Conservation and habitat restoration

The conservation of species and plant communities in their ‘wild natural state' is important. Aside from their intrinsic value and preserving a living record of the past, protected habitats, such as nature reserves, can offer a genetic resource for conservation and restoration projects.

Over the last 30 years, Emorsgate have been able to sample this biodiversity by collecting small quantities of seed from all parts of Britain with the support and co-operation of wildlife trusts and other trustees of natural habitats. The stocks generated from these collections are grown as seed crops on our farms in Norfolk and in Somerset. These crops provide the seed of wild flowers and wild grasses we now offer for sowing in both conservation and landscape projects.

Sowing wild flower and grass seeds is now widely accepted as a conservation strategy: a way to assist natural plant distribution, to repair and re-connect habitats, for example for:

  • Habitat repair through local plant species re-introductions
  • Extending the size of habitat fragments to improve their viability
  • Linking isolated habitats to improve their viability
  • Creating wildlife corridors to promote the wider dispersal of mobile species
  • Creating new habitat to compliment existing habitat
  • Buffering sensitive habitat against threats from adjoining land use
  • Enhancing the biodiversity of depleted areas
  • In-situ plant species conservation
  • Targeted insect and animal species conservation by providing food plants or habitat.

Sowing wild seed was not always viewed as necessary in conservation - why?

Wildlife conservation through most of the twentieth century focused on protecting and monitoring existing wild plant and animal communities in nature reserves and other designated conservation areas. Because of the dedication and enthusiasm of individuals and wildlife trusts many habitats and species that would have been lost have been preserved for future generations.

In spite of all this effort, reports published in the 1970s highlighted a dramatic and continuing loss of natural and semi-natural habitat in the wider British landscape through habitat destruction, degradation and fragmentation: 97% of flower- rich grassland for example had disappeared in just a few decades. These reports did stimulate an interest in sowing wild flower seeds in landscape situations - this however was not viewed at the time as conservation; just one way of putting something back.

More effort has subsequently gone into actively managing habitats to stimulate recovery both within nature reserves and in the wider countryside but by the 1990s it was becoming clear that traditional conservation strategies and natural regeneration were not themselves sufficient to stop the on-going losses of habitat and species biodiversity. Alarmingly, reports also started appearing showing a significant decline of more common plants and animals (like the common house sparrow) and not just of rarer species on endangered lists.

The key realisation is that losses of habitat in the British countryside has progressed to a point where wildlife is left clinging on in small fragmented pockets of land (often nature reserves) and many of these habitats are too small to remain viable in the longer term. Furthermore, these habitat islands are isolated from each other by distance, by ‘sterile' farmland or urban concrete such that recovery by natural dispersal of seeds or animals is unlikely or impossible.

A more pro-active approach is needed, and as part of this, sowing wild seeds is a practical strategy that can at least overcome the limitations arising from restricted natural dispersal of seeds.