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Botanical delights at Wisley Airfield

Posted: Friday 13th June 2014 by Nature Notes

Botanical delights at Wisley Airfield© Philip Precey

The old post-war airstrip next to the A3 at Wisley is a fine place to learn to cycle, fly model aircraft or just soak up the Surrey countryside.

 In Surrey apart from a single Cornflower in 2012, none had been seen since the 1980s

Whilst celebrating first time stabiliser-free bicycling with my daughter last week, I also happened to stumble across a true botanical wonder of modern times. There, where the broken tarmac of the former runway meets the adjacent cereal fields, was a splash of brilliant blue amongst the ripening cornstalks. Cornflowers! Formerly abundant ‘weeds’ of arable cultivation, Cornflowers epitomise the wholesale loss from the modern landscape of a suite of specialised wildflowers suited to thrive alongside annually sown crops.

Poppies are perhaps the best known of these and thankfully they still do well, sometimes spectacularly so in good years. However several of the declining species now teeter on the verge of extinction in the UK and are amongst the rarest of the rare. Modern farming practices including improved seed cleaning and the extensive use of herbicides have increasingly taken their toll on these.

In Surrey apart from a single Cornflower in 2012, none had been seen since the 1980s. And there they were, a presentable throng of delicate little crowns in ‘cornflower blue’, innocently brightening the sea-green crop. There are further wild plants scattered around the airfield collectively scarce enough to qualify the site as a ‘Site of Nature Conservation Importance’ (or SNCI).

A couple of these, and now including the Cornflowers, are protected through planning policy as ‘Priority species’ of ‘principal importance for the conservation of biodiversity in England’ - a grandiose title, yet saying exactly what it means.

Watching a Skylark rise up bursting into song and as the local Red Kite drifted over, I mused on the surprising wildlife value of this area of Ockham & Wisley Commons.

Mike Waite

SWT Living Landscapes Manager

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