I’ve always loved this song; it’s brimming with hope and happiness, and it makes me think of lush flowering meadows and cool green woods. It reminds me of childhood summers spent walking the lanes of Suffolk: the warmth of the sun on our backs, the calls of pheasants in the fields, swallows swooping overhead and an abundance of wildflowers along the verges and field boundaries.
This year I chose to design and embroider a wildflower meadow, partly to link back to the summers of childhood but also because they are simply so pretty, and romantic and well, interesting; a wonderful mixture of colours and textures that all sit together in a companionable, aesthetically pleasing, jumble. I wanted my work to be as accurate as possible, so I did some research, and along the way discovered all sorts of titbits about wildflower meadows.
I knew the British countryside was in trouble. I knew it had been in decline since the 1930s. But did you know that we have lost 97% of our hay meadows and wild grasslands in just the last fifty years? Flowers that I took for granted as a child have disappeared, and the insects, birds and mammals that depended on them have either disappeared too or are in danger of extinction. Across Europe swallow numbers have fallen sharply since the 1970s, the RSPB says the cause of the decline is unknown but climate change and changes in farming practice may have something to do with it. It all makes for gloomy reading. Growing up I never imagined that future generations would be unable to experience the sights, sounds and scents of summer that I had enjoyed, and that the wildlife with which I shared those days, and which seemed so prolific, might disappear too.
Luckily, there are some glimmers of light within the gloom, and most of it seems to be, appropriately enough, at grass roots level. The changes that are happening are being instigated by individuals, locally based charities, and communities, and they are initiatives that we can all be involved in, here are three of my favourites.
Rewilding at the Knepp Estate - For seventeen years the current owners of the Knepp Estate in West Sussex had farmed the land in the accepted, modern, intensive way, it didn’t work. In 2001 they tried a different approach, and the results are incredible. They have seen a huge surge in wildlife, as their website says, “turtle doves, nightingales, peregrine falcons and purple emperor butterflies are now breeding here; and populations of more common species are rocketing”. You can learn more about how they achieved this and their hopes for the future here: Home — Knepp Wildland
Verge planting - I live in Worcestershire, right next door to Herefordshire and, in a wonderful Herefordshire magazine called ‘The Hedge’, sadly no longer in print, I read about a volunteer group ‘Verging on Wild’ (VOW), which was started in 2018 by three friends who wanted to protect the Roadside Verge Nature Reserves. These nature reserves had been created by Herefordshire Council in the 1970s but over time they’d become neglected.
VOW’s intention was to improve the care and biodiversity of Herefordshire’s verges, and to provide necessary corridors between one patch of wildlife friendly ground and the next. Each verge has its own distinct habitat; near Callow there was a small patch of green hellebore and in the woods above Wigmore, a woodland verge with herb paris, meadow saffron and great butterfly orchid. All these different habitats, supporting a myriad of different insects, which in turn support birds and mammals, makes for such encouraging reading.
You can find more about VOW here including photographs of some of the wonderful verges they are managing: Verging on Wild | Herefordshire Wildlife Trust (herefordshirewt.org)
B-Lines - Buglife is a charity actively working to save Britain’s rarest bugs, bees, butterflies, ants, worms, and beetles. One of the ideas they’re promoting is B-Lines, a collection of insect pathways running through our countryside and towns; a series of wildflower rich habitat steppingstones that will weave across the British landscape. Like ‘Verging on Wild’, Buglife recognise the necessity of linking wild places together, they predict that we could soon lose 40-70% of species if we don’t act now.
Luckily everyone can help. Farmers, landowners, wildlife organisations, businesses, local authorities, and the public, can work together to create flower rich grassland through every county and shire. The idea of a network of wildlife pathways crisscrossing the country is so exciting, and every link, however small counts.
There is an interactive map on Buglife’s website so you can see what pathways are in your neighbourhood and even add a project to the map: B-Lines | Buglife
Back in our garden the self-seeded foxgloves are finishing now, and the mallow and poppies that found their way here from the fields are coming into flower. The bees, butterflies and hoverflies love them and in return are visiting and pollinating our vegetable and fruit crops. I’ve planted an old tin bucket with night scented stock, to keep the moths happy, and along the path are shallow saucers filled with water and stones so that they can all have a drink too. I’m trying not to dig too much so that I don’t disrupt the soil’s ecosystem, and our compost bin has yielded a lovely rich haul and is now being filled again ready for next spring. Our garden is tiny, little bigger than a postage stamp, and the changes seem so small and take little effort, but the benefits are amazing, and I feel better for doing something that feels positive. The front garden is next. I’m hoping to create our own wildflower meadow, a teeny, tiny one with some swift boxes in the eaves of the house. Maybe it can be part of a wildlife pathway and then no matter how small it is, it’ll be a link in a much bigger chain, and maybe it can make a difference.
For now I’m returning to embroidering meadows and if you’d like to see them they can be found at: https://the-peacocks-tale.co.uk
And here are some useful links to national groups working to restore and help our countryside:
Wildlife Trusts: The Wildlife Trusts | The Wildlife Trusts
Butterfly Conservation Trust: Home page | Butterfly Conservation (butterfly-conservation.org)
The Woodland Trust: UK's Largest Woodland Conservation Charity - Woodland Trust