In Copse Meadow, the first Cowslips are beginning to flower. We planted several dozen last autumn, grown from seed collected from the wonderful Nosterfield Nature Reserve near Ripon, managed by our friends from the Lower Ure Conservation Trust , some of which were grown on for us by Brunswick Organic Nursery
However, we didn’t simply plant Cowslips because they’re pretty. Old botanical records and specimens preserved in the Yorkshire Museum herbarium show that the drier margins of the Clifton Washland once supported a diverse flora characteristic of lime-enriched soils. This included Frog, Pyramidal, Fragrant, Green-winged and Burnt-tipped Orchids as well as Clustered Belflower, Hoary Plantain, Quaking Grass and Cowslip. The upstream catchment of the Ouse, straddling both the lowland Magnesian limestone and the upland Carboniferous limestone, would have provided a source of both calcium-rich sediment and plants.
During the second half of the 20th century, construction of new floodbanks, the conversion of Rawcliffe Ings from hay meadow to reseeded pasture and increased nutrients from polluted air and water resulted in the disappearance of many smaller and less competitive lime-loving flowers from the margins of the Ings. Careful restoration of species-rich grassland in Copse Meadow since 2008 has provided an opportunity to re-introduce Cowslips to their ancestral habitat.