Skip to main content
Springwatch presenters, BBC

Springwatch 2020

In a spring like no other, we’ll be bringing you inspiring stories from the natural world.

About the programme

The stories of this spring will be revealed by presenters Chris Packham, live from his New Forest patch, Iolo Williams, in Mid-Wales and Gillian Burke down in her Cornish base.

In addition, Michaela Strachan, who remains at her home in South Africa will send a message of support to viewers and there will be a chance to revisit some of her favourite Springwatch highlights from past years.

To find out more, visit the BBC programme page .

Springwatch Titles

Wildflowers and the history they hold

Dr Clare Lawson looks at the common names given to wildflowers and how these can vary depending which part of the country you are from.

Flower-rich meadows are a rare sight in Britain today. Full of insects, birds and mammals as well as flowers, these habitats are valued for their diversity and, rare and unique species. Reliant on traditional low-input farming systems such as hay making to sustain them, many of these meadows have been lost over the past eighty years mainly due to changes in farming. Those surviving parcels of wildlife have a vital role to play in nature conservation but also in preserving our social and cultural heritage.

Copyright: Clare Lawson

The conservation value of these flower-rich grasslands results from their long and continuous management as hay meadows. The pattern of hay making followed by grazing of the re-growth by cattle and sheep was an established management across the country as long ago as the 12th and 13th centuries. Hay was a crucial resource providing winter feed for livestock. Consequently, these meadows were considered a very valuable part of the farming system.

Hay-making would have taken place over a period of several weeks as cutting took place by hand using a scythe. It was a very skilled job to cut the hay. The timing of the hay cut would vary from year to year as it was determined largely by the weather. Combining all these elements of traditional management together creates this unique cultural landscape. 

These flower-rich meadows are a reminder of a traditional way of life, providing us with a connection to the past. Each meadow has its own distinctive character and sense of place fashioned by the local environment - the product of the interactions between the traditional management, climate and soil. The flowers connected with these meadows are also distinctive, only species adapted to hay making and grazing can thrive. 

Common Birds-foot-trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)

Copyright Clare Lawson

We are aware that the loss of these habitats throughout the wider countryside is responsible for the decline in wildflowers and many dependent species. They are a great nectar source for pollinating insects such as bumblebees and hoverflies. Yet this decline in biodiversity may also conceal another loss, the diminishing recognition of these flowers and the important role they played in rural life and culture, in the not so distant past.

There is a richness of information available in many of the old common names of wildflowers. They often give a clue to the colour or shape of the flower, (Bird’s-foot-trefoil, Lotus corniculatus - picture to the left. It's also known as Eggs and bacon, Butter and eggs and Granny's toenails), the time when they flower, or the environment in which they grow (Marsh marigold, Caltha palustris). Other names indicate an old medicinal use; the fairy flax (Linum catharticum), a diminutive white flower, is also known as purging flax. Superstitions and beliefs are also reflected in many names. The speedwells (Veronica spp.), a group of bright blue little flowers, were thought to give you good luck on your journey.

The wildflower names you are familiar with can indicate from which part of the country you are from. Common names for the same wildflower often vary depending on locality. The rare Snakeshead fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris), a spring flower often found in wet meadows, is known by the names: Chequered lily, Frogcup, Folfalars.

Germander Speedwell, Common Knapweed, Marsh Marigold

Germander speedwell, Common Knapweed, Marsh Marigold

Germander speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys - other commons names include Bird’s eye, Cat’s eye, Farewell). 

Common knapweed (Centaurea nigra - common names are Hardheads and Black knapweed) is a good source of nectar too!

Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris - with common names of Kingcup and Mayflower) is an indicator of damp conditions.

These old common names reveal the deep understanding and knowledge that people had of nature in the past and illustrate the closeness of their relationship to the countryside and their surroundings. So next time you are out and about, look more closely at the wildflowers you see and appreciate the part they play in conserving nature and our cultural heritage.

OU Pollinator Watch

A bumblebee on heather

Take part in this brand new nQuire citizen science project investigating insect pollinators.

Head to nQuire to accept the mission

Meet the OU experts

Dr Clare LawsonLecturer in Environmental Sciences - School of Environment, Earth & Ecosystem SciencesVIEW FULL PROFILE
Dr Clare LawsonLecturer in Environmental Sciences - School of Environment, Earth & Ecosystem Sciences

Clare's background is in plant ecology and she's fascinated by wildflower meadows, their biodiversity and relationship with traditional farm management. Much of her research work has focussed on species-rich grasslands and how they respond to a changing environment. Clare's current work explores the relationship between floodplain meadow plant communities, water-regime and soil carbon, but also looks at the potential to restore these habitats within floodplains. 

Andy Morris, The Open University
Dr Andy MorrisStaff Tutor and Senior Lecturer in Geography - School of Social Sciences & Global StudiesVIEW FULL PROFILE
Andy Morris, The Open University
Dr Andy MorrisStaff Tutor and Senior Lecturer in Geography - School of Social Sciences & Global Studies

Andy’s background is in social and cultural Geography. His main area of interest centres on the relationships between humans and wildlife, plus how they can challenge and inform understandings of nature and society. His work on modules for The Open University has included writing on subjects such as landscape, national parks, rewilding and wildlife data collection. He is currently researching starling roosts and murmuration watching in Rome, as well as working on a new Level 2 Geography module.

Get wild with more on the nature and wildlife...

Autumnwatch 2019 - Presenters - Hero image BBC

Autumnwatch 2019

It's Halloween week and Autumnwatch is back, celebrating the very best of the UK's wildlife.

Read Article
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall releasing bird on Hugh's Wild West

Hugh's Wild West

Lifelong nature-lover Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall pursues his fascination with the wildlife of the West country.

Read Article
A mountain anthropomorphised as a woman - mother earth

Is it time to reassess our relationship with nature?

Western societies tend to see nature and humanity as separate. But are there other ways of relating to the natural world?

Read Article
A polar bear stalks a seal - a scene from the BBC series The Hunt

The Hunt

Narrated by Sir David Attenborough this lavish series explores the relationship between predator and their prey.

Read Article

Blue Planet II

Sir David Attenborough presents Blue Planet II.

Read Article

Explore the OU

A cropped photo of students with documents scattered in front of them.

Open University courses

An image of the OU poster for 'A Perfect Planet'

Order a free OU Poster

A young woman on a computer in a cafe

OU subjects A-Z

A photograph taken in a cafe. A mug is in focus in the foreground, and a man using a laptop is out of focus in the background.

The latest OU news

A photo of a person using a laptop and notebook, and a small dog resting its head on the user's arm

About distance learning

A top-down picture of a man using a laptop at a desk

Free courses

A photo of a man wearing a red hoodie and headphones walking away from the camera, on a busy path by a road

Hear from students

About our BBC partnership

For over 50 years The Open University and the BBC have worked together; co-producing hundreds of hours of programming and bringing learning to life for millions. Find out more about our unique partnership.

OU website