Out of Intensive Care and into rehabilitation

Taken from final report for the Cornfield Flowers Project: ‘Out of Intensive Care’

Cornflower - Cornfield Flowers Project

The Cornfield Flowers Project was set up originally to save rare plants of arable fields in north-east Yorkshire. It is spearheaded by the Carstairs Countryside Trust in partnership with the Ryedale Folk Museum, North Yorkshire Moors Association and the North York Moors National Park Authority. The core project area covers the south of the North York Moors National Park. Beyond this it links across the Vale of Pickering, Howardian Hills and on to York and the Yorkshire Wolds in the south and across the moors to Cleveland in the north.Treacle-mustard - Patrick Ferguson, Cornfield Flowers Project Millennium Seed Bank Exhibition 2012

The grant funding for the 3rd five year phase of the Cornfield Flowers Project (‘Out of Intensive Care’) came to an end earlier this year. This phase was funded through the National Park Authority’s Sustainable Development Fund, the North York Moors Coast and Hills LEADER programme, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Carstairs Countryside Trust.

Large-flowered hemp-nettle - Patrick Ferguson, Cornfield Flowers Project Millennium Seed Bank Exhibition 2012

Phase 3 of the Project has managed and enhanced

  • a dedicated public demonstration field at the Ryedale Folk Museum in Hutton-le Hole;
  • a cornfield and recreated species-rich meadow at Silpho, near Scarborough;
  • and in addition a new sandland arable site at Water Fulford near York – which was sown in one year due to the available amount of volunteer-grown seed.
Species counts at these sites were either maintained or more usually, raised.
Corn buttercup - Ian Carstairs, Cornfield Flowers Project Millennium Seed Bank Exhibition 2012During Phase 3 the Project introduced suitable open ground species into four disused quarries where the conditions could be manipulated to offer opportunities to increase the number of places where the plants can be allowed to thrive. However the low soil nutrients and harsh micro-climates at these sites have suited only some species e.g. Red hemp-nettle, whilst most others have struggled, suggesting the use of such sites is limited. However one of the conclusions of the Project is that the target species are not just plants of farmed land, but properly plants of disturbed ground and a focus for the future could be other places where the ground is regularly disturbed.
Venus's-looking-glass - Ian Carstairs, Cornfield Flowers Project Millennium Seed Bank Exhibition 2012
The Project is only possible due to the dedicated work of volunteers and the involvement of participating farmers. Phase 3 set out to engage the wider public in further participation in rare plant conservation through recruiting volunteers to expand seed stock and to act as species custodians as well as people, groups and schools willing to plant cornfield flower areas. A core of custodians has remained dedicated to the aims of plant conservation over the years, enabling a vital consistent supply of seed. The creation and management of cornfield beds has proven popular because they are effective even in small areas and the intense flowering display provided by the mix of species has attracted people along with the obvious signs of benefit to bees and other insects. One of the issues that became apparent initially was the widespread misunderstanding about the difference between arable land and meadow land, and the differences between their plants and required management. The ground the arable plants grow in needs to be disturbed (as if cultivated) for them to survive.

Sharp-leaved fluellen - Ian Carstairs, Cornfield Flowers Project Millennium Seed Bank Exhibition 2012

The Project has worked directly with 14 volunteer farmers managing areas of their farms for arable plant conservation and as species reintroduction sites. The greatest determinant of arable wildflower success is the dedication of the individual farmers themselves, and their willingness to encourage these plants above and beyond what would usually be required from an arable management regime. Maintaining a variety of core farms throughout the project area is essential to provide the widest range of conditions (soil type, microclimate etc.) to benefit the greatest variety of arable plant requirements and mitigate against localised losses at one site. In addition the Project has reached out to farmers through organised events and provision of advice and through working with agri-environment scheme providers to establish what species remain where in the wider area.

Corn marigold - Patrick Ferguson, Cornfield Flowers Project Millennium Seed Bank Exhibition 2012

The sharing and spreading of knowledge is an essential element for the future of the species’ conservation. Hands-on growing of plants has proven to be the very best method for volunteers to become familiar with arable wildflowers, learning as they go through experiences of failures, pests, flowering times and seedling identification, with ready access to a Project Officer to answer any queries when needed.

Night-flowering catchfly - Ian Carstairs, Cornfield Flowers Project Millennium Seed Bank Exhibition 2012

Documenting the origins and movement of seed to ensure locations and provenance are recorded has been vital and will serve as an historical record of the Project’s work. Because much conservation targeting is based on species rarity, clear distinctions need to be drawn between native sites / plants and those reintroduced by the Project, so as not to impair wider conservation efforts or devalue any species by misrepresenting its true status. The Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) study UK plant distribution and taxonomy, and operate a recording and mapping scheme that informs national plant Atlases and County Floras. The Project has provided them with records for local vice-county areas 61 and 62 (North-east Yorkshire and South-east Yorkshire respectively). One outstanding issue is how many years an introduced plant must be self-sustaining, without further reintroductions, before its ‘introduced’ status can be relaxed.

Corn mint - Ian Carstairs, Cornfield Flowers Project Millennium Seed Bank Exhibition 2012

Steadily expanding survey coverage, along with increasing botanical expertise of the Cornfield Flowers Project and its volunteers, resulted in continuing species discoveries of national or regional significance, including a number previously thought regionally extinct. As well as new species found in the area during Phase 3, rare species were also found at new sites.

Upright goosefoot (Chenopodium urbicum)

Small-flowered catchfly (Silene gallica)

Purple ramping-fumitory (Fumaria purpurea)

Few-flowered fumitory (Fumaria vaillantii)

Dense-flowered fumitory (Fumaria densiflora)

Corn parsley (Petroselinum segetum)

Abyssinian kale (Crambe hispanica

Shepherd’s-needle (Scandix pecten-veneris)

Common ramping-fumitory (Fumaria muralis subsp. boraei)

Cornfield knotgrass (Polygonum rurivagum)

Common fumitory - Ian Carstairs, Cornfield Flowers Project Millennium Seed Bank Exhibition 2012

The current Management Group are determined to keep the work going to sustain the effective conservation of arable flowers in north-east Yorkshire. A plan for how to move forward – to maintain the momentum of the project, provide responsibility for maintaining the seed stock, consolidate affinity with participants over the future of the project, and provide ongoing enthusiasm and focus – is still taking shape. In the meantime the Carstairs Countryside Trust are providing funding for an additional year.

Common poppy - Patrick Ferguson, Cornfield Flowers Project Millennium Seed Bank Exhibition 2012

Tom Normandale and Chris Wilson have been the  whole-hearted proactive Project Officers for the Cornfield Flowers Project. Chris is now retiring from that role but will continue his involvement. Tom remains as a dedicated Project Officer.

Cornfield Flowers - Patrick Ferguson, Cornfield Flowers Project Millennium Seed Bank Exhibition 2012

Cornfield Flowers Project – Latest CFP Newsletter 2014-15

Cornfield Flowers – species cards

Cornfield Flowers Project, Ryedale Folk Museum, Hutton-le-Hole, North Yorkshire, YO62 6UA.

Poppies and other cornfield flowers

There is a really informative article in the Yorkshire Post on the North and East Yorkshire Cornfield Flowers Project, and Chris and Tom the Project Co-ordinators. Definitely worth a read.

As Tom says in the article, he and Chris “are always looking for more farmers to take part in the scheme and gardeners, allotment holders and schools to act as volunteer growers.” Get in touch if you’re interested.




Watching out for Barn Owls: part 1

Alex Cripps – Conservation Graduate Trainee

I’m always excited when I see a Barn owl (Tyto alba). They are a magnificent looking birds – so big and powerful. However this beautiful bird faces lots of pressures.

Barn Owl 1 - photo by Mike Nicholas

I joined in a farm walk in late April run by Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE) which focused on how to manage land to benefit Barn owls.

The event was held at Birkdale Farm, Terrington – a little outside the National Park. Birkdale is a great example of how farms can be managed to benefit biodiversity in a variety of ways – including through the Cornfield Flowers Project.

The CFE talked about how to avoid using rhodenticides (chemicals to control rodents) if possible, the safe use of rodenticides if necessary, and minimising the inevitable risk of secondary poisoning to other species such as Barn owls.

Robin Arundale from the Yorkshire Wolds Barn Owl Group led the discussion around habitat management for Barn owls. Good habitat is mainly governed by the availability of a food supply (predominately field voles). Areas of rough grassland are important as damp, tussocky grass can support high numbers of field voles. Unfortunately where this habitat remains is often on roadside verges, resulting in a high number of Barn owl and vehicle collisions.

Working with the local drainage board, the banks of the becks running through Birkdale Farm are now only cut on one side per year (on rotation) to manage the becks for water flow and to provide some good scrubby habitat. Several A-frame nest boxes have also been erected, with good Barn owl success over the years. The boxes don’t necessarily need to be in or on a building – in a tree or up a pole also works.

Something I didn’t know was that up to 6% of Barn owl deaths occur in livestock drinking troughs in July, which to me seems like an awful lot. It seems these deaths occur mainly to breeding females when they first leave the nest to clean, after their young have hatched. Barn owls appear to misjudge the steep sided troughs and once wet cannot fly back out. A simple solution could be putting in a plank, with one end at the base of the trough and the other at the top, to provide a platform to walk out on.

Any help to lessen the pressure on the Barn owl sounds like a good thing.

Barn owl in flight_Wildstock images

Have a look at the Barn Owl Trust‘s website for more information. Locally, the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust are running a campaign to boost the species in Yorkshire. The Trust are interested in sightings – and so are we, let us know if you see a Barn owl in the North York Moors or hear its spooky screech.

Cornfield Flowers at the Ryedale Folk Museum

Cornfield Flowers Project – click here for a post on the Ryedale Folk Museum‘s Blog from the end of April. Tom Normandale (Cornfield Flower Project – Project Officer) explains the part the Musuem is playing in helping to conserve precious arable flowers.

Cornfield Flowers Project – saving rare arable flora from extinction in north-east Yorkshire

Chris Wilson and Tom Normandale – Project Officers for the Cornfield Flowers Project

By the nature of our work and the annual species we conserve through the Cornfield Flowers Project*, it can’t be helped but to follow the natural cycles of the passing seasons, and ride-out whatever challenges are presented to us through the year by the weather, the vagaries of seed germination and the occasional ravages of hares, rabbits and slugs.  Coupled with the profound rarity of many of the species we care for to begin with, it’s important to celebrate our successes, and 2013 was an especially good year.

Always at the forefront of our work are the hard facts behind the plight of these cornfield flowers. Of the UK’s rarest wildflowers that have suffered the greatest declines in the last 50 years, 60% are arable plants. Seven have become extinct during this period, and a further 54 are considered at risk. Since its creation in 1999, our Project has had the single aim of reversing this decline in the north-east Yorkshire area. 14-years on, the results are encouraging.

2013 was undoubtedly such a good year for plants due to the seasonable weather, for once! The efforts we’d invested over the years in seeding-up and managing our numerous arable headlands and demonstration beds paid dividends. Particularly noteworthy were the outstanding displays at John Middlewood’s, our volunteer farmer at Potter Brompton. Situated on ‘blow-away sand’ that quickly droughts-off, John’s fields more than any others any keenly subject to the weather, but last year was a corker for his arable plants. His sandland communities are particularly rewarding due to their relative rarity in our area and the unique species they support. From the endearing but fleeting Prickly poppy (Papaver argemone), the match-head sized blooms of Bird’s-foot (Ornithopus perpusillus), the nationally rare Smooth cat’s-ear (Hypochaeris glabra) that grows in profusion, and of course the iconic Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus), nothing disappointed this year, and the display was appreciated by colleagues and volunteers on guided farm walks.

Our other farmers and growers across the region fared similarly well, and it was pleasing to see a good show at the Ryedale Folk Museum demonstration field and nursery beds despite setbacks the preceding year. A remarkable success was also achieved with the discovery of Shepherd’s-needle (Scandix pecten-veneris) growing naturally on our volunteer farm at Hunmanby – only the third time we have recorded this Nationally Critically Endangered species in 14 years, and efforts are now underway to retain this community at self-sustaining levels.

An encouraging growing season leads, most importantly for us, to good yields of seed, and last year our ‘Species Custodians’ and cornfield bed supporters reaped the benefits. Recruiting volunteers to grow plants for us in protected environments and return collected seed to us each autumn has greatly increased the scale at which we can conduct re-introductions, and makes a huge difference to germination success rates when considering the potentially high percentage-losses for any wildflowers. So successful was last years ‘crop’ that we have been able to seed-up a new 3-acre sandland site at Water Fulford near York, owned by the Carstairs Countryside Trust.  Conservation at such scales was not imaginable at the start of our current funding phase four years ago, and it is exciting to feel, for now at least, that we may be turning a new corner – expanding the range in which we can operate and the scale at which we can resist the decline of arable wildflowers, in our particular part of the country at least.

Now we’re looking forward to our last growing season in our current funded phase consolidating our achievements and securing a sustainable foothold for rare arable flora. We can never afford to be complacent though, and the survival of cornfield flowers perpetually hangs in the balance. As annual species that only grow in very dynamic and pressured environments, entire communities can so easily be lost in one year from a simple change in the arable crop management. As we look to the longer term future of these species and our Project, our hope is that we’ve managed to enthuse enough local communities to adopt and fight for these plants, and passed on sufficient knowledge to allow them to successfully care for these sometimes under-appreciated, but always deeply enchanting, true rarities.


* The Cornfield Flowers Project is spearheaded by the Carstairs Countryside Trust, Ryedale Folk Museum, North Yorkshire Moors Association and North York Moors National Park Authority. It is supported by the North York Moors National Park Sustainable Development Fund, North York Moors Coast & Hills LEADER Programme and the Heritage Lottery Fund.


A LEADER update – and another Top Five

Jo Collins – LEADER Programme Officer

Our local LEADER Programme (North York Moors, Coast and Hills) has supported more than 300 projects in our area during the last five years. A huge range of projects have received support – far too many to mention them all!

The current Programme is due to finish this December and so many of the projects are now celebrating completion, including these three below:

Knayton cum Brawith Parish Caretaker (grant of £1,850) – A dedicated caretaker to maintain pathways and street furniture, collected litter, and kept drains clear in Knayton-cum-Brawith. The project had such a positive impact on the village that the local community have given it their support to continue into the future once LEADER funding finished, and it will now be funded by the Parish Council.

Renewable Energy (grant of £19,950) – Husthwaite’s new village hall will be heated and supplied with water using environmentally friendly technology; a rainwater harvesting system, an air source heat pump, and extra ceiling insulation. It is hoped that this sustainable approach will mean that the community can use the hall in comfort for many years to come.

Access for All (grant of £17,522) – A new entrance hallway at Charltons Village Hall has enabled the community to make use of both of its rooms simultaneously!  Activities on offer include psychic evenings in this reportedly haunted building . . .


Check out our Top Five Wildlife Projects and discover some of the fabulous ventures given LEADER support including rare species brought back from the brink, parasite resistant honey bees given a helping hand, and valuable habitats created and restored.

For more information about this LEADER Programme and the full range of projects supported have a look at our website.

Help! Although this LEADER Programme will finish in December 2013 and all funds are already allocated to projects, we are hoping to have a new Programme starting in 2015; watch this space for opportunities to help shape our future Programme next year . . . you could always join our Local Action Group in the meantime.

End of summer

Rona Charles – Senior Ecology Officer

As part of Ryedale Folk Museum’s Harvest Celebrations last weekend, the Cornfield Flowers Project cut and collected the wheat crop from the cornfield at the Museum. Project staff and volunteers used traditional scythes to cut the corn, together with the seeding wild flowers that grew with it. The corn was then gathered into sheaves and stacked into stooks to dry.  With the Museum’s Iron Age round house as the backdrop (that’s the pyramid like shape) and no man-made sound other than the swish of the scythe blade, this was a timely reminder for visitors of how different most rural life is now!

The Cornfield Flowers Project aims to return arable flowers like the Corn marigold and Cornflower (some still flowering in the Museum field at the weekend) to the edges of willing farmers’ fields. Here the flowers will be avoided by the application of modern herbicides but there is no need for them to be avoided by modern harvesting machinery. Fortunately scythes aren’t compulsory for the conservation management of cornfield flowers.

Arable glory

Rona Charles – Senior Ecology Officer

The North York Moors may not be well known for its arable land, but we have much more of this than most National Parks and it can be a very valuable wildlife habitat.  Several of the recent starters in the Conservation Department were recently shown some of the potential value of arable land to encourage rare arable plants. They visited a farm at Potter Brompton, a bit outside the National Park boundary but one of the key farms in the Cornfield Flowers Project. This farm is in a national agri environment scheme – Higher Level Scheme (HLS) – and we saw several spectacular examples of where arable flower populations are burgeoning with the help of a variety of HLS options. Not everything was going precisely according to plan, of course, and there were interesting discussions on how to accommodate the scheme’s requirements with sometimes fickle wildlife!

Kirsty and Alex took some fantastic photos.

CFF - the Team 2

CFF - miscellanyCFF - Cornflowers along the field edgeCFF - CornflowerCFF - Poppies along the field edge