I became interested in the conservation charity Plantlife when I stumbled across the link to their excellent website on twitter. They do a brilliant job in their mission to speak up for plants and save wildflowers, running conservation projects, campaigning and influencing policy, managing nature reserves and encouraging us all to get out there and enjoy nature. As they were looking for volunteers to take part in the 2013 wildflower count I signed up. The aim of the survey is long term and enables the study of trends and factors affecting plants, I felt instantly connected to the project as I love wildflowers and the great outdoors and thought I could contribute easily and although not an expert botanist by any means, felt I have a good grasp of plants and habitats.
Now in its fourth year, the Wildflower count is well organised and after signing up I received an information pack, including a colour identification booklet of 99 common plants in a variety of habitats selected as they are fairly easy to identify and therefore more of us would be confident to get involved, the majority on the list are wildflowers with some ferns, trees and shrubs too. So no advanced specialist skills required, just the ability to keep your eyes peeled! The list of 99 are all clearly photographed and are very helpfully listed according to flower colour. Details of height, habitat, e.g. bog, heath, what to look for in leaves and stems are also clearly listed.
I was allocated a 1km square marked on a small section of an ordnance survey map, within a stones throw of my home. We live in a rural village with a range of habitats, some more exciting than others – village lanes, rural floodplains, small streams and rivers, grasslands, agricultural fields and part of the Greensand Ridge runs through our village too.
There are 3 options 1) to survey a path 1 km long, 2) survey a plot measuring 5m x 5m square 3) survey a linear plot 1m x 20m. Or you could choose to survey all three. As this is my first time, I chose to survey a path 1km long, rather than monitoring an adopted plot. Plantlife suggest ideally a north to south route through the centre of the allocated 1km square, mine ended up a tad meandering as one field with a right of way had Long Horn Cattle in and at another point the signed footpath was completely blocked.
Our first step was to measure the path. We wheeled my husbands bike along the route, which has an odometer attached to measure out the 1km distance, noting the start and finish. Our route ran through some village lanes with a few houses, from there the path leads up through a briefly wooded area, a little grassland, another village lane and farmhouse then finally along a bridleway cutting through an agricultural field (very few wildflowers and lots of oilseed rape).
The survey should be done anytime between April and September, Plantlife suggest if possible surveying twice, during that time. Wildflowers in their varying habitats flourish at different times – The late arrival of Spring this year meant the late arrival of Bluebells and Stitchwort too. My first survey was in mid May, even then bluebells in my 1 km path were sparse. Stitchwort was delightfully abundant.
The late Spring gave way to early Summer really quickly this year and the Meadow Buttercups were at their best here in late May, whilst the Stitchwort was still flourishing in the hedgerows.
My second survey was this weekend in the relative two day cool respite from the heatwave. The ground is parched here and although my survey path runs through the parts of the village without water, we were surprised at just how much was still thriving and looking fantastic, especially the mallow and knapweed.
Included in the Plantlife pack are contact details to help with any identification queries and suggested websites which may help too. There is also the option to become a super surveyor, if you felt really confident at plant identification, where you can give details of all of the plants identified in your chosen patch over and beyond those in the booklet of 99 common plants.