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Andy Summers: Creating a Highland-wide wildflower meadow mosaic

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Making Space for Nature by Andy Summers

A wildflower meadow in Wick. Picture: Roz Summers
A wildflower meadow in Wick. Picture: Roz Summers

March is the perfect time to think about creating a wildflower meadow for the summer pollinators.

In the middle of winter, I often find myself dreaming about the warm summer months ahead, filled with the trilling song of willow warblers, the buzzing of multicoloured bumblebees and hoverflies and field voles scuttling through the long grass.

Mostly, I dream about a summer full of the colourful mosaic of beautiful flowers – delicate pink cuckoo flowers, dark purple orchids, yellow dandelions, and birds-foot trefoil contrasting with red and white clovers. All these flowers are a hive of activity as pollinators jostle each other to sip their nectar and inadvertently take away their pollen.

It is an image that evokes something of the past more than the reality today. So many of our green spaces today are dominated by closely cropped grass, while the base of trees are strimmed to within an inch of their life. Any stray butterfly has to work very hard to find any flowers to feed on.

We know that nature has seen a massive 24 per cent decline over the last 30 years, with our butterflies, bees and other insects especially taking a big hit. Grasslands full of wildflowers and nectar rich gardens have become more fragmented.

We are in the midst of a full-scale nature crisis, but we all have the power to do something. Why not join our efforts in the creating a wildflower mosaic?

The High Life Highland ranger service has set an ambitious target this year to create at least 60 new wildflower meadows in a mosaic all over the Highlands, with the help of communities and volunteers.

Think about turning over part of your garden or community area to a small wildflower meadow patch. Perhaps you have tried to create a colourful wildflower meadow before and failed. We can help. We will be running workshops on this and woodland wildflowers.

Poor quality soils are best suited for wildflowers, because fertile soils allow vigorous grasses to out compete the delicate flowers. You may need to remove the top 15cm of topsoil. If that feels too drastic, reduce some of the fertility by sowing a crop of hungry plants in the first year. Mustard or potatoes will remove some of the nutrients from the soil as they grow.

It is best to sow wildflower seed that has been collected locally yourself or find a source of Scottish wildflower seeds, your local ranger can advise, and we will be running seed collection workshops later in the year.

You will need about five grams of seed per square metre of meadow. Just scatter the seed across the ground. There's no need to rake the seed in or cover it with soil, but gently walk across it so that the seeds are in contact with the soil. You may then need to net it from birds. Keep it well watered until it has established. Then sit back and watch the display unfold in all its glory during July and August, when you will witness a truly wonderful colourful display of native wildflowers covered in bees and hoverflies. You will have created a great refuge for wildlife and helped nature to thrive. Good luck!

  • Making Space for Nature is a monthly wildlife column with tips about how we can act to help to improve biodiversity in our communities. This month’s wildlife columnist, Andy Summers, is High Life Highland senior countryside ranger for North Highland based in Assynt.
Andy Summers, High Life Highland’s senior countryside ranger for North Highland, based in Assynt.
Andy Summers, High Life Highland’s senior countryside ranger for North Highland, based in Assynt.
  • For more information about up-coming events with High Life Highland’s countryside ranger service, including wildflower events, visit www.highlifehighland.com/rangers/upcoming-events

  • Andy studied Ecology at Edinburgh University, and has worked as a countryside ranger for 40 years, including in roles at the National Trust for Scotland and Scottish Wildlife Trust. Andy now lives on a west coast croft and has been a senior ranger with High Life Highland (and formerly Highland Council) for 25 years.

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