A stroll along our woodland trail will bring you out in the Garden’s wildflower meadow. Although appearing unassuming at first, this is in fact one of the most biologically diverse areas in the whole Botanic Garden. The meadow forms a beautiful wildflower habitat, hosting scores of plant species which in turn act as food plants for butterflies, moths and many less-familiar insects. All of this combines to make the wildflower meadow essential on any tour of the Botanic Garden.
Although our meadow is man-made, it forms the heart of our Green Management Plan. To conserve our meadow, we graze it with rare breed sheep, Manx Loghtan and Hebridean, from October to the middle of March. The Manx Loghtan is an ancient breed and is believed to have been native to the Isle of Man for over 1000 years. These primitive sheep are ideal for conservation grazing, being more resilient to harsh conditions than modern breeds. This maintains a relatively low level of soil fertility that prevents grasses becoming too aggressive and allows many flowering plant species to coexist, creating the traditional flowery meadow.
A complex web of species relationships exists within our meadow. For example, yellow flowered hay rattle, highly attractive to bumblebees, is a partial parasite on the grasses, draining energy from its host and preventing the grasses from dominating the vegetation. Meadow brown butterflies lay their eggs on grass species, small copper butterfly caterpillars feed on sorrel and the chimney sweep moth breeds on pignut. Birds of prey, such as kestrels, can easily spot and hunt their prey.
There are many ways to create wildflower areas and many of the colleges are looking to do this, through the so-called “re-wilding”. Some methods are labour intensive and others less so, seed is the cheapest option, but you can also plant small plug plants. In 2021, we decided to try several different options and compare the advantages and disadvantages they have over the following two years. We thought this would be an interesting thing for visitors to see, so we did it on the main lawn by the Visitor Centre with the help of the gardens and ground team, Greenspace, Biological Sciences, some volunteer students and colleagues from Durham Wildlife Trust. The student Conservation Society and Natural History Society have also volunteered at the garden and helped plant Bluebells and Wood Anemone in the North American Arboretum and native wild daffodils by the woodland stream.