Scything of Ryedale Folk Museum’s wildflowers for conservation project

Scything of Ryedale Folk Museum’s wildflower cornfield is now underway, harvesting the seeds of rare British wildflowers as part of a conservation project which is now in its 16thyear.

A common sight in our countryside a hundred years ago, many British wildflowers are now endangered or have been lost altogether, as they have been ‘weeded out’ of our commercial crops.  As wildflowers support an unimaginable diversity of other wildlife, it is also no coincidence that our bees, butterflies, and most iconic native birds – including the skylark and turtle dove – are struggling to survive.  The field, sown with oats and an assortment of wild flowers, is home to a number of extremely rare species which are gradually being reintroduced throughout the region.

“In this year’s cornfield, visitors spotted at least two flowers that have been ‘critically endangered’ for decades, but are now out of intensive care at the museum.  They include the Corn Buttercup, found in just one location in North Yorkshire when the project began 16 years ago – in fact, we found just half a plant that had been cut through by a plough.  We rescued the seeds, and now from those plants nurtured in the museum’s Nursery, thousands of these cheerful flowers can be seen across the region,” comments project officer, Tom Normandale, who has led the harvest of the wildflower seeds using a traditional scythe.  “My other favourite is Shepherd’s-Needle, with its strange-looking seed pods.  It was considered extinct at the beginning of the project, and even today is only found wild in three other locations, so I’m really proud that we can all see it in the museum’s cornfield.”

The grass and oats are cut with a scythe, and then bundled up in piles of 10 bundles, which are left to dry out.  The seed will then be shared with any other farms wishing to get involved in the Cornfield Flower Project.  Volunteers have joined Tom to harvest the crop using traditional scythes, in keeping with how the crop would have been harvested by the farming ancestors.

The next stage of the project will be to plough the field ready for next year.  “Wild flowers require regular disturbance of the soil to flourish, and indeed, this is why varieties believed to be extinct often turn up alongside property developments and earthworks – they can hibernate in the soil for many years until conditions are just right for germination to begin,” adds Tom.  “Of course, once we have rediscovered a variety, we can start the conservation process so that it can be reintroduced to the wild.

The Cornfield Flowers Project is led by the Carstairs Countryside Trust in partnership with Ryedale Folk Museum, North Yorkshire Moors Association and the North York Moors National Park Authority.

Ryedale Folk Museum is a small, independent museum located in the village of Hutton-le-Hole, in the North York Moors National Park.  The museum was created over 40 years ago by local people with a passion for celebrating and protecting their cultural and industrial heritage, and also works with local communities to preserve traditional craft skills that are at risk of being lost to modern progress.

The museum, which is spread over a six acre site, is open daily until 30 September from 10.00am to 5.30pm (last entry at 4.30pm) and October to December 10.00am to 4.00pm.  Admission prices are £7.00 for adults, £6.50 for concessions and £6.00 for children, with a family ticket (two adults and two children) for £22.50.  Ticket holders can return to the museum for unlimited visits for a full year form the date of purchase.