Plants

The creation of wild flower meadows are arguably Watchtree Nature Reserve’s biggest challenge. From 2002 when much of the reserve was ‘created’ wild flowers have been a particular focus for site staff, volunteers and research students. We have over 100 acres of traditionally managed wild flower meadow but creating the optimum mix of desired species is not always straightforward and a tremendous amount of work has gone into wild flower meadow habitat creation here at Watchtree.

Sunflower
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Sunflower in wild bird food crop

That said, we do have some really amazing meadow areas and fortunately the meadow closest to the visitor centre is arguably our best! Containing an amazing variety of herbs and grasses this meadow is of such good quality that seed merchants ask us to collect seeds.

From the delightful Ox-eye Daisy and Bird’s-foot Trefoil to the amazing Hay Rattle (this species actually hemi-parasitic meaning it must attach itself to the roots of other species to obtain nutrients), the wild flower meadows are a delight to explore and study.

As well as traditional meadow species we also have some rare species that often colonize the more open and exposed parts of the reserve. Yellow Bartsia was first discovered in 2012 on a small patch of gravel and its believed that only Walney Island has this species in the whole of Cumbria! Common spotted Orchid is seen in most years though does not grow prolifically – you really have to hunt for it unless its growing on a path verge. In the woodlands look out for Common Sorrel with its delicate white flowers that follow the sun as it moves from east to west.

Wood Sorrel

Wood Sorrel

The best time to visit Watchtree for wild flowers is mid June as most of the spring species are still in flower and many summer and late summer species are in evident. The hay cutting period is typically mid to late July but be warned! If its a very dry and warm year (as in 2014) we may cut earlier so if you want to see the hay meadows in full swing be sure to visit before the hay cut!