How often do you consider plants when you think about nature conservation? Endearing little mammals like hedgehogs or dormice, or perhaps the hairy bumblebee are probably the first things that spring to mind, but with the intensification of farming, many plant species are now under threat. Some of these plants were once so numerous that they were considered ‘weeds’!

Fair to Nature farmers manage areas of their farms in ways that encourage these plants to flourish. Our Technical Manager, Brin Hughes, spent the day with like-minded specialists from Plantlife on a Fair to Nature farm in the South of England yesterday. Here is his report on the day…

Last year Plantlife’s Farmland Adviser, Cath Shelswell, kindly agreed to conduct an in depth plant survey at Malshanger Farm in Hampshire, where manager Ian Margetts has farmed to Fair to Nature standards for many years. We already knew the farm had some exciting and rare flower species, not least the only known British site for the very rare Greater Venus’s Looking-glass, such a pretty and delicate flower.

Greater Venus's Looking-glass

Greater Venus’s Looking-glass

But Cath’s survey also confirmed numerous other rarities like:

  • Shepherd’s-needle – a cornfield flower named for its incredible seed pods
  • Dwarf Spurge – like its more a common cousin sun spurge, this has thick white sap used to cure warts
  • Scarlet Pimpernel – a food plant for the Angle Shades moth
  • Annual Knawel – a tiny cornfield flower that has declined drastically and is now a priority for conservation
Annual Knawel

Annual Knawel

All of which which makes Malshanger farm one of most important sites in Britain for rare cornfield flowers.

So Cath arranged for Ian and I to meet CEO of Plantlife, Marian Spain, and colleague Michael New to check out how Fair To Nature farms operate; how, together with Plantlife, our management advice is working to benefit these iconic and threatened plants; and how we can help other farmers and organisations undertake similar management.

Marian became the CEO of Plantlife last year and has a strong track record of leading high profile programmes, developing evidence-based policy and working in partnership with other organisations. Former roles include Senior Director of Policy and Communications at Ofwat, Director of Strategy for the Energy Saving Trust and Head of Strategic Development at the Environment Agency. Marian also worked for the Countryside Agency for 15 years in various roles, including developing agri-environment schemes and managing AONBs and National Parks. But on top of that she has a genuine passion for wildflowers.

So we were all delighted when we came across the lovely Greater Venus’s Looking-glass still in flower in one of Ian’s cultivated margins…

Marian Spain from Plantlife with Fair to Nature's Brin Hughes

During the day we talked about the importance of protecting wild plants, not just for their intrinsic beauty but also for their value in ecosystems and it was encouraging to hear Marian’s ideas for engaging more of the country’s specialist advisers in spreading the word, as well as the flowers!

We will certainly be helping Plantlife all we can.

Tagged with: