Monday, April 20, 2009

The importance of the commonplace

Naturalists tend to be obsessed with rarities but it’s the common species that are the foundation of all ecosystems. The billions of dandelions flowering now – common and so taken for granted - provide a reliable source of pollen for honeybees and other insects just when they need it most. Rare species are generally those that are at the natural limits of their range of climatic tolerance anyway, and so come and go according to the vagaries of climate, but it seems to me that we should be most concerned when common species that play a pivotal role in ecosystems become less common – that is a symptom of potential catastrophe. Loss of old pastures has led to a rapid decline in cowslip populations in many parts of the country, but this can be reversed. I found this wonderful display of cowslips – deliberately seeded – just outside of Durham city today. This was a patch that was roughly the size of a medium-sized back garden; imagine what a five acre pasture with a population of cowslips like this would look like. They do still exist - I know of a few in the north east, although none are quite as denslely populated with cowslips as this. The wild plant conservation charity Plantlife has a well established common plants survey that anyone can contribute to – take a look, at

Now is the perfect time to get involved.


  1. Have to agree with you there Greenfingers.
    Even the common species, like the Dandelion, are making a spectacular show with the Daisies along the roadsides here just now.
    Until the local council mow the grass, that is.
    They spend a fortune on Daffodil bulbs, which do look nice, but nature makes a far better job; and all for free.

  2. What a fantastic display of Cowslips. Must have been a beautiful sight. As well as losing spaces for our native wild plants there is the other side of things with changes in gardens. Many of the cultivated plants that our native wildlife depends on are being replaced with 'more exotic' (for want of a better description) plants from other countries. I'm just as guilty as the next in this.
    Brilliant photo of the bee.

  3. I always think it's a real shame when the council gets its lawnmowers out to mow the verges, Holdingmoments. Many roadsides around here will be a solid ribbon of gold for the next week or so, until the mowers arrive.

    Couldn't agree more about cultivating wild plants in the garden, Midmarsh John, although I think it pays to be a bit circumspect about some wild plant species. I introduced Jack-by-the hedge as a food plant for orange tip butterfly caterpillars but it turned out to be far too invasive in cultiated soil. Then I tried the carnation-scented sweet rocket, which is a much more attractive plant and also feeds these caterpillars, and that proved to be a good substitute.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. I much prefer wild flowers, the daisy being one of my favourites, so small and common but seemingly happy to be so. We've let our small garden grow naturally this year, the grass is long enough to lose a small dog in and is glorious first thing in the morning with the sunlight sparkling off the dew. Speaking of small dogs, I caught mine chomping the flower off a dandelion plant yesterday, so I think he approves of the wild look. Either that or he's digraced and is trying to tidy up the only way he knows how!