature of the reserve. Rob and I were not quite sure how to organise so many volunteers – 26 in total – we’d never had so many before! We started out with a tour of the fields, where I pointed out the main flowers to be found. There were Meadow Buttercups, Heath Spotted Orchids, Yellow Rattle, Northern Marsh Orchid, Eyebrights of various types and Lady’s-mantle. I love the latin name for this last one, Alchemilla, as it means “little alchemist” and was named for the pure water that collects in the leaves, used by alchemists in their attempts to turn base metals into gold.  We also looked at meadow grasses such as Crested Dog’s-tail, Yorkshire Fog and Sweet Vernal Grass, which gives hay its sweet scent.

For the orchid count I organised everyone along the edge of each field an equal distance apart and, with a rather military approach, got them all to “sweep” the meadow in one line, tallying up orchids as they went. It’s always slightly hap-hazard, with some parts of the line getting ahead of the others and some people veering off towards their neighbours. It’s amazing how territorial people get about the orchids they’re meant to count and good-natured arguments always break out.

After a lot of counting and tallying-up, and a bit of bickering, we reached a grand total of 1,982 Greater Butterfly Orchids in all – 450 more than last year. 

I love the way it varies each year. There are eight fields with Butterfly Orchids and each has a different character; some have shorter grass and more orchids, others are damper with more marsh orchids, others have longer grass and fewer flowers. Two fields had more than twice as many Butterfly orchids than last year, another had nearly half as many. The reasons are inexplicable, the wonderful mystery of orchids. 

It was a great day and a big success, especially in getting the local community more involved at the reserve. We need to tackle bracken encroachment within some of the fields, so hopefully we can get some more volunteers to help out with this too.


Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Road Verge Campaign: The Cutting Edge update

Its always heart-warming to log on to good news. So thank you Liz Anderson for the following message and photograph posted on our Facebook page:

This is a fabulous example of Central Beds. Road Verge Nature Reserves - such an improvement on last years cutting regime they look fantastic and deserve a well done:

We can't help but agree.

We've also received praise for Isle of Wight Council and South Derbyshire District Council. And there was also this lovely tweet from Carl Cornish:

@cornishca: @Love_plants Photo of common spotted orchids on Notified Road Verge at Eaton Wood, Notts:

Alas, according to Steve James, all was not well elsewhere in Nottinghamshire:

@stevejamesPCC: Upper Broughton's top green planted as a wildflower meadow in 2000 was strimmed completely Saturday morning.

And it was happening on the road verges too:

Now this is not to take away from the good work that is evidently being done at Eaton Wood Notified Road Verge. But it does beg the question: should a road verge have to be designated as "Notified" or a reserve in order for it to be managed with a bit more care for our wildlife? Please let us know your thoughts in the Comments below.

Elsewhere we received complaints about Leeds and Worcestershire County Councils:

@WildlifeofLeeds: @Love_plants @leedscc mowing down 1000s of meadow buttercups right now on Roundhay Ring Road

@Blacklaceknits: @Love_plants lovely wild verges along A456 being mown to ground level by Worcestershire County Council. Very disappointing.

And some more "Before and After" images to add to our Gallery of Shame: 

Susie Clark on Facebook: I am currently staying in Staffordshire and on way to Fradley South shops from Fradley village witnessed the decimation of a wildflower meadow into a green flattened area.



But let's end on a more positive note. We received the following image from Charlie Bloom, of a wild flower garden she created to raise awareness of our meadow and road verge flora. It won the RHS Bronze Medal winning Show Garden at BBC Gardeners World Live.


Let's hope the message is getting through. As always you can sign the petition and rate your council on the campaign homepage.

A Discovery at Deep Dale

Posted by Joe Costley, Plantlife Reserves Manager

Yesterday, as I worked with volunteer warden Lee Waterman at our Deep Dale nature reserve in Derbyshire, squally showers swept the fields, carried on winds that were strong enough to bring down branches. 

Under the shelter of beech trees we found a dozen birdsnest orchids, their frail and ghostly beauty accentuated by the stormy conditions.

The photo on the left is one of those self-same orchids, caught in the moment on that very day.

Our Deep Dale reserve is open to the public throughout the year. For more information and how to get there click the link below:

Monday, 17 June 2013

Flowers on the Edge: The Cutting Edge

Its been three weeks since we launched our 'Flowers on the Edge' campaign to help save our road verges and the wildlife they support and the response has been immense.

We've received almost two and a half thousand signatures on our petition so far and it seems your voice has been heard - councils have been contacting us, asking for guidance on how to improve their mowing practices and help conserve our road verge wildlife.

Thank you also for all your stories and photos. We've received too many to print here, but we can provide a taste. First of all, a classic example of what we've been campaigning against. Responding to our call for 'Before' and 'After' photos, Andy Williams of Monmouthshire tweeted us the following:

@andy_tyfelin Maybe you can help me persuade Monmouthshire CC. This taken today: hundreds of kms treated like this:

Attached was a couple of photos of the B 4293 nr Little Cophill Farm, Chepstow. One before...

And one after...

The difference is stark.

That said, it wasn't all bad news. As we're keen to point out, some councils do an exemplary job and many are now contacting us to find out how things can be improved. Here's a few positive posts we received on Twitter:

@sysengshep: Swindon BC have just NOT mowed the bit of verge near my house that I've been trying to let flower:

: (Bridgend Council) Thank you for not mowing all the roadside verges & letting the beautiful wildflowers flourish

@SebInTransition: This verge in #Stroud was left while others were mowndown:

As you can see, we can make a difference! If you've not already done so, please visit our Road Verge Campaign site here and sign the petition and please keep your photos coming!

We'll have another Flowers on the Edge: The Cutting Edge update this time next week.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Flowers on the Edge

Posted by Dr Trevor Dines

Plantlife launched our campaign ‘Flowers on the Edge’ yesterday morning on BBC Breakfast… and the response has been terrific. But one in particular interested me – it was from Mike Jones at the Local Government Association quoted on the BBC website.

"However, councils must strike the right balance between road safety and wildlife," he said.

We agree, and many do already.

"Keeping road verges well maintained ensures that motorists have a good line of sight and allows pedestrians to walk more safely alongside busy roads.”

Yep, agree again.

"It also prevents weeds and foreign species from spreading into private gardens."

I wonder what Mr Jones thinks of when he says weeds?  Cheerful dandelions – wide open, mini sunshines; round, yellow plates of food for pollinators? OK, we know dandelions aren’t popular with everyone – let’s try again.  How about ox-eye daisies?  Or bright blue speedwell (the name just shows how long it has been on our waysides) or glossy buttercups, delicate ladies’-smock, red and white campions or the froth of cow parsley?  Violets, primroses and cowslips?  Are these weeds or wild flowers?

BUT, if we carry on repeatedly mowing our road verges and leaving the cuttings then yes, you will lose these wild flowers and end up with an abundance of coarse grasses – the equivalent of green concrete to wildlife.

The second part of the point is also interesting – mowing verges prevents foreign species from spreading into private gardens.  Most gardens are full of foreign species – even plants we think of as integral to the classic cottage garden, such as lavender.  The flip of that is that most garden centres are full of what are really wild flowers - foxgloves, hellebores or fritillaries for example.  And of course not forgetting the classic box bush, whiich is under threat in the wider countryside - its natural home.  Here’s another stat – more than 60% of invasive plant species causing problems in the countryside originate from gardens…

But coming back to road verges.  Safety is one thing.  The seemingly wanton destruction of a vital and beautiful part of our natural heritage is another.  With 97% of meadows gone, do we really want to erode the ribbons of what’s left, cut, by cut?  Ironic when you think of the current vogue for wild flower meadows in our gardens.  Let’s join the dots… A well managed, flower-rich road verge is the linear equivalent of a wild flower meadow.  And it’s just there by the roadside for us all to enjoy…

Britain’s countryside.
Save it with flowers.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

The wild plants of May

Posted by Dr Seona Anderson

Hawthorn blossom © Andrew Gagg / Plantlife
May Day, the month of May and the ancient festival of Beltane are all strongly associated with wild plants.

The Beltane fire festivals at the start of May are still celebrated in many countries across Europe. The festival was half way between the spring equinox and the summer solstice, at the beginning of summer and was performed to protect people, cattle and crops. One of the Gaelic names of the bright marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) was ‘Lus bhuidhe bealtuinn’ (the yellow plant of Beltane or May). In parts of Ireland hawthorn bushes were also decorated at Beltane.

Hawthorn or may flower is also central to the Maying festivals in Britain and Ireland. May Queens are still chosen in many villages and the branches of may flower are gathered and used as decoration. In the Morte D’Arthur Queen Guinevere goes ‘maying’ with her ladies and accompanying knights (dressed in May green) in the woods around Westminster, where she is kidnapped by Meliagrance.

The rites of May and the may flower are also part of Christian tradition. May is traditionally the month of the Virgin Mary, sometimes called ‘Queen of the May’, and flower garlands and decorations are integral to the celebrations across Europe. An old Catholic hymn celebrates this link between Mary and flowers during May.

‘Bring flowers of the rarest
Bring blossoms the fairest
From garden and woodland and hillside and dale;
Our full hearts are swelling
Our glad voices telling
The praise of the loveliest flowers of the vale.

O Mary, we crown thee with blossoms today
Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May
O Mary we crown thee with blossoms today
Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May’

Thursday, 28 March 2013

The plants of Easter

Posted by  Dr Seona Anderson

Dressing down the Loch Shiel aspen.
Several of our native wild plants are associated with the Biblical traditions of Easter and Easter celebrations.

Ever since Christianity was adopted in the British Isles there has been the problem of finding substitutes for the palm leaves used to celebrate Palm Sunday or the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem. Willow branches are one of the more common substitutes but yew and juniper have been used also. Because of this the day has also been known as Yew or Branch Sunday.

There is a widespread tradition that aspen (Populus tremula) was the wood useFlora Celtica (Milliken & Bridgewater 2004) records an old traditon regarding a veteran aspen tree in a hidden glen between Shuna and Saint Finnan’s Isle on Loch Shiel. On Good Friday people gathered to give the tree a formal dressing down for its part in the crucifiction of Jesus.
d to make the cross on which Christ was crucified and that its leaves still tremble at this memory in shame.

The redshank (Persicaria maculosa) is called Lus chrann ceusaidh (herb of the tree of crucifiction) in Gaelic. This stems from the legend that it grew at the foot of the cross: when drops of blood fell upon its leaves they became spotted with red. There is also a medieval tradition that after betraying Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, Judas Iscariot hung himself from an elder tree.

On a lighter note, the beautiful Pasqueflower (Pulsatilla vulgaris) is named after the feast of Pasques/Pâques (French for Easter) because it flowers during this period. Alternatively it may be because its flowers were used to dye Easter eggs. The Pasqueflower is the county flower of Cambridge and Hertfordshire. You can find out what your county's is here.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Good news and bad news from Wales

Posted by Dave Lamacraft, Plantlife Cymru Lower Plants Officer

Red eyed shingle lichen - thought, until recently
 to be extinct in Wales. Image © Dave Lamacraft. 
The announcement that three more cases of ash dieback have been discovered in Wales is a poignant counterpoint to the discovery last week of a lichen thought to be extinct in Wales.

The importance of the National Trust's Parc Dolmelynllyn estate (near Dolgellau, Gwynedd), for woodland lichens has been known for some time. In fact it is one of the finest areas south of the Scottish Highlands for the lichens of the 'Celtic rainforest'. Wandering through the woods last week I noticed an ash tree with that indefinable ‘look' about it, something that said “I’m worth a closer look”. It stood on the edge of a glade, was well-lit and mottled with a patchwork of colours from the lichens and mosses covering its bark. It was obviously a special tree; the black smears of the black-bordered shingle lichen were a good sign, but what struck me first was a delicate blue-grey leafy lichen. Although not much larger than a 50 pence piece, the distinctive rusty-red fruits caught my eye. A quick look at Frank Dobson's field guide to British lichens confirmed my suspicions - it was Pannaria rubuginosa, the red-eyed shingle lichen.

Not only is this a most attractive lichen, it was a significant find; it had not been recorded in Wales for almost 50 years and was assumed to be extinct. It was also particularly poignant in a week when another three cases of ash dieback have been found in Wales; as with many of our rarest lichens it was growing on an ash tree. Ash dieback has the potential to devastate our ash trees and the wildlife they support, including many lichens. Some 30% of UK lichens occur on ash - 536 species in all. Of these, 84 are threatened with extinction. It now seems ironic that ash provided an alternative host for lichens affected by the catastrophic decline of elm trees during the 1970s.

With ash dieback in our sights again, the next 12 months will be an opportune time to understand more about the disease and its effects. As well as a halt on the importation and planting of infected ash, we should trial different practical measures to find the best actions for reducing the progression and intensity of the disease. The genetic diversity of our native, non-planted wild ash means that some strains may be less susceptible than others, and observations in Europe suggest that mature trees are more resistant to ash dieback. It could be that widespread felling turns out to be the worst thing to do. We also don't really know how the disease behaves. It could be that ash dieback may spread more rapidly in dense canopies resulting from close planting and a lack of management, in which case thinning and opening up of woodland could be important. This would certainly help other woodland wildlife; flowering plants, birds and butterflies are declining as our under-managed woodland becomes ever darker.

The Chalara Control Plan is about to be published. I really hope this doesn’t ignore the needs of our often overlooked species; the many mosses, liverworts, lichens and invertebrates that depend on our ash trees. The plan needs to set out a sensible, considered, approach for dealing with this disease in the long term, and not be a knee-jerk reaction. As far as we know, a single ash tree is the only home to red-eyed shingle lichen in Wales. It’s a stunning lichen, wonderful to look at like so many in the Celtic rainforest, and I had a real thrill in finding it. I’d dearly like others to be able to experience this too. Yes, we do urgently need a plan, and action, to limit the impact of ash dieback as much as possible, but this has to be the right action; an ill-directed chainsaw could bring about the extinction of red-eyed shingle lichen in Wales in a matter of minutes.

Friday, 8 March 2013

A Wild Mother’s Day

Posted by Dr Trevor Dines.

I’ve not bought a bunch of flowers for years.

Don’t get me wrong - it’s not that I’m a misery guts or lack any sense of romance or occasion. The symbolism involved with giving and receiving flowers is incredibly powerful (which in itself reveals the deep, subconscious relationship we have with plants; we don’t after all, say it with seagulls). I honestly don’t think there’s any better way, in a very personal manner, to express your love for someone.

But what better way to do this than with a bunch wild flowers that you’ve picked and put together yourself? It’s much more thoughtful than the flaccid forecourt fodder on offer at the local garage. Walk into any supermarket or garden centre this weekend and you’ll be faced with row upon row of the most garish, unseasonal and unnatural blooms. Flown in from all over the world, they remind me more of plastic supermodels dressed for tarty night out in Ibiza. Certainly bright and brash and bold they may be, but such flamboyance fades quickly, offending the eyes by the following morning.

Instead, a bunch of hand-picked wild flowers will mean so much more. It will be unique, personal, and will have a very special local feeling too – a blend of flowers and foliage that reflects where you live rather what some nursery manager in some far-flung continent thought what your mother would like. When you factor in the cost, wild flowers become even more attractive.

Mother’s Day, of course, occurs when many flowers are yet to bloom - it’s just a bit too early in the year. But if you rise to the challenge, the finished product will carry much more meaning. You’ll need to get outside and see what’s around. I did just this yesterday and was surprised at what I could find.

So what kind of seasonal bouquet can I recommend? Rather than big and blousy, I’d suggest keeping it tasteful and refined. A mix of subtle colours and leaf textures can be bought together in a small, hand-tied bouquet. And you don’t have to be purist about it either; other garden flowers that are out now or a small bunch of tasteful blooms from the florist can be brought to life with the addition of some wild, foraged leaves and flowers.

You can see the result of my efforts in the photo above. Here, I’ve put together the following:

  • Snowdrops: Although not native flower, they’re beautiful and familiar woodlanders that are wonderfully pure with their white and green nodding flowers.
  • Hazel: A sprig of this with some catkins looks very spring-like and very architectural.
  • Polypody fern: Evergreen and deeply lobed, these sometimes have bright orange spores on the back.
  • Ivy: The flower stems and young berries are very distinctive and architectural.
  • Yew: A wonderful evergreen, which flowers early with beautiful pale yellow bobbles that go on to form its red berries.
  • Bog myrtle: Dark mahogany coloured stems with distinctive short catkins. Not common but grows in western upland areas.
  • Lichen: Small fallen twigs with some lichen can be included for unusual colour and texture.

It all depends on what you find. Keep you eve out for other early flowers such as violets, and primroses, other textures from different ferns, and even dried seed-heads from last-year’s flowers.

But what about picking wild flowers? Isn’t that illegal? Usually it’s not. At Plantlife, we not only endorse but thoroughly encourage people to pick common wild flowers when it legal to do so. For full details, click here.

We want people to literally get back “in touch” with their wild flowers, bring them back into their lives and use them again, making those connections we used to have. So on this Mother’s Day, why not find time to reconnect with wild plants? Your mum will probably be delighted.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Say it with flowers

Posted by Stephanie Baron 

Honeysuckle represents devoted love.
© Andrew Gagg / Plantlife
Its Valentine's Day this Thursday - the perfect time to give an admiring glance at wild plants which have been linked with love, romance and passion.

Subtle and secret messages have long been passed through the sending or receiving of flowers — a practice known as floriography. The Victorians especially developed the language of flowers and by choosing their bouquets carefully, communicated feelings that the propriety of the times forbid them to speak out loud. Coded bouquets that told of love and attraction were sometimes referred to as a ‘Persian Selam’. Here are a few examples:
  • Bluebell - constancy and everlasting
  • Honeysuckle - devoted love
  • Daisy — innocence and modesty
Perhaps one of the best known flowers associated with romance is the sweet violet, as mentioned in the famous rhyme:

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Sugar is sweet,
And so are you.

The poem's origins are obscure, but it dates back at least to 1590 when Sir Edmund Spencer used it in his opus The Fairie Queene:

She bath'd with roses red, and violets blew,
And all the sweetest flowres, that in the forrest grew.

The sweet violet has a long and romantic history in both European and Asian folklore: the ancient Greeks first used it to make perfume and the Romans to make wine. Ancient Britons used it for cosmetics. For the Medieval French troubadours, it symbolised constancy in their tales of chivalrous love.

Napolean was particularly fond of the flower: Josephine allegedly threw him a posy the first time they met. After his defeat at Waterloo he was permitted to visit her grave one last time, before he was exiled on the island of St Helena. He found sweet violets growing there and picked a few. Upon his death these were found in a locket that hung around his neck.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Snowdrops & Candlemas Day

Posted by Dr Seona Anderson

Candlemas is not often celebrated in Britain today but in the past the 2nd of February was an important church festival.

Falling in the middle of winter, between the shortest day and the spring equinox, it may have had pre-Christian traditions as a celebration of light. Candlemas Day was traditionally when the candles were brought to the church to be blessed. It was also one of the twelve great feasts of Eastern Christian, the ‘Feast of the Presentation of the Lord’, the day when Jesus was first brought to the temple after his birth.

It is at this time of year that snowdrops start to bloom, so its perhaps no surprise that this pure white flower has links to Candlemas too. Bunches were placed on the altar of the Virgin Mary to honour her purification forty days after the birth of Jesus.

Here's a few more snowdrop facts for this Candlemas weekend:
  • Snowdrops are thought to have been introduced many centuries ago, possibly in the early 1600s. They are not considered a native plant but are now widely naturalised across all of Britain. 
  • The Girl Guides in Britain used to collect snowdrops for sale to raise funds. The Girl Scout Association in Russia, started in 1910 and reinstated in the 1990s, has three snowdrops on its emblem. 
  • Queen Victoria had a bouquet of snowdrops at her wedding to Prince Albert on 10th February 1840. 
  • Snowdrops are still one of our best loved wildflowers - to see some snowdrop related artwork visit our online Patchwork Meadow gallery.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Five invasive non-native aquatic plants banned from sale: our response.

Posted by Nicola Hutchinson, our Head of Conservation Programmes, England and Wales.

The problem of invasive non-native species (sometimes called alien species) is one of the best known environmental issues. Whether in towns or countryside many of us will have dealt with garden ponds or rivers choked with water weeds, watched Japanese knotweed grow and spread wherever it has taken root, and perhaps even admired the pink flowers of Himalayan balsam along a riverbank before thinking how much it has taken over.  Internationally, invasive species have long been recognised as one of the top threats to wildlife and the environment.  Ten years ago our own government set out a series of recommendations to deal with the problem and currently the European Union is considering a Directive as a way to better coordinate a response.  It's important stuff.

This is why it's great to hear the Government announce today that five of the most destructive invasive water plants will no longer be legally traded in England and Wales.  At last, some decisive and essential action.

Australian stonecrop, Crassula helmsii
one of the banned plants © GBNNSS
A range of specific measures are needed to really crack the problem,  with the most important of these being to curb the number of new incidences.  The primary mechanism for which is to simply ban the most troublesome from sale.  No matter how conscientious we as gardeners or landscapers may be, once invasive species are established in our gardens and parks they find their way over the fence into our streets and countryside.  Don't put them there in the first place and we've instantly removed a key pathway for invasion.

However, herein lies the twist with today's news.  The industry which trades in these problem species in England and Wales has been given a further 14 months to "adjust" to the new regulation.  This means that trading can continue until April 2014 - a move to allow existing stock and pre-orders of these invasive water weeds to be sold off.  Really, it beggars belief.  It's been agreed that these species are so damaging to our environment that it must become illegal for them to be sold, yet here we are inviting the biggest of all 'every last item must go' sale.  Are we really saying we want one last final push to get as many of these water weeds out of the shops and into the wild?

This sort of compromise agreement is one of the most frustrating aspects of environmental politics.  We are falling over evidence on the impacts of invasives; ten years ago the government recommended a ban on sale of the worst offenders, and 7 years ago the actual legislation was put in place to enable this to happen.  Yet, at the last minute, we've lost our nerve, ending up with a really smart move turning into a ridiculous one.

Government moved to halt the trade in ash trees, harbouring a non-native fungal invader, in response to the ash dieback crisis.  Questions were asked at the time whether this action was taken quick enough.  It seems we aren't learning our lessons well.

A sheep struggles through a channel choked with
Floating Pennywort © Trevor Renals
In these economic times, one appreciates the difficulties businesses may face when new regulations mean changes to the way they operate. However, in the case of invasive non-native plants, representatives of the horticultural and aquatic trades have been involved in discussions for well over a decade. Couple that with the legislation being put in place in 2006, the list of proposed species to ban consulted on in 2010, and this stacks up to ample time for traders and retailers to adjust already.  No-one in the industry can say they didn't know this was coming.

It makes me mad.  So I have to remind myself at these times that amidst the ditherings of others, here at Plantlife we've just been getting on with doing our best to implement solutions. Often that has meant direct action on the ground to clear established invaders from some of our most important places for wildflowers such as the Isle of Portland and the limestone cliffs of Torbay. And, with the principle of prevention being better than cure at the forefront of our efforts, we have researched which of the thousands of water and land plants available for sale pose the greatest threat to our native wildlife- this helps to hone our collective response, and gives the green light to the overwhelming majority of garden and pond plants available.   Indeed, to make it even easier for retailers and consumers we've worked with partners to publish reports and advice on which plants to choose as alternatives to those which cause problems (see our guides to landscaping and keeping ponds and aquaria without harmful invasive plants).

We've invested our time and resources into working out solutions to the invasive species problem because it really matters when it comes to conserving wild plants, incredible landscapes and other wildlife. Now we need everyone's help - do the right thing, it's easy, stop selling and stop buying these plants:

And whilst you're at it, avoid these other ones too because they're equally as bad…

In the meantime, Plantlife applauds those retailers who've already made the shift to stop selling invasive plants, or who at least avoid the temptation to offer a 'buy one get one free' on curly waterweed!

For everything else you need to know about avoiding invasive plants and suggestions for fabulously non-invasive plants to grow have a look here.