On Friday, March 9, plant experts from Bristol Zoo Gardens and Somerset Wildlife Trust visited Catcott Primary School in Somerset as part of a combined effort to reintroduce extinct plants on the Somerset Levels.
The pupils received a horticulture lesson from Bristol Zoo’s Horticulture Manger, Mike Adams, and Somerset Wildlife Trust’s Brue Valley Development Officer, Mark Steer.
As well as playing pollination-themed games, pupils at the school were shown how to plant and nurture seeds from a rare West Country plant species called Devil's-bit scabious - an attractive perennial herb with flowers that provide an important source of nectar for butterflies, bees and hoverflies.
Later in the summer, the children will transfer the young plants to Shapwick Moor Nature Reserve, on the Somerset Levels, as part of The Flowering for Life Partnership.
The Flowering for Life Partnership
With help from the Somerset Rare Plants Group, Natural England and the Hawk and Owl Trust, the Flowering for Life Partnership aims to reintroduce rare plants to the fields of Catcott nature reserve and neighbouring Shapwick Moor, increasing the number of plants for pollinator insects such as bumblebees, butterflies and hoverflies.
Mike Adams, of Bristol Zoo, said: “It’s great that Catcott Primary School is keen to get involved in this fantastic project to help increase biodiversity in the fields on their doorstep. We hope we inspired these children to become actively involved in the future protection of these valuable sites.”
Mark Steer, Somerset Wildlife Trust’s Brue Valley Development Officer, added: “Getting hands-on is a great way to learn about wildlife and habitats. We hope that growing the plants helped the children understand more about how important our bee and insect pollinators are and that we can all help create a healthy natural environment.”
Greater Water Parsnip
In addition to the Devil's-bit scabious, the partnership will aim to reintroduce the rare greater water parsnip, which has been classified as ‘nationally scarce’ and is listed on the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP). Just 50 individual greater water parsnip plants are left on the Somerset Levels. It has declined massively across southern Britain due to the loss of wetland habitats and intensive land management practices.
Bristol Zoo’s expert gardeners are currently growing the greater water parsnip from seed in their nurseries. The young plants will then be transferred to Inaura School, also in Somerset, whose pupils will grow them on and plant them out at the two nature reserves.
Decline of flower-rich hay meadows
Both Catcott nature reserve and Shapwick Moor contain fields that are being restored as flower-rich hay meadows a habitat that has declined by over 97 per cent. A survey of both nature reserves highlighted the best areas for reintroductions and also that some of the other fields at Catcott are already amongst the most species rich in the Somerset Levels containing rarities such as marsh stitchwort, marsh pea and milk parsley.
The project has been funded by Biffaward, a multi-million pound environment fund managed by the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts (RSWT), which utilises landfill tax credits donated by Biffa Waste Services.
More details on The Flowering for Life Partnership can to be found here.