Flower of the Glens flourishes again despite hapless humans
The only place in Northern Ireland where the rare wood cranesbill is found is one of the nine Glens of Antrim — but it looks like it could be in for a new lease of life.
Over the years the tiny flower has vanished from more and more of the sites in the Glen of Glenarm — and it has emerged that one cause of its decline is well-meaning attempts at conservation.
Most plants thrive when the site where they live receives special protection, but the wood cranesbill started to disappear when woodland sites where it was found were fenced off to protect plants from grazing cattle.
Maeve Rafferty, key species officer with the Ulster Wildlife Trust, said: “When the grazing stopped in these woods it was too heavily shaded for the cranesbill.
“It happened on a lot of woodland sites — they were fenced off and those plants that liked a bit more light suffered.”
The plant has also been hit by the disappearance of the hay meadows in Glenarm where it once thrived, as farmers try to boost yield by improving their land.
But the Ulster Wildlife Trust is celebrating after attempts to create a new haven for the wood cranesbill proved successful, with new plants appearing this summer. They cut hay from a nature reserve which still boasts the largest colonies of the flower and experimented with spreading it on neighbouring farmland.
Maeve said: “With the help of willing farmers Anne Marie and Liam Reid, freshly cut hay from our Feystown Nature Reserve containing the wood cranesbill seed was spread over the Reids’ nearby field in July last year.
“Two small plots in the field were then sown with hand-collected cranesbill seed, and remaining seed was sown in pots to test its viability.
“We are thrilled to report initial signs of success with impressive germination from our seed pots but, best of all, cranesbill seedlings have been found growing in the Reids’ field as a direct result of our activity.”
The Ulster Wildlife Trust thanked volunteers from the Glenarm Wildlife Group for their invaluable practical help, as well as the Northern Ireland Environment Agency for their support throughout the project.
For more information about the work the Ulster Wildlife Trust is doing for threatened species in Northern Ireland visit www.ulsterwildlifetrust.org and click on ‘Biodiversity’.