Trees are lovely, and we believe have been the key to the transformation of Sylvan Nature Reserve, however they take a while to reach their full potential. But British Wildflowers gave us a much quicker result, and we hope to use them again. They are important in attracting pollinators, and birds.
On the part of Sylvan Nature Reserve which is not prone to flooding, we decided to use the Forest of Flowers method, to give more instant impact, and a splash of colour, alongside our 18000 new trees. In November 2011, we hired a specialist deep plough and driver, who skilfully ploughed the land to a depth of 75cm. This is a necessary first step, as it exposes the infertile subsoil, and buries grass and weed seeds deeply below the surface. The next step was to sow a mixture of annual, biennial and perennial British wildflower seeds. Our mix included red campion, teasel, corn marigold, meadow buttercup, corn cockle, cornflower, common poppy, cuckoo flower, ox eye daisy, and ribwort plantain. Tree saplings were then planted in this area, except for a central, circular meadow area.
In the first summer, we had a riot of colour, with the poppies, cornflowers and ox eye daisy the most visible
The following year, the overwhelming colour was pink, as the campions flowered and dwarfed the young trees hiding among them.
In each of the following years, a slightly different set of flowers revealed themselves, and of course the trees gradually grew, to take their place as the dominant feature. Now, six years on, the circular meadow clearing still contains a wide variety of British wildflowers. It is time now to further enhance this area by adding more seeds.
At Bank Woods we will be taking a different approach to introducing wild flowers. We will be turning one of our fields into a wildflower hay meadow, but without the deep ploughing. This could be considered a more ‘natural’ approach, but from what I have read so far, it may be more difficult! The first step, which we have just done, in January 2018, was to carry out soil tests, to establish a starting point, and so that we know what we are dealing with – which plants might thrive, and which might not do so well. The ideal pH would be neutral, I.e. a pH of 7, which was, happily, the result we got! Wild flowers generally require a relatively infertile soil, and ideally, we would look for a low phosphorus, given by the ‘P’ value in the soil testing kit. Unfortunately, our test revealed that our P value was in the ‘high’ range. This means that we have to try to naturally deplete the soil’s fertility before embarking in the sowing stage. We will do this by removing the sheep from the field, as their manure may increase the fertility of the soil. We will also mow the field in March and throughout the Summer, and take the mown grass away. Also throughout the summer, we will survey the area, to identify any wildflowers already present, and also to remove any invasive perennial weeds. After that, we will need to create a patch work of bare earth among the existing grass. We very much hope to have the assistance of a small herd of Belted Galloway cattle to help us with this stage. Their hooves will disturb the ground enough to allow the wildflower seeds to find the right conditions to germinate, when we sow them in Summer. The cattle will again be useful to trample in the seed, and later to intermittently graze the field, which is advised after sowing the wildflower seeds.
The exciting time will be summer 2019, when, if all goes according to plan we should see the first wildflowers blooming in our meadow! For the next few years we will have to carefully manage the meadow, to make sure the ‘right’ kind of wildflower flourish.