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’