Or should that be wildflowers (one word) in the title?
Wikipedia says it can be either:
|Wild flower edging separates country foot/cycle path from farmer's crop. 30 or so miles from London, UK, June 12th 2015|
|Crop (left) meets wild flower border (right) parallel to footpath (out of picture, right)|
It would surely take years for colonization, and I would surely have noticed the gradual buildup of colour.
|Start walk afresh. See season's new crop (wheat). But why the unplanted (unseeded?) wide new border between crop and path (right)|
That bare strip is new, serving no obvious purpose, with precious little sign so far of recolonization. What's the evidence that it's new - apart from this writer's memory?
Answer: there are still remnants (highly decayed) of last year's root crop - beet(?) (Presumably sugar beet, but they could have been plain old turnips for feeding to sheep for all I know).
Here's a better idea of the width of that new buffer strip:
|Am no fan of cow parsley - subject of a posting on this site last year, but it beats that desert to the left of the path.|
|Here we are at the end of the desert strip. There's some touches of blue colour at last - if one looks hard - in the old established edging at the back.|
|In close-up. Species? Dunno.Species identification will be added as a rider to this posting - which may take some time.|
Here's a close-up from image archives.
|Bagged off for later identification, along with samples of the more dominant and eye-catching species described at the start.|
|Left: new crop with wild flower edging; Centre: close up of new crop (identity unknown at time of writing); right plenty of fairly established-looking biodiversity in that edging, with no obvious "newly-seeded'look.|
|... and here's my haul of biodeversity from that second field, specimens to be identified later.|
|Left: rape crop left, edging to right; Centre and right:: close-up of some edging plants.|
Here we are turning into the 4th and largest of the field, with a cycle path, a brook to the left a rape crop to the right, and what seems initially like a predominantly white-flower edging.
|Yes, there are lots of daisies in that border. See the rape crop behind, past its main 'carpet' flowering, separated by a narrow bare strip.|
|That bank of daisies is magnificent, but does not stretch the entire length of the border (several hundreds of metres). Not bad eh for wild flowers? This would do justice to an old-fashioned country garden.|
Further along, the daisies peter out, and one is then treated to what seems initially like a highly diverse mix of species, sporting a wide range of colours.
|Here's an attempt at a panoramic view. looking back from the far end. Click to enlarge.|
|Click to enlarge|
Two other things suggested 'over-seeding' (that term maybe implying that the seed could be scattered on ground that has a pre-existing coverage of grasses etc). Despite the riot of colour, there seemed to be a relatively small number of species, maybe 10 at most, with half that number dominating. There was also a consistency re the distribution of each type - evenly mixed up, so to speak, as one might expect from distributing a mix of seed from a supplier, as distinct from random seed dispersion via wind etc.
Against that were two counter-observations. First, there was a cereal crop (oats? still to be confirmed) in among the wild flowers.
Might that have been a survivor from an earlier season's crop planting? It seems unlikely that a commercial wild flower mixture would have contained cereal seeds like wheat, barley, oats etc.
The there was that bank of white daisies that dominated in a limited expanse of Field 4, probably a quarter at most. That argued against human intervention , being more to do with the history of natural seeding, with certain species arriving first and getting established so as to achieve dominance through sheer numbers (assisted perhaps by variation in soil type, situation in respect of drainage, wind, exposure to sun etc).
The intermediate Fields 2 and 3 did nothing to back up man-made seeding either, having a somewhat less ornate and showy appearance suggestive of natural seeding over several seasons, with much in common with Field 4 as regards the dominant species.
However, there's one thing that keeps the notion of supplier-assisted seeding alive, and it's that Field 1, with the newly carved-out bare strip between wheat crop and path. Why is it there? Why is it so poorly colonized as yet? (Answer: because it was previously used for serial monoculture, having few wild flower seeds to allow immediate re-colonization.) So it's possible, just possible, that the presently bare strip has been earmarked for seeding, but that has still to be done, maybe in the autumn. We shall see. I'll be monitoring closely what happens to Field 1 in the coming weeks and months. How heartening it would be if this time next year it resembles Field 4, transforming to a riot of colour.
Yes, England is known as a green and pleasant land, but all too often that translates to the green of whatever is the current season's crop in our intensive agriculture, or as some have described it unflatteringly as "agri-business'. How nice it would be if there had been an initiative to sacrifice some fertile land at the edge of existing fields to introduce colour, visual interest and biodiversity.
Suppose there has been seeding with commercial seed mixtures. Why are the farmers doing that all of a sudden? Is it pure altruism on their part, making the countryside more attractive to walkers? Or is it being done for more scientifically-based environmental reasons. like encouraging bees to come and pollinate in those edgings first, and then to move on to cultivated crops that may also depend on insect pollination? Again,I have to reveal my ignorance. Which crops if any are dependent on bees and other insects? I'm sure I've seen references to bee-dependent crops, but cannot name them right now. Time to get a googling-o.
I shall stop here for now, but will add that appendix in due course on the tentative identification of my collected samples, comparing with those that are listed in commercial wild flower seed mixes. I shall do some research on the need or otherwise to encourage pollinating insects in commercial agriculture. I may even contact the local newspaper to see if it can find who owns the 4 fields described above, able hopefully give a quick answer to the 64.000 question: entirely natural or assisted seeding?
If there's a farmer reading this who can assist with my enquiry, please don't hesitate to use the Comment facility to give us the benefit of your practical knowledge and knowhow.
1. From the Mail, Nov. 2014 (providing an answer to my question re which types of cultivated crops depend on pollination)
" It's well-known bumblebees are great pollinators and so have a key role in producing much of the food we eat. Through the pollination of many commercial crops such as tomatoes, peas, apples and strawberries, insects are estimated to contribute over £400 million per annum to the UK economy.
If the decline of bumblebee and other insect pollinator continue, the extremely high cost of pollinating these plants by other means could significantly increase the cost of fruit and vegetables."
1. Thistles: these are too varied a group for generalisation; many are troublesome weeds, including some invasive species .Typical adverse effects are competition with crops and interference with grazing , both as bee fodder in general, and as sources of luxury monofloral honey products.
Weeds, pure and simple, even if providing insects with nectar.
2. Ribbed melilot: grown as hay despite its toxic properties when mouldy. It is considered an excellent green manure.
Highly conspicuous in the border strips, due to high yellow flowering spikes, but not a great deal to be found re use in agriculture.
Established role in agriculture - not just a wayside weed.
3. Sainfoin: provides a superb forage for grazing animals. Voluntary intake of sainfoin by cattle and sheep is 20% higher than for grass. Sainfoin contains condensed tannins, and it is these that protect animals against bloat. By improving nitrogen utilzation, the condensed tannins of sainfoin also help
reduce greenhouse gases (CH4, N2O. Sainfoin is seldom used as a pure crop and is generally introduced in pasture in a grass-legume mix with cocksfoot (Dactylis), ryegrass (Lolium) or with other legumes such as red clover, white clover or lucerne.
5. Clovers: Several species are extensively cultivated as fodder plants. Clover has for a long time formed a staple crop for soiling, for several reasons: it grows freely, shooting up again after repeated mowings; it produces an abundant crop; it is palatable to and nutritious for livestock; it fixes nitrogen, reducing the need for synthetic. It is appropriate for either pasturage or green composting.
Clovers are most efficiently pollinated by bumblebees, which have declined as a result of agricultural intensification. Honeybees can also pollinate clover, and beekeepers are often in heavy demand from farmers with clover pastures. Farmers reap the benefits of increased reseeding that occurs with increased bee activity.
As before, clover is probably not just an accidental arrival, but a crop-rotation survivor famed for its nitrogen-fixing ability.
6. Alfalfa: Medicago sativa, also called lucerne, is a perennial flowering plant in the pea family Fabaceae cultivated as an important forage crop in many countries around the world.
7. Black medick: It is frequently found in natural pastures, and may be planted in order to create artificial meadows, especially on dry land. Black medick is sometimes used as a fodder plant. Its hardiness and ability to grow in poor soils, as well as its tendency to fix nitrogen in the soil, make black medick a good choice for pasturage, although its fodder value is limited.
So it's not necessarily just another weed or wild flower. It may have been deliberately introduced, recently or not so recently, as a cultivated crop.
8. Red campion: used as an ornamental perennial flower for the perennial border.
The nectar of the flowers is utilised by bumblebees and butterflies.
At last, a plant that would appear to have no obvious utilitarian role in agriculture, apart from an ability to attract pollinating insects.
So, having listed the 10 main sources of colour in the border strips. here are a few photos showing the proximity of those species to one another in the same photo frames. (Sadly I was not able to get all 10 in the one field of view!):
|7 species in the one shot!|
|Here's the 8th - red campion - plus No.7 from earlier.|
|Here's the 9th - common vetch - in proximity to four from earlier.|
|Here's the 10th - phacelia|
In fact, 99%+ of the phacelias seen were at the end of Field 1, forming a single continuous floral border - most impressive.
|Phacelia: nothing else gets a look in.|
Next and final task: check seed catalogues to see if any have a mix comprising mainly the 10 or so species listed, maybe with one or two added or removed. Then try to decide: were those border strips deliberately seeded with commercial mix. Or are we seeing the result of natural colonization over years by adventitious seeds, maybe promoted by previous ploughing of the edges of crop, providing a better tilth for seed to germinate, and maybe assisted by fertilzer run off? My thoughts are moving in the direction of the second option, but if that were the case, one suspects that conditions for growth (temperature, rainfall etc) must have been exceptional this year, or I would surely have noticed the proliferation of colour in previous years.
Back in a day or two.