In the farmland of North Wiltshire close to Swindon there are positive signs of a renaissance in wildlife, two years after a ground-breaking project was launched to bring wildlife flooding back.
The light green, spear-shaped leaves of yellow rattle dotted among the grasses signal the slow return of long-lost flower-filled hay meadows. For where yellow rattle appears, a kaleidoscope of wildflowers should follow.
The yellow rattle, Rhinanthus minor, a semi-parasitic plant that carries a bright yellow flower when in bloom, has been deliberately seeded along with a multitude of other wildflowers, under the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust’s Landscapes for Wildlife project.
This month sees the second anniversary of its launch and the non-descript leaves are a sign that it is bringing results. The seeds, mostly harvested from Trust reserves last August, include common vetch, knapweed, lady’s bedstraw and bird’s-foot-trefoil to name a few. The yellow rattle, which flowers end of May/ June, is an early indicator that at least some of them have taken hold. “We are really pleased with the result – it’s a symbol of our efforts to bring wildflowers back into the countryside. Yellow rattle is a really useful wildflower species to have when you are trying to restore the biodiversity of meadows because its roots tap into the roots of surrounding grasses and absorb nutrients from them. This stunts their vigour and prevents the grasses from swamping other wildflowers that take longer to germinate. Without it, our aim would be much harder to achieve,” says Rob Nicholls of the Trust’s Landscapes for Wildlife Project.
“The yellow rattle are growing in every one of the eight fields we’ve sown and one field near Minety has got about 7,000 of them. Yellow rattle germinates quickly so if we hadn’t got any in this first year, we would have been seriously disappointed. The germination of other wild flowers is more of an unknown quantity, so it will be interesting to see what else comes up this year,” says the Trust’s Paul Darby
The five-year project covers the Braydon Forest area with Minety as a central point. The patchwork of meadows, woodlands and hedges that make up the Braydon Forest is a rich resource of wild animals and plants, but for the most part they are confined to small pockets of habitat scattered throughout the area.
Landscapes for Wildlife aims to expand and link these areas within and alongside farming operations. Apart from the restoration of hay meadows the project, which is funded by The Tubney Charitable Trust, the Hills Group and North Wiltshire District Council, has also overseen the planting of 1.5km of hedgerows; a strip of woodland south of Somerford Common; restored 130 metres of water courses and six ponds on farmland. “The work on the ponds is intended to improve the habitat for great crested newts, which are legally protected animals. But of course it also brings a multitude of benefits for other wildlife such as amphibians, dragonflies and some birds,” says Rob.
Over the past two years the project also distributed more than £10,000 from its Capital Grant Scheme to help pay farmers and landowners for work that benefits wildlife, and the team is keen to work with more landowners in the project area.
If you wish to apply for these grants or seek advice please contact the Landscapes for Wildlife team on (01380) 725670 exts 237 and 299, email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.wiltshirewildlife.org