It was fantastic to see wildflower meadows splashed across The Times page 3 this morning, as well as appearing in the Leader section. The gist of the piece was to amplify the recent thoughts of Trevor Dines, a botanist at Plantlife. Dr. Dines is anxious that generic wildflower seed mixes are being used to restore meadows rather than locally sourced seed, producing a kind of "McMeadows" effect.
There are, of course, lots of reasons why it's much better to use local seed. We promote local harvesters and suppliers as much as we can, and sell their seed through our website. We use local rather than "McMeadows"mixes for larger scale projects whenever we can.
And that's the first problem. 97% of our meadows have disappeared, so it's likely there is no local meadow from which to take seed, particularly on the scale you might require. In the real world, in most cases it is just not possible. So why not look at buying seed from local wildflower seed harvesters? Most harvesters only produce up to 200kg of seed, enough for 16 acres. Sadly, there just isn't demand for more.
There aren't many of them, either - I know of four or five - and the business isn't exactly a ticket to instant wealth. There are a small handful of larger scale wildflower seed specialists, who are generally pretty good (with one or two exceptions!). They're enthusiastic, helpful and knowledgeable.
I assume it's the generic mixes these guys produce which have annoyed Dr. Dines. These mixes are made up from seed usually grown in an individual single species bed and mixed together to predetermined %s, and are often marketed as being appropriate for a particular soil type or situation.
Suppliers would argue that these basic mixes are better than solutions available elsewhere, and consist of species occurring naturally across most of the UK. They are from the UK, reliably available, reasonably priced and have transparent content.
This is not where Dr. Dines should be taking aim. Many commercially available and seed packet "wildflower seed mixes" contain non-UK seed, agricultural cultivars and non-indigenous UK plant species. We are regularly undercut by contractors using these seed mixes, even when UK native wildflower seed is specified. The seed companies selling them are driving prices down, misleading consumers, producing inappropriate mixes and hurting the development of our own wildflower seed production. As are Dr. Dines' comments.
Tarring all "commercial suppliers" with the same brush suggests he may be ideologically motivated. It would be great to think NGOs are able to tackle meadow creation. Sometimes they do, to great effect, but not on the kind of scale we need. There's often no reason for them to be interested in the projects which come up. Nor do NGOs have the manpower, knowledge, time, expertise and necessary equipment to supply and seed large scale sites. We need to encourage specialists in this area and pay them.