3 Aug 2020

Wildflower Highlights – Great Burnet

Bruce Langridge

I’ve been leading guided walks around Waun Las NNR for many years. I love doing them – I can share my enthusiasm and knowledge of the site with people who are interested.

But I also learn from people who come on the walks.

Great burnet Sanguisorba officinalis is a good example of this. Whilst I was getting all excited by the orchids naturally spreading across our hay meadows, experienced nature conservationists kept asking why we had so much great burnet, and gardeners kept referring to the great burnet varieties that had in their garden.

This is, after all, an attractive perennial wildflower, with attractive pinnate leaves and eyecatching blood red flower spikes atop 1m high long slender stems which look like suspended red baubles in a mid-summer meadow. Pollinators like it too – you’ll find a wide variety of butterflies, bees, moths and flies feeding on it.

So why does Waun Las have so much great burnet?

When I first got to know the site around 20 years ago, it used to be most prominent in a few damp patches around Waun Las, and especially noticeable on Cae Trawscoed hay meadow, amongst soft rush. It was also in our Wild Garden, where it’s likely to have been in the original seed mix for this experimental plant display. Since then, we’ve reduced the fertility of our soils on Waun Las and it has spread onto the drier areas of the hay meadows we’ve created, especially Cae Waun, a former pasture that received a green hay crop from Cae Trawscoed in 2016. Why so much here compared to the neighbouring field Cae Derwen? Maybe Cae Waun received the cut hay from the damper burnet rich part if Cae Trawscoed, and Cae Derwen received hay from the drier patches.

The point that people on my guided walks were making is that this member of the rose plant family has noticeably declined across the Welsh countryside due to the intensification of agriculture. So to see it thriving here was great to see. We think that seed we collect and sell from Waun Las can help to arrest this decline and would be a real asset to people who want to restore wildflowers in their own meadows or even add it to their wild patch of lawn.

If you’d like to buy great burnet seed, it should be available around October. Last year, my colleague Dr. Kevin McGinn, with the help of conservation volunteers, collected some great burnet seed from Waun Las for the Welsh Seed Bank which is based in our Science Centre. But this year we’re hoping to collect significantly more seed to sell.


Waun Las National Nature Reserve is an organic working farm which is physically part of the National Botanic Garden of Wales – it’s less than 5 minutes’ walk away from the Great Glasshouse.

It has meadows full of rare and endangered wildflowers which have arrived naturally due to the way we farm – mainly through strategic grazing and hay cutting.  We hope what we do will also encourage others to manage their land for nature.

In 2016 we carried out an experiment to move freshly cut ‘green hay’ from two wildflower rich meadows (Cae Trawsgoed and Cae Tegeirianau) to two species-poor pasture (Cae Derwen and Cae Waun). Within just three years, orchids were growing on the receiver fields. In 2019 we also added ‘green hay’ to another grass-dominated pasture Cae Gwair.