Last Bank Holiday weekend we walked down the Wye Valley Way. Many of the fields through which we passed were just wet grass, soaking through our boots. Occasionally, though, we came to a meadow full of wild flowers – buttercups, red clover, daisies, and other species that I could not name, but they all lifted the spirits in a way that the plain grass could not. Alas 97% of these wild flower meadows have disappeared from Britain in the last 50 years thanks to intensive farming, herbicides, excessive fertilisation and inconsiderate land management.
On the higher ground the bluebells were still at their best – English bluebells, with their deep colour, delicate dangling heads and heavenly scent. In most things I am a keen supporter of Europe, but not of Spanish bluebells which hybridise with our native flowers, turning them pale, upright, and scentless.
Along the Wye after Bredwardine we passed through the Bulmers cider orchards – many attractive varieties of apple trees, even if their lines were regimented. Sadly, all the grass beneath them was mowed short, any wildflowers banished to distant field edges. We saw beehives perched on industrial-looking pallets, brought in we assumed to do the work of pollinating the apple blossom because there was not enough habitat left for local bees.
An organisation called Plantlife is working to put these things right and save Britain’s wild flowers and their habitats. They run an annual campaign, fronted this year by Alan Titchmarsh, to encourage councils to cut road verges only once the flowers have set seed. Last year, with the Prince of Wales they launched Coronation Meadows, an initiative to identify a pristine wild flower meadow in every county, and use green hay from each to restore a similar habitat nearby. This year, with Heritage Lottery funding, they are leading a major habitat restoration project with other wildlife organisations called Save Our Magnificent Meadows.
I am proud to be sponsoring a celebration of Plantlife’s 25th Anniversary in the House of Lords in October. Please visit www.plantlife.org and give your support to this important cause.