One of the aims of the Cornfield Nature Reserve is to conserve declining arable plants. The efficiency of modern herbicides, along with other changes in farming methods, has meant that many once-common cornfield flowers have become very rare. The Cornfield supports healthy, naturally-occurring populations of Corn Mint and Corn Spurrey with a handful of Corn Marigolds appearing in most years. However, we’d like to re-establish some of the rarer plants which formerly grew on cultivated land in the Vale of York, especially species favouring the slightly acidic, sandy-silt soil we have on the Cornfield.
After helpful advice from Tom Normandale and Chris Wilson of the Cornfield Flowers Project, we have established a strip at the eastern end of the field to be managed specifically for arable plants. Following treatment to control invasive Field Horsetail, this has been sown with seed of Bugloss, Corn Spurrey and Corn Marigold collected within the field. Chris and Tom have very kindly provided us with Yorkshire-origin seed of several species which occurred historically in the York area including Shepherd’s Needle, Corn Buttercup, Cornflower, Small Alison and Small-flowered Catchfly.
The Cornfield Flowers Project has painstakingly built-up stock of numerous plants which were on the brink of extinction in Yorkshire, initially growing them in nursery conditions then distributing seed to sympathetic farmers who maintain conservation plots on their land. Many of these species can be seen in the demonstration plot at the Ryedale Folk Museum at Hutton-le-Hole.
Our long-term aim will be to establish self-maintaining populations of these species in the Cornfield, which includes 1.5 hectares sown annually with wildlife seed crops and 1 hectare of fallow along with permanent grass baulks and field margins. However we have long-standing problems with invasive perennial weeds, resulting from poor management in the years before we had control of the field. This will mean that considerable ‘gardening’ will be required, at least for the next few years, to give the introduced species a fighting chance. As always, offers of assistance are most welcome and we’d particularly like to hear from any local botanists who could help monitor the fortunes of these plants.