A long time ago, thirty years actually, I walked down the South Avenue and it was bare. Small lime trees were struggling for life, hedges were succumbing to glyphosphate (well the hawthorn was) and the grassland was full of creeping bent and thistle. A terrible walk, one that disappointed, a barren desert for biodiversity. Ten years later I tried to spray out the thistle with MCPA- what a waste of money and time; an absolutely useless agrochemical, it merely burnt off the green but left the roots to spring back to life whilst eliminating any wild flowers that had tried to venture forth into the wasteland they called a grassland. We mucked the limes, laid the hedges and sowed as much wild flower seed as I could afford to buy from Emorsgate seeds . Since then Richard Brown, who manages the business, has become a very good friend and adviser and we have had many trips away to far-flung lands to look at their pristine and biodiversity rich meadows. To supplement the meagre amount of seed I could purchase the countryside team and I have collected a vast array of wild flower seeds over the years from the roadsides of SW Cambridgeshire.
Not only that, we have moved tons and tons of green hay from one flower rich meadow to another in dire need of it. Time and patience reward those who wait…
Now the grassland is coming to life- by no means complete but, getting there. This year the butterflies and bees adorned the grassland in their thousands, a sight I have never seen in England and normally only one I see in Eastern Europe. It’s been a grand year for butterflies too.
Even the farmland is blossoming since it went organic. Many years ago I used to see common poppies in abundance, now there are few to be seen, however the fields do occasionally turn yellow with flowering charlock. This year these poppies were to be found on the Burwash Manor Farm in Barton which is also organic- just couldn’t resist taking photos of this fabulous display of red. That said I have also spread wildflower seed on the margins at Wimpole to good effect especially the chalk slopes where you can now find species again that were once a common sight- rock rose, dropwort, clustered bellflower, small teasel and the like. With care these chalk land species and others will proliferate and one will start to see even more species of butterfly at Wimpole like the chalk blue, small blue and maybe one or two other real rarities. One little butterfly I would like to encourage is the small copper, a very rare sight at present at Wimpole so we need more sheep’s sorrel.
Other plants we have nurtured are the wetland species- some have always been here in low numbers but have now increased, others we have added like purple loosestrife and, rather oddly, hemp agrimony has turned up out of the blue and this year we have recorded corn parsley and blue fleabane which have appeared in numbers (these have not been introduced and tend to be plants more at home on the coastline, wonder if they know something!!!!!!!! Wimpole-by-sea?). Arable weeds seem to be springing up too- weasel snout, Venus’ looking glass, night-flowering catchfly amongst others.
One real bonus that has appeared are the orchids, these have increased exponentially but we only have pyramid, bee, common spotted, twayblade and broad-leaved helleborine (woodland one) at present. One can only hope others will follow like the green winged or the lesser butterfly… we will see.
Finally, I collected some crested cow-wheat from Barkway many years ago and many thanks must go to Sarah Dawson who had spotted the clump. A few seeds were collected and duly put in a pot to grow… of course nothing happened as I didn’t realise they were semi parasitic, very disappointed I threw the soil into a hedge at Wimpole and forgot all about the whole episode until, a few years later, my father enquired as to the plant he had photographed… it was crested cow wheat! “Where did you find that?” I asked. Turns out the soil I threw away still had viable seeds… how lucky! Now this rather rare plant can be found in many small corners on the estate. Meanwhile, the little clump in Barkway still exists but has never spread.