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The days are lengthening and spring is almost here, the cold of winter melts away and the spring sunshine brings new life to the Cotswolds. Wildflowers such as snowdrops and daffodils have been providing an important nectar source for insects and ...

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The days are lengthening and spring is almost here, the cold of winter melts away and the spring sunshine brings new life to the Cotswolds. Wildflowers such as snowdrops and daffodils have been providing an important nectar source for insects and other invertebrates for some weeks now, while they in turn become a springtime snack for our birds and other wildlife. The limestone grasslands of the Cotswolds provide a unique diversity of flora, but this important wildlife habitat has become isolated and fragmented due to intensification of farming in the past. Now farmers and landowners are working to restore and recreate this important flower rich grassland across the AONB, and the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group is there to offer them help and advice (01452 627487).

If you happen to be out walking in the Cotswolds at this time of year, here are some once common but now less so, wildflowers that you may be lucky to see in flower at this time of year.

Blooming lovely!

Common Name:

Pasqueflower

Cotswold Pennycress

Early Purple Orchid

Juniper

Cowslip

Bluebell

Flowers:

March to May.

April to May.

April to late June.

April to May.

April to May.

April to May.

Description:

The Pasque flower is easily identified with its beautiful and quite large purple bell-like flowers, encircled with golden anthers. A low plant, covered with silky hairs, it has feathery leaves which form a rosette around the stem at ground level.

Cotswold penny-cress has a cluster of white flowers about two millimetres in diameter. As they ripen, they form heart-shaped seed pods below the flowers. With one or more stems, it has a rosette of waxy grey-green leaves at the base of the plant. The leaves are roughly oval with scalloped edges. Its stem leaves are narrower and encircle the stem.

The Earley Purle Orchid ranges in height from 10-60 cm, with a basal cluster of four to eight shiny, oblong, blunt-tipped leaves. There are 20-50 pinkish-purple flowers in a loose spike. The sepals spread upwards, almost touching above the loose hood formed by the upper sepal and blunter petals. The spur is stout, blunt and upturned. White-flowered plants are not infrequent.

The juniper is a tough adaptable plant that mostly exist as low straggly shrubs on exposed limestone grassland sites. Bushes can vary between 1 to 10m tall & can form tall, conical spires. It has dark green evergreen leaves with very prickly stems. Its small flowering cones turn into small, hard, green berries, which take up to 3 yrs to ripen to a dark purple colour.

The cowslip is a well-known spring flowering plant, which was once far more common than it is today. Low growing, its crinkley green leaves form a rosette of leaves with both sides covered with fine downy hair. The characteristic funnel-shaped, yellow flowers are in clusters of 10-30 together on a single stem 5-20 cm tall. Red-flowered plants do occur

Sometimes called 'Wild Hyacinths', bluebells are normally found growing in wooded areas throughout the U.K especially in coppiced woodlands. In early spring the bluebell bulbs push up shiny narrow leaves through the leaf litter on the woodland floor. The delicate bell-shaped flowers hang from a straight central stem.

UK Distribution:

Rare - found only in England. Occurs on the limestone grasslands of the Cotswolds, on East Anglian chalk and the Chilterns. Also Cambridgeshire and Yorkshire.

As its name suggests, this plant is very local in its range, being found at eight sites in the Cotswolds in Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire, but has also become established at other sites inside and outside this area.

Widespread throughout the British Isles, especially in the southern half of England. Populations have been lost in central England and in Scotland, where it is far less common in the northeast. In Ireland it is more frequent in t

Found across most of the UK, juniper is one of our three native conifers, the other two being Scots pine and yew. Although it's extremely irregular in its distribution. They can be found in the Scottish Highlands, Southern English chalk, Chilterns, North Downs & Salisbury Plain.

Found in well-drained, herb-rich grasslands. Can occur in scrub or woodland edges or rides, seasonally flooded areas and calcareous cliffs. Having suffered a sharp decline between 1930 & 1980, the cowslip is now fairly widespread in the UK, accept in Scotland.

Found the length and breadth of the UK the bluebell wood in flower is one of the most stunning sights of the British countryside. A very British spectacle, nowhere else in the world do they grow in such abundance.

Factfile:

A member of the Buttercup family, it is called pasque flower or Easter flower as this is the time of year when it is usually in bloom. Known originally from the French passefleur, 'the flower which excells', in the past it was collected by flower girls and sold in cities.

An unusual member of the cabbage family, it was dispersed by often being blown along railway lines by trains, or introduced with the limestone railway ballast Observed growing in pasture, scree, walls and in quarries. It grows as an annual and can over-winter.

Grows in a wide variety of habitats on neutral or calcareous soils, flourishing in particular in broadleaved woodland and coppices. It also grows on calcareous grassland, limestone pavement, road verges and beside damp flushes on coastal cliffs.

Buff-tailed Bumblebees frequently visit the flowers.

Juniper is a slow-growing tree which may live for up to 200 years. The male and female flowers are on separate plants, pollinated by the wind. Birds are largely responsible for the spread of the tree. The dark purple berries are famous for flavouring gin.

Cowslips belong to the Primrose family, its name deriving from "cowpat", (Old English "cuslyppe"), from where they would spring up when they were common in the wild. Cowslips are a favourite food of wild rabbits and a food plant of the Duke of Burgundy Fritillary butterfly, Plain Clary and Northern Rustic moths.

Bluebells flower early in the year so they can make good use of all the available light, before the canopy above them blocks out the sun. When the bluebells start flowering, many butterflies are becoming active after winter hibernation and make use of their nectar

Conservation Status:

Pasque flower is a scarce, native plant, which has been lost from many of its former sites due mainly to a decline in habitat quality. In the wild this plant occurs on dry, chalk & limestone grasslands, but due to a lack of grazing & arable cultivation sites have become colonised by scrub & taller grasses & herbs with the low growing pasquefower being out-competed.

Cotswold pennycress is listed in the UK Biodiversity Action Plans. Threats include the increased use of herbicides and the removal of walls, hedges and associated banks. This plant benefits from 'overgrazing', as this practise prevents the grass sward from closing over and reducing opportunities to colonise bare patches

The Early Purple Orchid has suffered decline sue to the loss of limestone grassland in the Cotswolds since the 1940's. It can still be seen on many important areas of common land where traditional grazing with cattle continues, such as Minchinhampton and Rodborough commons. Many of the commons are designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest for their floristic richness.

Juniper is a component of several important habitats is believed to have declined by up to 60% since 1960. Listed under the UK Biodiversity Action Plans, the biggest threat to the plant is over-grazing, preventing regeneration of young bushes. But too little grazing also affects juniper as it is shaded out by larger trees. Threats also include burning for game shooting.

The decline in cowslips was caused by the use of herbicides and the ploughing of grasslands. Herbicides were also used on waysides until the 1980s. The species has increased in recent years as cowslips have been planted on road verges, and wildflower seed mixtures often contain the seeds of cowslip. Cowslips have also returned to areas where grazing has been greatly reduced,

Competition with non-native bluebells and illegal collection of bulbs are the main threat to the bluebells future. The Spanish Bluebell is common in our gardens and is more vigorous than the UK species. It readily crossbreeds, creating a fertile hybrid which dilutes the unique characteristics of our native bluebell. Bluebells are a protected species, making collection from the wild illegal.

How can we help:

Intensive management involving the removal of scrub, alongside the reintroduction of grazing have met with an increase in numbers in some areas.

Due to its low dispersal rate, one way to help this plant would be to create suitable 'corridors' such as the development of railways and the opening of new quarries with the continuing use of existing sites.

Farmers and landowners are helping to protect and recreate limestone grassland by entering agri-environmental schemes with Natural England. The schemes make payments for land to be sensitively managed for conservation value.

Many juniper populations are within Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), and there are grants available to landowners to encourage sensitive management of the plant.

If planting Cowslips in a meadow, don't cut the grass until after the plant has set its seed in late July. A number of churchyards are now being sensitively managed for wildlife, allowing a resurgence of this well-loved and cheering spring flower.

If you want to dig up non-native Bluebells from your garden or land, please dispose of them carefully. Dig plants up after they have flowered with their leaves intact, and leave them in the sun to dry out for as long as a month.

Why not join us today? Your support makes all the difference for wildlife. The Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group works together with farmers, smallholders & communities, in providing grants advice and conservation-sensitive land management. For more information about FWAG log on to www.FWAG.org.uk or call Gloucester FWAG on 01452 627487.

Pete Storror,

Gloucester Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group

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