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Nature / Time to appreciate abundance of local wildflowers

Shetland Amenity Trust is seeking help from local folk to record wildflowers while out exercising

Bulbous Buttercup will be flowering soon – it likes sandy links and cliff tops and is decreasing in Shetland. You can tell it from the other buttercups as it has reflexed (bent down) sepals – as can be seen this in photo. If anyone found it then a grid reference would be really helpful

IN THIS digital age many of us are spending more time indoors as our work and entertainment increasingly becomes enveloped within screens and technology, writes Alex Purbrick.

The natural world is further removed from our daily lives by demands for Internet connection and remote networking taking precedence over our relationship to the wildlife, plants and ecology of our local environment.

According to a recent report compiled by the National Trust 80 per cent of adults questioned had never or very rarely taken the time to smell wildflowers.

Compared to young children who love wildflowers and pick them with a carefree joy, celebrating their beauty, adults it seems have long since abandoned the innocent appreciation of nature’s colourful palette.

As lockdown has forced us to spend more time in our local areas could we as adults reclaim that innocent childhood delight by taking the time to stop, look and appreciate the myriad of wildflowers blooming beneath our feet as we take our daily exercise?

The amenity trust’s natural heritage officer Paul Harvey inspecting some hawkweed. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

Shetland Amenity Trust natural heritage officer Paul Harvey is appealing for people to take photos or make a list of the different wildflowers spotted on their walks and submit them to the Shetland Biological Records database.

“I’d like to help people learn the different wildflower species and confirm identifications that they may be unsure of,” Harvey said.

“It makes my life much easier though if when people find a plant they mark the grid reference of where they found it, even a dot on a map and then send a photo of that map; otherwise it’s really hard for me to relocate that specific plant.

Frog Orchid – another coastal grassland species and also serpentine heath in northern isles. Very distinctive – declining nationally but doing okay locally. Again a grid reference would be good if people find it. Won’t be flowering for 2-3 weeks yet though.

“Most iPhones will give you a grid reference on a map app. There are plants that are scarce, which would be a positive thing to identify and see their location and enter onto the database.

“Gathering this information is positive in that it tells us a bit about the land quality of meadows and nutrient status of soils.

“Certain flowers grow where there is a flush of particular nutrients with interesting habitats that are quite rare in Shetland.”

We are fortunate to have a rich landscape of wildflowers here in Shetland compared to the mainland where more intensive agricultural practises have led to a severe decline in many native wildflower species.

The agri-environment climate schemes which have been available to farmers and land managers in Shetland for the last few years have provided funding to help maintain land in less intensive ways and strengthen iconic species and habitats such as meadows and wetlands which has helped some wildflowers to flourish.

A healthy landscape is one where diversity of species thrives. Wildflowers keep soil healthy because their roots stabilise the surrounding soil ensuring the nutrients stay in the soil and do not get washed away.

Field Gentian – another plant that is declining nationally. Found in variety of habitats up here including some roadside verges. Again good indicator that no inorganic fertlisers have been used. Grid reference would be really good if folk find it.

Harvey continued saying: “Lots of wildflowers also mean lots of seeds and insects which are good for birds as well.

“A flower rich environment attracts lots of wildlife which feed on the pollen and nectar and create a more vibrant ecosystem which even if it’s a strip around the edge of a field, can make a big difference to the quality of the land.”

If lockdown can grant us a gift, it’s that we hopefully have become more aware of the colours, beauty and tiny worlds inhabited by nature around our homes and not simply taken their existence for granted or seen the world of nature as separate from our own.

Lady Bird Johnson, wife of former US President Lyndon Johnson, famously declared that “where flowers bloom so does hope.”

And at times during lockdown when hope seems to be in short supply, the blooming of the wildflowers is a comforting reminder that whatever the human trials and tribulations, nature continues to enrich our lives with colour and joy if we take the time to stop and wonder.

To submit photos and/or notes of wildflower species with grid references email: paul.harvey@shetlandamenity.org