Tania Pascoe: what wild spaces mean to me
Tania Pascoe, the author of Wild Garden Weekends (Wild Things Publishing), tells us about her passion for wild flowers and the UK’s hidden wild spaces.
“To walk through a wild flower-strewn meadow on a sunlit morning is to experience the timeless beauty of our country’s nature. Dew encrusted edible cuckoo flowers bend with the weight of the orange-tip butterflies and cowslips and violets decorate unploughed fields. To stand in a woodland cathedral, strewn with the delicate raised-heads of anemones and listen to the dawn chorus is, for me, a deep and heart-lifting experience.
“Much of my childhood summers were spent running around in meadows. All-day picnics were busy with cricket catching and butterfly counting. It was idyllic and I still love nothing more than to take a walk into a field strewn with flowers, to lie back in the grass and watch the buzz of life back-lit by the golden sun.
“But finding these special flora-filled places is becoming harder. I’m a sustainability consultant by profession and was deeply moved to learn that today 60% of all our UK species are in decline and that we’ve lost 97% of our wild grasslands and meadows since the 1930s. With so little remaining, I set out on a journey across Britain to chart these special places and to try to encourage others to rediscover the glory of our wild and petalled paradises.
“A countryside walk on a moor, mountain or chalk-downland or is one our nation’s greatest pastimes. Our wildflowers, although small and sometimes seemingly insignificant are a fundamental part of our countryside. Their dainty bright petals have captured our hearts for centuries and they feel even more precious now.
“From Devon to Northumberland, meadow reserves are abundant with a myriad of orchids, lady’s bedstraw, knapweeds, great burnet and crane’s bills. Wild grasslands, such as can still be seen on the coastlines of Cornwall and Pembrokeshire or on the South Downs in Sussex, decorate not only our land but also our psyche. One of my favourite places for a wild walk is the RSPB reserve of Balranald on the Scottish Isle of Lewis. Here you can visit empty coral-white sandy beaches backed by Europe’s rarest wildflower landscape the machair. From May, the landscape grows dense with the most spectacular, scented tapestry of harebells, orchids, thyme and gentian. Rare bumblebees and birds thrive here and further inland you can see the once-common arable flora of poppies and corn marigolds dancing amongst the barley.
“I think there will always be something incredibly romantic about being amongst abundant wild flowers. Poets have written much of their magic and for me the experience is always one of a manifold enchantment. To walk in a summer meadow is to know the bounty of life: where there are flowers there is pollen and nectar and seeds and food for our beloved and much needed insects, mammals and birds. I think that’s why we are seeing the growth of wild garden movement. Not only do we want to plant for the birds and bees but we also want to recreate these wild places through more naturalistic styles of planting. It’s easy to participate and there are no rules – just some seeds planted in a window box will provide food for the insects and give joy to you.”