Sunday, 24 March 2013

Wild daffodils – Snowdonia Society expedition

I was hoping to see wild daffodils on the Snowdonia Society's guided walk on 26th March but due to deep drifts and freezing temperatures there was not a wild daffodil to be seen. 

In case you wanted to know, this is what we have missed out on:

Wild Daffodils - photo by Rod Gritten
Yellow daffodil trumpets are a ubiquitous sign of Spring, not only in gardens but also on roadsides, in hedgerows, in fields and in woods. Yet they have none of the exquisite beauty of the rare wild daffodil, the true national emblem. Although our native daffodil is in serious decline, there are places where it has prospered, with a little help from its friends. Rob Collister and Rod Gritten tell the story of a wild daffodil recovery in the hills above the Conwy valley, and the possible roadside return of the native.

One day towards the end of March my wife, Netti, and I were joined by Rod and Julie Gritten for a walk up a wooded hillside above the Conwy valley. It was a glorious sunny day, warm and still, even though there was snow on the hills above and a skim of ice lingered on shady puddles. As we walked across some ffridd pasture, admiring wide views down onto the river Conwy, suddenly we glimpsed a haze of yellow across a small dry valley, through leafless branches on the slope opposite. Over the next hour or so we found wild daffodils growing everywhere over an area of about 400 x 300 metres that could perhaps best be described as wood pasture, even forcing their way in isolated clumps through a thick blanket of dead bracken. But they seemed at their most prolific in damper or shadier spots where the bracken had failed to establish itself. In such a setting we could understand exactly why Wordsworth was so entranced. I think both Rod and I felt a degree of pride as well as pleasure at the spectacle, for it represented the fruition of a successful conservation project.

For me, the story began a long time ago. One day I was out wandering the ancient field systems of the northern Carneddau, investigating its wealth of prehistory, when I came on a green notice board that said “Please do not pick the wild daffodils”. It had been erected by the North Wales Naturalists Trust (now the North Wales Wildlife Trust), but it looked old and faded even then, over 30 years ago, and the rotting stile over the wall seemed on its last legs. With anticipation, I crossed the wall but found not a trace of any daffodils. Over the years that followed the sign grew older, the lettering ever fainter, and crossing the wall increasingly acrobatic, but I did discover a damp corner where a number of daffodil leaves could be found but always nibbled by sheep, with never a flower to be seen.

Then, one spring about seven or eight years ago, to my surprise and delight, I discovered a sheltered re-entrant awash with yellow and took a number of photos to record the scene. However, it proved to be a one-off and over the next few years there were never more than two or three blooms at best to be seen, and often none at all. The land was so smothered in bracken that succulent green shoots must have been manna from heaven to hungry sheep. It seemed to me that if the sheep could be taken off this piece of land for just a few months every year, these delightful plants, smaller and more delicate than their garden counterparts, could thrive rather than simply survive. But how to achieve that? No farmer would sacrifice grazing, however poor, for flowers. As luck would have it, I started to go climbing on summer evenings after work with Rod Gritten, then Senior Ecologist for the Snowdonia National Park. Chatting on a stance halfway up a crag – it may have been Clogwyn y Wenallt in Nant Gwynant – I mentioned the daffodils and Rod’s response was immediately interested and positive. I’ll let him take up the story……

Rod continues…
The notion that wild daffodils, or to give them their rather clumsy Latin name Narcissus pseudonarcissus ssp pseudonarcissus might still survive in the wild was intriguing. Rob took me to have a look late the next January and sure enough, tiny green spears of emergent leaves were forcing their way through the frost encrusted bracken litter. But each one I examined showed the tell-tale nibbling by sheep and it was clear that none of these plants would survive to flower.

At this time, the National Park had its own very successful agri-environmental scheme, Rhaglen Tir Eryri. I discussed the situation with one of the scheme’s Field Officers and he agreed to investigate the possibility of funding a rescue plan. It took some time for me to discover who the landowner was but I was much more successful in tracking down the history of the Wildlife Trust’s involvement. The site had been well known and protected by the Trust but historical changes had occurred: management neglect and decades of winter grazing by sheep had all but obliterated this rare patch of a truly native daffodil.

To cut a long story short, Rhaglen Tir Eryri discussed the management of the site with the landowner, who agreed to let the scheme pay for a new stock-proof fence to be erected around the site, two new stiles and some judicious bracken spraying. The landowner was also in full agreement to exclude his stock during the late winter/early spring. The rest, as they say, is history. A very special place, tucked away off the beaten track, is now awash with the subtle yellow of this lovely plant with its blue-green leaves and diminutive form.

But that is by no means the end of the story. I had been closely involved in a number of high-profile road schemes in the Park being undertaken by Gwynedd Highways and the Assembly Trunk Roads Directorate, and the issue of bulb planting on the new verges frequently arose in the Environmental Liaison Group meetings. I have always felt quite uncomfortable about the ‘urbanisation’ of roadside verges in the wild scenery of the Park caused by the indiscriminate planting of large blousy daffodil cultivars. Why not investigate the possibility of arranging for a nursery to collect seed from the native daffodils in the Conwy valley, grow them on to the bulb stage and sell them back to the Highway Authorities for roadside verge planting? This is a long-term commitment since it takes some seven years to establish viable bulbs from seed but it is not only good for nature conservation but is also good for the local economy. As I understand it, this idea is receiving serious consideration by the Park and the Conwy wild daffodils are currently being DNA tested to make sure they are of pure stock. Let’s hope so – they certainly have all the characteristics of our native daffodil.

Rod Gritten was the Senior Ecologist for the Snowdonia National Park for many years until he left in 2008 to set up his own ecological consultancy. He now specialises in plant surveys.
Rob Collister is a mountain guide, these days working mostly in Switzerland and north Wales.

Cennin Pedr Conwy

Sgwrs rhwng dau ddringwr ar wyneb clogwyn yng ngogledd Cymru sbardunodd y gwaith i achub y genhinen bedr wyllt yn Nyffryn Conwy. Nid oedd angen hysbysfwrdd yr Ymddiriedolaeth Bywyd Gwyllt leol i rybuddio pobl rhag pigo’r cennin pedr ar y ffridd - roedd y defaid yn sicrhau nad oedd blodyn i’w weld fyth ar y safle! Yn ffodus daeth Rhaglen Tir Eryri, cynllun a ariannwyd gan arian Ewropeaidd, i’r adwy. Ar ôl codi ffens newydd, trin y rhedyn a chael cytundeb y ffermwr i dynnu’r stoc oddi ar y tir yn ystod y gaeaf a’r gwanwyn mae’r llethr bellach yn garped o liw melyn ym mis Mawrth.

Ac mae’r stori’n parhau. Oherwydd gofid un o’r dringwyr, a ddigwyddai fod yn ecolegydd gyda Pharc Cenedlaethol Eryri, am yr arfer o blannu cennin pedr gardd ar ymylon ffyrdd newydd fe awgrymodd y gellid meithrin hadau cennin pedr gwyllt Conwy er mwyn eu plannu drachefn yn fylbiau ar ymlyon ffyrdd Eryri. Mae’r syniad wedi cydio ac mae profion DNA wrthi’n cael eu cynnal ar y cennin pedr hyn er mwyn gweld a ydynt yn rhai pur.


  1. Deganwy History group - our wish to honour 5 airmen who were tragically killed in an Avro Anson N5130 in February 1944 .... to plant (with kind permission from the Highways agency in North Wales) a permanent floral feature which would flower each Feb / March at the crash site alongside the A470 at Llandudno Junction ...which flower would you suggest ?
    thank you ...await your reply
    Gwyn Hughes

  2. Margaret Thomas of the Snowdonia Society has been planting native wild daffodils at Tŷ Hyll (the Ugly House) and says: I recommend wild daffodils – so long as there are no other taller cultivated species planted with them. I would recommend Shipton Bulbs as a reliable Welsh company.

    Their website describes the Tenby Daffodil as being the ‘emblem of Wales’

    A good alternative supplier with a 30% discount on the Tenby daffodil at the moment is

    Please let us know what you decide to do.

  3. also do you know of a blue flower to flower during Feb / March ? ....thank you