When I was young, wildflowers were in decline. Meadows still fell to the plough, and hedgerows and field margins were lost in the drive towards greater agricultural mechanisation and higher crop yields. As a consequence, I grew up thinking of meadow flowers as something of a rarity.
The loss of wildflower meadows was greater than simply a lack of colour in the countryside, though. The multiple shades of red, yellow, pink, purple and blue represent a broad variety of plants which, in turn, support a more diverse population of insects. This diversity translates itself right through the food chain, with each level supporting a wider range of creatures, all the way up to the top.
Such diversity might not in itself seem important, but nice as it may be to see more wildlife in our countryside the real boon is that it’s indicative of a strong ecosystem, and that benefits the planet – and us.
Take bees as an example. The honey they produce is something of a miracle food, which besides being a natural sweetener also has a range of health benefits. It can help lower cholesterol and reduce heart disease, is naturally antiseptic, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, it aids digestion and boosts the immune system, and can help heal wounds.
But bees are also prodigious pollinators. Incredibly, it takes around 2 million flower visits to produce one 500g/1lb jar of honey and bees will fly the equivalent of the circumference of the earth to produce a single teaspoonful. Without their constant search from flower to flower for nectar, many of the fruits and vegetables we eat, and the plants we grow in our gardens, would simply fail to reproduce. All of which is quite amazing when you stop to think about it.
Circumstances have changed in recent decades and walking the fields over the past week or two it has been a cheerful sight to see so many wildflowers in bloom. Where once they were cut down, ploughed under or sprayed with toxic chemicals, today they are positively encouraged now their role is better understood. So, not only do they provide a blaze of colour in our rural landscape, they are indicators of a healthy countryside, too.
That’s what I call a win-win situation.