Wildflower Power

Did you enjoy any particularly beautiful countryside this National Picnic Week? Perhaps a bouquet of flowers this National British Flowers week?  We take a look at the hidden role of wildflowers in enriching these pastimes, including their underlying role in supporting our wildlife and economy.

Zigzag harebells at Box Hill, Surrey ©National Trust Images/A Wright

Planting wildflowers is certainly in vogue at the moment, which is great news for our wildlife.

Recently featured on Springwatch, the benefits of wildflowers for nature have led to a number of organisations and local authorities across the country running initiatives to encourage greater wildflower planting.

Planting wildflowers is something practical we can all do. It helps vital species, like pollinators, and supports the natural processes which underlie our economy. They also enhance the appearance of our countryside, parks and gardens. [And save time on lawn mowing!]

Why flowers are good for nature

Back in 2009, government advisor Sir Robert Watson was encouraging gardeners to plant more wildflowers, to help and protect vulnerable species of birds and butterflies from climate change.

Wildflowers are particularly significant as they support a number of key insect species and pollinators, many of whom are in steep decline or endangered.

Increased variety and numbers of insects in-turn help the wider food chain; helping struggling wildlife and birds.

Ultimately, these benefits aren’t just good for nature; they support us and our food system too.

The Rose Garden at Cliveden, Buckinghamshire ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Save the bees

Wildflowers are great for helping our struggling bees, whose work pollinating underpins much of our food system and grower industries.

In 2007 The National Audit Office estimated bees’ economic contribution to be £200 million a year, supporting key grower industries including strawberries, apples, raspberries and oil seed rape.

The total retail value of what bees pollinate was estimated at around £1bn.

With fewer bees, research form the University of Reading suggested our food prices and imports would increase dramatically, with significant, even catastrophic, harm to our ecosystem.

Bee on lavender at Avebury, Wiltshire ©National Trust Images/Richard Bradshaw

What we’re doing

Thankfully, a study in Nature found that when bumble bees lived near an area rich in wildflowers, chances of annual survival increased up to four times.

We’re playing our part through initiatives at our places to help bees and promote wildflowers, part of our wider aim for a healthier, more beautiful natural environment.

More broadly, we’ve also been working to demonstrate how nature and natural processes contribute to and underpin our economy, through our Natural Markets project.

Our most recent paper explores our reliance on nature and underlying natural processes, the value of conservation, and ways these processes can be integrated into farming for the benefit of everyone, alongside the health and preservation of our environment.

An example of our work in action

At Pentire Head, we’ve worked with Plantlife to create our first “transformational site”.

Here our arable land is managed as a nature reserve with the help of the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme (HLS), which helps provide additional funding and guidance.

This year we aim to set up further monitoring, to better track how our plants are getting on.

We’ve also started an ambitious programme of re-creating wildflower rich-grasslands across much of the Pentire farm, including sowing yellow rattle in a number of places. The scale of what we are seeking to achieve here is considerable, almost farm-scale.

Our own and neighbouring local farmers will significantly benefit from these enhancements, providing a model for how farming and wildlife can effectively work together.

Pentire Farm at Pentire Headland, Cornwall. ©National Trust Images/John Miller

What we can all do

Whether in a small section of a garden, a field, grass verge or window box, planting wildflowers is easy, satisfying, and can greatly benefit the environment.

This summer we’re supporting Plantlife’s Great British Wildflower Hunt, a great opportunity to go out, enjoy the countryside, and learn about native species whilst helping to survey wildflower populations.

We also have a number of wonderful wildflower walks, where it’s possible to see first-hand the beautiful benefits of wildflowers in action.

For more information on walks and other events for National Meadows Day, please visit our website, and search for “wildflowers”.

Blog by Philip Box, Campaigns and Policy Volunteer, National Trust.

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