27 Jul 2017

Seedy Business

Bruce Langridge

Could collecting Welsh wildflower seeds be profitable?

We’re looking at ways to generate more income from our beautiful Waun Las NNR and the key to its beauty may help.

Wildflower seed is becoming an increasingly big business in the UK. It’s been used to improve old industrial land and to landscape new transport routes. Wildflower seed also helps to accelerate the restoration of flower-rich meadows and is increasingly used to attract pollinators to domestic garden lawns. But much of the seed used in Wales comes from ‘away’, from England and continental Europe. There’s also a major problem that many of the commercial garden wildflower seed mixes contain neonicotinoids, the very chemical that is killing our bees.

Could our organically-farmed Waun Las NNR provide a rich source of Welsh wildflower seed? Emorsgate Seeds are helping us to find out. Last week, they brought their uniquely designed brush harvester and collected seeds from our Cae Tegeirianau (Orchid Field) hay meadow high up on the nature reserve.

Last week, they brought their uniquely designed brush harvester and collected seeds from our Cae Tegeirianau (Orchid Field) hay meadow high up on the nature reserve. Emorsgate’s Jane and Linzi spent 5 hours harvesting around 10 acres, collecting a good harvest of mainly yellow rattle, eyebright, buttercup, plantain and crested dog’s-tail. No orchid seed though – our greater butterfly, southern-marsh, heath-spotted and common-spotted orchids in this field have shed their flowers but their seedpods have yet to mature. We’re intending to have a go at hand collecting orchid seed later in the summer, and the beauty of Emorsgate brush harvester is that it doesn’t damage orchid flower spikes, nor indeed does it seem to harm insects including the caterpillars we found on the ‘hopper’ after the harvest.

Hand collecting seed is an interesting option too.

The fluffy seedheads of cat’s ear, hawk-bits and other yellow composite flowers tend to get blown into the air by the brush harvester. So hand collecting is a more effective technique. Our hay meadows have a huge amount of cat’s ear Hypochaeris radicata  but how much can be collected and is it worthwhile?

To help us find out, our volunteer conservation group have helped out. First, we had Ben and Juliana from Coleg Elydir hand collecting individual seedheads on our Cae Trawscoed hay meadow. Watching their relatively slow progress, our ‘Mr Gadget’, John James, decided to use his hand-held Dyson vacuum instead. This worked really well, especially given that you can actually see what’s been harvested. John’s idea might also help collect seed of more fiddly species like great burnet Sanguisorba officinalis.

We’re obviously very conscious of the need to rotate seed collecting across different meadows to allow our plants to continue to thrive, and with this in mind, we’re nurturing a couple of other ‘new’ hay meadows across the reserve. Hopefully, seed collecting could provide a sustainable income source for years to come, and if we can help to generate a demand, maybe we could inspire other Welsh meadow owners to make an income from collecting their own seed.

If you would like to buy our Waun Las seed, it will be available from the Emorsgate seed catalogue next year and we might even have some to sell in our shop this autumn.

Let us know if you’re interested.