We counted up the cowslips on a very sunny Saturday 1 June – we being me, Barbara, Helen and Dieter assisted by Lucy the dog – and we found around 450 flowers setting seed. See here for what they look like : http://www.wildlifebcn.org/species/cowslip
About two-thirds of these are on the small orchid meadow mowed in the autumn by the Wildlife Trust volunteers and the other third on the meadow mowed in July just before the folk festival camping. There are probably more on the camping field, scattered in the high grass. Interestingly although there were around a hundred rosettes of leaves on the southern side, none of these had surviving flowers and many were very small and grazed. There are none anywhere else on the entire remaining grazed common – but prove me wrong if you can.
I looked online to see why there might be more cowslips in some areas than others and came across this very erudite article in the Journal of Applied Ecology [ http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.0021-8901.2004.00981.x/full ], which has been translate into normal English for us mere mortals [ http://www.conservationevidence.com/individual-study/135 ].
What the research shows is that early grazing is very bad for cowslips, causing serious long-term declines, but that autumn cutting is an excellent choice with summer cutting someway behind. This fits exactly with where the surviving cowslips are on the common with most on the autumn cut areas.
This seems very positive evidence that not only is management of parts of Coldham’s Common possible without grazing, but that the present grazing management ( putting too many cows on too early ) is probably causing a long-term decline in those emblematic species that we treasure so much.
We are going to do further surveys for the pyramidal orchids [http://www.plantlife.org.uk/wild_plants/plant_species/pyramidal_orchid/ ] and spiny restharrow [ see http://wildseed.co.uk/species/view/97 ]. Let us know if you are interested. The whitethroats and blackcaps are still in full song, so it should be a nice day out.
We are going to ask City Council to take more account of wildlife in their management of the common and keep cows off the existing ungrazed areas to protect them.