Keep an EYE on wild side of life

Wild flowers have felt the squeeze in recent years as farming changes and urban development have led to major habitat loss.

Wild flowers have felt the squeeze in recent years as farming changes and urban development have led to major habitat loss.

Losses of hay meadows, especially, have been wholesale and roadside verges have become a refuge for wild flowers.

Precarious pockets of flowers also occupy scattered urban sites.

Now a project has been launched to survey the region and identify where wild flowers are growing in both rural and built-up areas.

The Wildflowers on Your Doorstep survey is being run by the EYE ( Exploring Your Environment) project, in partnership with the North-East Biodiversity Forum.

EYE officer Naomi Hewitt is appealing to people across the region to report wildflower sites - including urban spots where only a few plants may be hanging on.

It is hoped that, as well as building up a map of wildflower distribution, the survey will plot and preserve areas of unimproved grassland which have survived the pressures.

"Throughout the North-East, there are pockets of special grassland which are home to a variety of wildflowers. But many of these are in danger through development," said Naomi.

"By asking people to let us know where they spot wildflowers, we can build up a picture of where they are and work to protect locations. We want to hear about flowers in woods, fields, parks, roadside verges and waste ground."

EYE is particularly keen to hear about 12 "indicator" flowers.

These are betony, cowslip, meadow cranesbill, lady's bedstraw, meadow vetchling, red clover, meadow sweet, common spotted orchid, eyebright, common dog violet, knapweed and devil's-bit scabious.

"Because of factors like habitat loss and climate change, plants do move around, and wildflowers support insects, bees and butterflies," says Naomi.

The three-year EYE scheme, backed by a £226,500 Heritage Lottery Fund grant, is a Newcastle University project, which is managed by Tyne and Wear Museums and sponsored by Northumbrian Water.

People can record sightings on www.eyeproject.org.uk. Copies of the survey form are available by contacting the EYE Project on (0191) 222-7868.

EYE was launched six months ago with the aim of encouraging people to become involved in learning about and safeguarding the environment by collecting natural data and sightings.

* Cumbria Wildlife Trust has chosen nine sites totalling 35 acres which are being converted back into wildflower-rich meadows.

Nearby seed sources have been identified to ensure that only local, native stock will be used.

Various restoration methods have been used, including sowing from seed, plug planting, and spreading green hay on prepared ground.

A trust spokesman said: "Careful monitoring and additional treatment over the next two growing seasons will ensure these fields become the first steps towards reversing such a massive decline in these meadows.

"But the exercise has shown very clearly that it is a much more difficult and demanding to restore sites than it is to lose them."

Meanwhile, the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Partnership is looking for contractors with experience in and enthusiasm for restoring wildflower meadows as part of its Hay Time project.

At least 300 acres of meadow will be restored over the next three years.

Hay Time officer John O'Reilly said: "It involves harvesting wild flower seed from species-rich upland hay meadows and spreading it on nearby meadows that are being restored."

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