Meadow Musings - Why are wildflowers so important?

A view of a wildflower meadow on the Colby Estate

Summer brings a fabulous flush of colour and sweet smells to fully grown wildflower meadows. Not only an idyllic image of our countryside, they are also vital feeding and nesting habitats for insects, butterflies, birds, small animals and other wildlife.

The National Trust Rangers at the Giant’s Causeway work continuously to maintain these existing meadows, but also have been creating new ones, like the beautiful wildflower meadow next to the Visitor Centre. 

When you picture the perfect countryside you may imagine it filled with meadows full of flowers, however they are now almost considered to be a rare sight. According to The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, the UK has lost 97% of its wildflower meadows since the 1930s. 

Dr Cliff Henry, National Trust Area Ranger at the Giant’s Causeway explains why the creation of meadows like these are an important part of the conservation work at the UNESCO World Heritage Site; “It is worrying that we have lost so many of our wildflower meadows.  They are such wonderful habitats that support a rich variety of insect life.  In turn other animals like hedgehogs, birds and bats need the insects to feed on.  If one group of species is in decline, that can lead to the loss of many more.

“About 35 percent of the world’s food crops need insects to pollinate them. The loss of pollinating insects could threaten our own food supply. That’s why we put in so much effort to encourage the native wildflowers to flourish in the Giant’s Causeway coastline to support our pollinators.  Everyone can do their bit to help by planting some wildflowers in their garden, or reducing the use of weedkillers, or even just cutting the grass a little less often.”

The Ranger team have also conducted other specific bee conservation projects at the Giant’s Causeway, including building a dedicated nesting bank for solitary mining bees located at Innisfree Farm. The team used sods of grass, local stones, sand and gravel to create the bank. While they were building it Dr Cliff Henry spotted two different species – the chocolate mining bee and it’s parasite (Marshsam’s nomad bee), investigating it as a prospective home.

Next time you visit the Giant’s Causeway look out for the vibrant colours of these picturesque blooms, which go a long way in supporting our native pollinators and keeping our planet healthy.

How to Create Your Own Wildflower Meadow
 

You don’t need acres of land to create your own wildflower meadow, a patch of grass in an open sunny position can be easily transformed into a mini-meadow rich in wildflowers, providing cover and food for wildlife.

The best part is that the maintenance of a wildflower meadow is much easier than a traditional garden, and will have the added bonus of providing colour and wildlife interest from spring until the last days of summer.

The best way of introducing wildflowers into an established lawn is to plant small plug-plants in autumn in small drifts across the lawn.

Create a small hole for each plant and add a little compost to the bottom of the hole to help the plant establish quickly, plant then water well.  Only cut your meadow after July when the wildflowers have set their seed. Removing the cuttings will benefit the wildflowers by preventing nutrients returning to the soil


Dr Cliff’s shares his pick of favourite wildflowers…
  
Red clover: A familiar 'weed' of gardens, roadsides, meadows and parks, Red Clover has trefoil leaves and red, rounded flower heads. The nectar-rich flowers of Red Clover are a favourite of many species of bee, including the Common Carder Bee, Honeybee and Red-tailed Bumblebee.

Painted Lady Butterflies pictured on a Red Clover wildflower
Painted Lady Butterflies pictured on a Red Clover wildflower
Painted Lady Butterflies pictured on a Red Clover wildflower

Tufted vetch: Tufted Vetch, also known as 'Cow Vetch' or 'Bird Vetch', is a member of the pea and clover family (legumes). It lives happily in many different habitats, including woodland edges, scrubland, coastal margins and grassland, and can be seen climbing over hedges and banks. The spikes of bluish-violet flowers appear between June and August. The seed pods of Tufted Vetch look like very small peapods and turn black when they are ripe.

A colourful array of wildflowers pictured at the Giant's Causeway
A colourful array of wildflowers pictured at the Giant's Causeway
A colourful array of wildflowers pictured at the Giant's Causeway


Meadow vetchling: Meadow Vetchling is a member of the pea and clover family (legumes) that can be found scrambling and climbing through grassy areas, including rough grassland, roadside verges and waste ground. Groups of four to twelve yellow flowers appear between May and August attracting bees and wasps. Meadow Vetchling is also known as 'Meadow Pea' and 'Fingers-and-thumbs' and makes a good addition to a wildflower garden.

Wildflower meadow at the Giant's Causeway
Wildflower meadow at the Giant's Causeway
Wildflower meadow at the Giant's Causeway


Knapweed: Common Knapweed, also known as 'Black Knapweed', is a thistle-like plant that can be found on all kinds of grasslands, from roadside verges to woodland rides, clifftops to lawns. It is in bloom from June to September and is a huge favourite of all kinds of butterflies, including Common Blues, Marbled Whites and Meadow Browns, and is sometimes covered in these species. Due to its hardy and fast spreading nature, Common Knapweed is considered an invasive weed in North America.
    

Painted Lady spotted on Knapweed wildflower
Painted Lady spotted on a Knapweed wildflower
Painted Lady spotted on Knapweed wildflower