Choosing a Site
What may look like scruffy, untidy grassland at present, may be providing a home for various small mammals such as wood mouse or common shrew, which in turn are providing a plentiful food source for birds of prey. Survey before destroying one habitat to create another.
The survey may reveal a high abundance of weeds, which, if you don't have enough time to completely eradicate, will come back year after year. Think about choosing another area if this is the case.
Is the site likely to be heavily disturbed by people trampling through the wildflowers? If so, maybe choose somewhere else so that the pollinators can thrive undisturbed. By all means, shout about your new Nectar Network area and let people come and see, but remember that it is primarily for wildlife.
Sun is so important for wildflower establishment. The warmth from the sun also gets bees, butterflies and hoverflies ready to face the day. Make sure your site gets plenty of sun by choosing somewhere which is south, south east or south west facing (it's best to avoid the north if possible).
Does your potential site link with another nectar-rich area? The Nectar Network is all about providing linkage between pollinator habitats.
1. Be Sure
Just double check once again that the site is suitable. Make sure that it isn't important for other wildlife in its current state.
2. Bare Ground
If the ground is bare and there is no vegetation present, go ahead and sow!
3. Unfavourable Grasses
If that isn't the case, the next step will be determined by the type of vegetation already present. If the current vegetation composition consists of fine-leaved grasses (common bent, sweet vernal grass, crested dogstail or red fescue) then a simple cut, collect and mild scarify will suffice prior to sowing.
If the site is mostly composed of ranker grasses such as Yorkshire fog and rye grass, a more intense treatment will be needed. Cut, collect and intensively scarify to 40% bare ground before sowing. Note that a herbicide may be applied in addition to further thin out the sward.
Cut, collect and scarification works are best carried out during autumn and early spring. Wildflower seeds can be sown during the same time periods, however autumn is best, particularly if sowing species which require a frost before they can germinate (yellow rattle is a good example of such a species).
Left wondering what to do with all those grass clippings? Instead of disposing, why not create a compost heap or create discrete piles of clippings and leaf litter for overwintering reptiles and amphibians. Make sure to place these away from the wildflower site however as nutrients from the compost will leachate and enhance 'weed' growth.
Choosing the Right Wildflowers
1. Perennials or Annuals
A true wildflower meadow consists of only perennials and the Nectar Network aims to create real wildflower meadows. However, for places where there is higher expectations, a few native annuals are acceptable to give a more instant result.
All of the wildflower species sown at the many Nectar Network sites are native to the UK and are known to grow wild in Ayrshire. Avoid choosing wildflowers that you have never seen growing in the local landscape. Take a look around and see what grows naturally and replicate that on your site.
3. Local Provenance
Everyone likes eating local produce, so why shouldn't our wildflower seed be local too? If possible, source your wildflower seed as locally as possible. It may be more expensive but it is the best option if the budget allows.
Choose an array of species which will cater for different pollinators. Purple flowers for bees and disc shaped flowers for butterflies. Take a look through the wildflowers in the Nectar section of the website for inspiration.
Once you have established a wildflower area, the work doesn't stop there.
Most wildflower meadows are given an annual cut and collect to ensure that weeds and unfavourable grasses don't outcompete the wonderful wildflowers that have taken hours of hard work to establish. It is best to cut your wildflower area during autumn, after the plants have set seed.
If you feel that grasses are overtaking, a scarification treatment can be undertaken following cutting and collecting, albeit much less intense than when the ground was being prepared for sowing. If this is not feasible, consider frequently cutting and collecting through autumn to the following March to really keep the grasses at bay.