Wildflowers in Game Cover

Bright Seeds’ new wildflower specialist Megan Townley known first-hand how effective wildflowers can be within game cover and conversation mixes. The question is, are they being utilised to the full potential…? 

To the purist, the term ‘wildflower’ strictly relates to the naturally occurring, non-cultivated, native flora species that grow freely and without interference within our UK habitats. But, over the last 20 years other, less traditional ‘wildflower’ species have made their way into game cover mixes with the aim to improve brood-rearing habitats and provide more biodiversity.

Farmers and ‘keepers, responsible for the patchwork of game cover crops and wildlife corridors across the countryside today, are just as likely to refer to a cultivated Sunflower as a ‘wildflower’ as they are Oxeye Daisy.

One is cultivated, the other is naturally occurring. Both, however, can be an effective and beneficial element to any shoot when part of the right mix, or positioned on the right area of a shoot.

A sustainable farming incentive compliant crop

Enhancing Game Cover with Wildflowers

The ability of wildflowers to enhance game cover, and shoots in general, goes beyond aesthetics. Obviously, the abundance of colour that they offer can make any plot stand out during the summer months. And, the sight of pollinators and other insects buzzing around a mixture is attractive for all to see.

But it is within the hum of the insects that the real, practical benefits of wildflowers within game cover and conservation crops appear.

The insects that pollen and nectar from wildflowers attract is the ideal protein filled food source for chicks and poults. For example, Grey Partridge, Corn Bunting and other farmland chicks tend to feed exclusively on natural protein from insects, and the inclusion of wildflowers within a game cover mix, or close to breeding habitats, helps increase insect numbers.

Certain wildflower species that flower close to the ground can be included in a mixture, which ensures the insects they attract are close to the ground and at the right height for the chicks to eat.

Wildflowers also tend to flower earlier in the season when compared to traditional game cover. Annual game crops such as Maize or Sorghum can’t offer much protective cover in May and June when most wild chicks are in need. However, wildflowers – particularly perennials – will establish in the Spring providing good shelter and flowers for insects to pollinate.

And it goes without saying that the benefits of wildflowers aren’t just limited to farmland birds, with game birds also profiting. Whilst insects also provide some feed value for pheasant and partridge, seed from the flowers themselves can supply game birds with a healthy source of energy, helping to hold them and stop them wandering.

A final benefit not to be overlooked are the doors that wildflowers can open in terms of stewardship schemes. For instance, Bright Seeds’ Autumn Bumblebird Mix (AB16) includes legumes and wildflowers to offer a nectar source to pollinators. This can bring in £637 per hectare under the AB16: Autumn Sown Bumblebird scheme.

Likewise, its Wildflower Pheasant & Finch mix provides a safe canopy throughout the year and contains sunflowers to provide feed to game and farmland birds, with Phacelia to attract a variety of pollinating insects. This means the mix qualifies for AB9: Winter Bird Food, which can generate £732 per hectare.

And its GWCT mix (in partnership with Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust) contains a mix of 31 wildflower species that are predominately harvested from native meadows, offering high seed yield and excellent habitat – as well as an abundant nectar and pollen source – for game and farmland birds alike. This mix is applicable to AB9: Winter Bird Food; and the Sustainable Farming Incentives AHL2: Winter Bird Food on Arable and Horticultural Land (£732 per hectare per year).

wildflower pheasant and finch

Are Wildflowers Being Under-Utilised?

We are lucky at Bright Seeds to supply lots of multi-purpose game cover, meaning mixes that are beneficial to game & farmland birds, as well as pollinators and other insects. However, there are opportunity for shoots across the country to use more wildflowers, whether within game cover mixtures, or as exclusive wildflower meadows.

Although wildflower meadows aren’t traditionally thought of when considering game cover, they can be highly effective. On my shoot we have a plot of land, separated into strips with a hedgerow down the middle, that we use as a drive. One side has Brights’ Highland Pheasant & Finch, and the other side is a traditional wildflower meadow which has been established for 10 years.

The mixture of cover on this drive works well, and with the meadow so well established it provides thick ground cover. With some added feed bins, it is a favourite spot for the birds. The meadow is also relatively cost-effective as it require redrilling each year.

We also have two former grazing fields that were liable to flooding and weren’t utilised which we put into wildflower meadows. These are now used within the drives and are essentially used as gamecover. Birds can be found here right through the year, including into January.


Public Approval

With so many benefits, incorporating wildflowers at points across shoots – whether stand alone or within mixtures – seems like a no brainer. And, there are even more reasons to do so, with the ever-running PR battle that shooting faces something that should always be considered.

As mentioned, wildflowers create beautiful aesthetics and ensure that any shoot or farm is full of colour. Ramblers and locals are far more likely to be supportive of an activity if it is giving something back to them.

On the subject of ramblers, wildflower are also a fantastic deterrent. If footpaths are lined with attractive wildflowers, it is far less likely people will trespass and leave the nominated footpath – rarely do people walk over the wildflowers!

So, whether for aesthetics, wildlife, game birds or all of the above, wildflowers can lend a serious hand.