Sometimes scientists and those who work in biodiversity conservation use words or phrases that many people may not be familiar with. To avoid confusion, and to help you get the most out of these pages, we have provided definitions below for some commonly used terms on the wildflower seed pages.
- Biodiversity action
This refers to an action that can be taken to help biodiversity, for example by encouraging the sustainable return to a natural or semi-natural habitat. This could include creating a biodiversity meadow or margin by reducing mowing, aiming to restore a semi-natural grassland through allowing the seeds in the soil the space and time to flourish.
- Garden or horticultural action
This refers to actions that can be taken in gardens and parks to support biodiversity. These actions could include planting certain trees, shrubs, perennials (plants that recur year after year), bulbs or seeds of species that are rich in pollen and/or nectar and may support flower visiting insects. These actions often involve non-native garden plants, or in the case of wildflower seed, a commercial wildflower seed mix. Some garden actions – such as sowing commercial wildflower seed mixes – must be contained to these spaces as they can be detrimental to biodiversity in the wider landscape.
- Commercial wildflower seed mix
A packet of assorted wildflower seeds that can be bought commercially. These typically contain a wide range of different flower species which may or may not be native to Ireland, or of Irish origin.
- Seed bombs
This is an alternative way of selling a packet of commercial wildflower seed mix. Assorted wildflower seeds are combined with soil and rolled into small balls (seed bombs). The ball is intended to be thrown and for the seed to grow where it falls. As a method of sowing, it has disadvantages – for successful germination, seed generally requires specific ground preparation. Plants have evolved ingenious ways to disperse their seed to avoid competition. In nature, seed would never be clumped together in a ball.
- Native origin wildflower seed mix
This means that the wildflower seed mix is from native Irish species and has been collected from a population growing in Ireland. It is possible to buy native wildflower seed that is not of native origin/provenance. This means that the species can be found in Ireland, but the seed was collected from a population growing in another country, so it is likely to be genetically distinct from native origin wildflowers.
- Local wildflower seed
Seed sourced locally, produced by a native wildflower that is growing naturally in the landscape. If sowing wildflower seeds, the best option for biodiversity is to collect native wildflower seed growing locally and sow in the locality.
- Semi-natural grasslands
Semi-natural grasslands are valuable habitats which are managed by low-intensity farming. They are some of the most threatened habitats in Ireland. These grasslands are vital to biodiversity, supporting healthy soils and clean water, and a wealth of life including wildflowers, insects, invertebrates, birds, and mammals. They may be managed by grazing or mowing (e.g., traditional hay meadows), but the management is always relatively low intensity. Semi-natural grasslands are existing habitats that should be treasured and protected.
- Biodiversity meadows and margins
We use this term to refer to new sites that are aiming to become semi-natural grasslands through appropriate management – usually reduced mowing with cuttings removed. A meadow refers to a larger area (e.g., a field or a lawn), whereas a margin refers to a smaller strip of land such as a roadside verge or the edge of a field set aside for this type of management. They can be managed to be either tall-flowering or short-flowering. These are new habitats that must be created.
- Tall-flowering biodiversity meadows and margins
Grassy areas that are cut once a year, with the cut removed. These meadows are cut in early September as this gives the seed a chance to set. If correctly managed, they gradually become more diverse as the semi-natural grassland habitat naturally returns. This can take up to fifteen years. Sites with fertile soils may need additional cuts/management actions.
- Short-flowering biodiversity meadows and margins
Grassy areas that are cut every 4-6 weeks, with the cut removed. This gives a succession of wildflower seeds a chance to grow that occur naturally in the soil, such as Dandelion, Clovers, Bird’s-foot-trefoil, and Selfheal. These plants typically have their flowers removed by more regular mowing but are an important free food source for pollinators and other biodiversity. This provides benefits while avoiding some of the challenges of managing tall-flowering meadows.
- Ornamental meadows and margins
Meadows or margins that are created by planting a commercial wildflower seed mix. These environments typically contain a mix of very colourful flowers that would not grow together in nature. These habitats are not recreations of semi-natural grassland and are not considered biodiversity meadows and margins. Creating ornamental meadows and margins is therefore considered a garden or horticultural action that may help flower visiting insects but does not hold the same value for the local environment as creating a biodiversity meadow or margin.
Techniques used for large-scale restoration of semi-natural grassland, particularly on farmland
- Green hay
Hay taken from a species-rich grassland donor site and spread on a species-poor recipient site. The hay is harvested just as wildflowers and grasses are shedding seed and still ‘green’. It is quickly transferred to the nearby species-poor recipient site where it is spread allowing the seed to drop. Recreates the habitat by restoring the new site with a unique mix of the local flora, known as local provenance.
- Brush harvesting
Technique that involves the use of a machine that operates, not by cutting, but by gently removing seed using specially designed rotating brushes. Seed is collected from species-rich grassland donor sites for use on nearby species-poor recipient sites. Recreates the habitat by restoring the new site with a unique mix of the local flora, known as local provenance.