Rare plant gets a helping hand

The scarce bastard balm plant (Melittis melissophyllum) is a species that the Wildlife Trust is fortunate to have on two of its reserves within Pembrokeshire. Habitats are managed to maintain and enhance current populations with the colony at Westfield Pill nature reserve being one of the largest in Wales containing over 900 flowering stems. The other Wildlife Trust site where this plant exists is on a hedge bank at Pengelli Forest.

Bastard balm in flower by N Walton

Bastard balm in flower by N Walton

Last year we were fortunate to receive funding through Plantlife (original funds were from the Countryside Council for Wales) to put towards clearing woody growth from this bank, letting more light in and so promoting open areas for the plant to spread. This year we again have been successful in obtaining funding through Plantlife to continue this work further along the bank with £2500 given towards the project.

Bastard balm typically attracts insects such as bees and fewer plants will have a knock on effect on other forms of wildlife. It has the Latin name “Melittis” which comes from the Greek word for “honey bee” and relates to the properties the flower has for attracting these insects, however bees don’t like dark woodlands in which it grows and so avoid pollinating flowers that grow here. The plant is also known as a healing herb used for the treatment of anxiety, wounds and kidneys.

The main reason for the demise of this species from within woodland environments is due to the lack of appropriate woodland management which is mainly resource driven.

Nathan Walton, Wildlife Trust Officer for Pembrokeshire said, “Natural broadleaved woodlands in Wales and the UK have never been as undermanaged as they are now with traditional practices such as coppicing, hedge-laying and grazing with animals such as pigs mainly limited to protected sites. These activities provide precisely the conditions bastard balm needs – light and disturbance.”

And it’s not just the rare flowers that benefit, but also welcome favourites like primroses, wood anemones and wild daffodils. Grants such as the Forestry Commission’s Better Woodlands for Wales and this one through Plantlife are now helping to get neglected woodlands into better management. There is certainly a lot of work involved and the on-going management still requires much people power.

Nathan also said, “The hope is that management undertaken through Plantlife funding will enable the plants in Pengelli Forest to spread in their extent. There are also plans to propagate plants from seed along with translocating existing plants to then plant along the bank.”