Written by: Ampthill Climate Change Group (Project Managers)
This project has established wildflower haven areas for pollinator support on a number of grass verges and open space areas within the small market town of Ampthill. Although the town is surrounded by open countryside and has nature reserve areas on its boundaries, there is limited green space within the settlement envelope. The project aimed to create self-sustaining patches of local native wildflowers to provide pollinator corridors. Additionally, the wildflower havens have been a focus for informing residents about our local flora, the need for pollinator support and the town’s identity within Greensand Country. A committed volunteer group have carried out planting and monthly monitoring and will continue to develop the project into the future
11 Bee-Friendly Zones have been established, 5 of these are planted with perennial locally sourced wildflowers, and a further 6 are regeneration sites, with wildflowers emerging from the sward once it was left unmown. The sites give a feel of the countryside inside the town, and have generated much local interest, as evidenced by views of posts on Facebook about the sites and the volunteer activity regularly reaching 1000+.
A committed volunteer group has been established, carrying out planting, watering and monthly site monitoring, following training from Sue Raven from The Greensand Trust, funded by the GCLP grant. This group expects to carry out further planting, clearing of cuttings and on-going monitoring in years ahead.
Support from the GCLP has enabled us to engage with CBC, who manage the majority of the sites, to negotiate a change in mowing contract to protect the wildflower haven sites, but also to reduce the frequency of summer mowing to allow more low-growing wildflowers to flourish on all the town’s verges.
We were able to be a part of the CPRE Living Countryside Awards scheme, and have had Ampthill included in the Buglife charity’s Bee-Lines initiative.
Benefits to people
Volunteers have built up a strong sense of identification with the project areas, and a better appreciation of the flora in our local countryside. There is much sharing of information about species identification and the progress of each site.
Local lower schools have been keen to establish their own bee-friendly/wildflower areas and have approached us for advice and we have produced school resources on Bee-Friendly gardening which focus on easy/cost free strategies.
During various lockdown periods over the project establishment period, the Bee-Friendly zones have created interest and added variety to local walks. The wildflower havens have become part of Ampthillians’ pride in their community.
As one of the project leaders, I find that my whole appreciation of the countryside has been altered by understanding what I am seeing on roadsides, hedgerows and in wildflower meadows. I have changed my own garden to create a summer wildflower meadow.
Benefits to heritage & landscape
Prior to the scheme, much of the grassed space in Ampthill was overmown, leaving it desiccated in hotter weather. Reducing mowing frequency has improved the look of the town as the grass is more verdant, but the town also looks more like older photographs of its rural past, with verges becoming daisy and dandelion rich and wildflower haven areas resembling field margins.
Print and social media have been used to try to move understanding of a “wildflower verge” away from the cornfield annual show which was an initial expectation. The Bedfordshire Oracle has been a robust partner in publishing The Ampthill Buzz updates. Also www.ampthillclimatechange.co.uk has a full explanation of the project and updates on developments. The parish magazine “Around The Pump” is also used to communicate project aims and developments, and has helped establish the wildflower areas as a part of Ampthill’s heritage. The ACCG Facebook page is also used to introduce information about the local, sometimes rare, wildflowers we find on the sites.
The wildflower haven sites have increased species diversity partly because of the planted species, but also from sward regeneration and reduced mowing frequency. This has been recorded monthly through May, June, July and August with quadrat sampling and a total species count. This year’s results are a baseline to compare in the future, but also show improvement from zero/limited flowering species as the areas were previously close mown.
The sites do allow some pollinator corridor flow, linking nature reserves on either side of the town by reducing the distance between flower rich areas.
The species appearing would not normally be viewable within an urban setting – Meadow Cranesbill, Teasel, Ragged Robin, Cowslip, Greater Stitchwort for example – so it has made these wildflower associations and rural feel more accessible to some residents less able to get out into our local woodlands and fields. Elderly residents have commented that there are flowers they haven’t seen since childhood growing in our sites.
Challenges & Lessons learnt
Creating wildflower verges has much popular support and we undertook the project because of the number of residents stating through ACCG that this was what they wanted to see happen, and to help with. However, there was an expectation that this was as easy as throwing in a few seeds, and that a vibrant multicoloured swathe of flowers would result. Educating ourselves as how best to proceed and then educating volunteers and residents about what a wildflower rich area would look like, which would be self-sustaining and not require actually ploughing up verges was a challenge.
Negotiating with CBC Ampthill Town Council and Ampthill Great Park as landowner/managers was very positive, but time consuming and is on-going. Delays in securing some site permissions delayed planting of some sites. Many areas within the town on newer housing estates are managed by different development/land management companies, so simply finding out who to contact has been difficult. However, Meadfleet Estate Management was very responsive and has collaborated with The Ampthill Buzz as part of its commitment to the Buglife Charity. We are actively monitoring a regeneration site on their managed estate.
Weather conditions have presented problems with a delay in a major planting project to hot dry spring weather. Some sites needed emergency watering. Later, there was resident concern about verge management as a very rainy May led to a growth spurt.
Covid lockdowns and restrictions also caused planting delays. Planting parties worked in small groups under “rule of six” when this was allowed.
Because the concept of getting permission for establishing wildflower verges seemed new within Central Bedfordshire, we have tried to emphasize the need for establishment of a system to do this so that other communities will find it easier. As a new community/volunteer group, we could have been better set up to register and keep track of volunteer time, which has certainly been under-reported. However, we set up as Covid affected the country, and were very constrained by that (e.g. at one point even getting people to sign a record sheet was seen as an infection risk). Additionally, a number of volunteers did not want to formalize a commitment due to the uncertainty caused by covid. Our volunteer, and site reporting records are evolving.
Our successful strategy for progress has been to start with a report or briefing of what we hope to achieve. This should be as detailed as possible and clearly state the outcome desired from the body being approached. The full set of “asks” from the initial report may well not be achieved, but something is achieved.
“I have only received good comments from residents who think we are doing a good thing for local wildlife. I have also received several requests from people outside the town for information so that they can do something similar in their own village. Personally, I have gained
more knowledge of wildflower varieties (and hope to learn even more) and it has been great to work alongside people who share my interest in the environment. I am looking forward to seeing the areas develop over the
next few years.”
Jayne Anthony, Project Co-Leader
“I’d just like to say that being involved with the Ampthill Buzz wildflower project has been a worthwhile and educational experience. I never knew that so many vital plants were being suppressed by regular mowing and I’ve learned to appreciate how the biodiversity of bugs and insects depend so much on them.
I’m surprised at how well these sites have been accepted by local residents. Perhaps a reflection of the growing awareness of how we need to look after our environment and try to live alongside nature.”
Steve Kirby, volunteer