Our Forgotten Flora

Colin Cheesman

Colin Cheesman

Head of Plantlife Cymru

5th September 2018


© Danny Beath/Plantlife

It’s now almost 10 years since Plantlife became actively involved in trying to assess the threat to one of Wales’s most forgotten flora’s and take action for its conservation.

That anyone might be concerned about the species of ‘weeds’ that grow in our arable fields might come as a surprise. But these plants tell a story of both history and a dependence on man.

Originally plants of disturbed soils, when early man first took up the cultivation of crops they found a new home in the regularly tilled soils of their small fields. Archaeological records show that plants such as Corn Salad (Valerianella locusta) and Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus) were growing in amongst the barley or oats.

Coming forward to the present day we need to understand that this relationship with farmers regularly cultivating their land is what continues to give plants such Weasel's-snout (Misopates orontium) and Common Poppy (Papaver rhoeas) the opportunity to bring colour to our countryside and food to the numerous insects that feed on them. If land is put down to pasture then the seed in the soil will die off and the arable flora will be lost. With Wales having lost over 65% of its arable land in the last 100 years then the situation is precarious. Added to that is the widespread use of herbicides and seed cleaning technology to produce stands of pure crops with no other plants present.

Plantlife have been working with Natural Resources Wales and the Welsh Government to map the most important remaining areas for our arable flora and discussing and advising management with farmers throughout Wales. We now have a national picture of where the best areas are and payments to farmers through the Glastir agri-environment scheme have helped to maintain some populations.

In looking forward beyond Brexit Plantlife are proposing to work with a number of organisations and farmers to work out the best way to support the conservation of this forgotten flora in the future.

This year also marks the end of the First World War and the National Museum Cardiff is holding a special exhibition on Poppies for Remembrance until March 2019. We are pleased to be working with the Museum to produce a Poppy Spotter sheet for the public to explore their own area for these distinctive plants many of which rely on our arable fields for their continued survival.

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