The meadows of wild flowers in Kew Gardens were one of the unexpected treats when we arrived in April. Back then it was bluebells and Perfoliate Alexanders, in colourful monoculture.
OK, not quite monocultures but mostly one species dominating. A good healthy meadow is brim full of species, albeit not all flowering at the one time. The UK Native Seed Hub is set to turn the UK into a mosaic of diverse, and damn pretty, meadows.
Grasslands in the UK are a fast disappearing habitat. What's left are only fragments in places that have not been ploughed, re-seeded or heavily fertilized. Compared to the 1930s, we have only 2% of the species-rich grasslands remaining - rich in plant species, but also insects, birds and other animals.
I've been a little remiss in not blogging before about the UK Native Seed Hub (although I gave it brief mention in my 'first 100 days' prattle). Back in August we launched this project to much media fanfare - more even than our autumn colour and second spring story a week or so ago (which, like the warm weather, seems a distant memory).
The rest of this post is based to some extent on the media release we put out at the time, although any weird type-face changes are my own fault. (And being aware that BBC Science are alerted to more than 80% of their stories by media release I'm not ashamed to do this! See recent ABC Radio National Science Show for story on this, or BBC website for the report itself.)
This new seed project uses the Millennium Seed Bank’s extensive collection of UK native seeds, as well as the horticultural and scientific expertise of Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, to help restore native vegetation in the UK countryside. To start with our focus is lowland meadows and what we like to call 'semi-natural grassland'.
Funding is from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, a gift of £750,000 over four years as part of their 50th anniversary celebrations. After four years we hope to turn into into something that can self-fund itself
So what is it? A dedicated seed store, a hectare or so of seed production beds (in development) and in the short-term (until these beds are ready) some temporary seed beds in the walled nursery at Wakehurst Place.
Kew will work with commercial operators and other restoration experts to bulk up the quantities of seed needed across the UK. First we need to select the very best seed stock, locally sourced and make sure it’s robust and viable In some cases we’ll need to work out how to make it germinate more easily or more reliably.
Once we have a model established for lowland meadows we will move on to restoration in another 40 priority habitats listed for the UK.
The first seed beds include ten species, many of them with those lovely English names that are so evocative, but who knows of what? There is the Cuckoo Flower (Cardamine pratensis), which I’ve seen described as a ‘charming, well-behaved and informal wildflower’ – quite the dinner guest. The Devil’s Bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis) is, well, it’s illustrated below.
There’s the Dyer’s Greenwood, Harebell, Pasque Flower (telling us Easter has arrived), the Green Field-speedwell, the Sneezewort plus ragged robins, purple betonies and that kind of thing.
Oh, and there’s sorrel, which you should rub onto your skin after a close encounter with stinging nettles (which we are not orcharding), at least according to Peter Bridgewater and tested (successfully) by myself.
At Wakehurst Place, Kew has always been growing and caring for special plants. This willow forms a nice hedge next to the temporary seed production beds and you can read its story in the sign below.
So much to do, so much already done, and plenty to come!