For thousands of years France’s wildflowers flourished beside crops of wheat, rye and other cereals, but now they are disappearing; some are already gone like the Pheasant’s eye, Cornflower, Corncockle and Venus’s looking glass. In fact out of 102 wildflower varieties identified in France 7 have disappeared and 52 other varieties are under threat of extinction.
Long since treated as weeds, these wildflowers are hardly competitive with crops. Intensive farming, the widespread use of herbicides, increased crop seed density and deep ploughing has contributed to their demise. Botanists started being worried in the 1960s, because the flowers are a good indication of biodiversity on farmland, and they provide food for many pollinating insects. “In the long term losing these pollinators will damage farming itself, because even cereals need to be pollinated,” said Coulon, an agricultural engineer at Solagro, an organization that advocates sustainable farming. The plants also nourish wild birds and help combat crop pests by attracting ladybirds and syrphids, which feed on aphids, acting as a natural pesticide and reducing the need for chemicals.
“We need to draw attention to the biological value of these plants, so that their disappearance is no longer the exclusive concern of naturalists,” says Serge Largier, head of the Pyrenees Botanical Conservatory (CBN). “That way farmers may learn to cultivate their land as an ecosystem in its own right, not just an expanse of monoculture.”
France’s national plan for 2012-16 will include an overall inventory and the introduction of agro-ecological zones which must provide strips for wild flowers. “We may consider encouraging reseeding or setting aside more land as fallow,” says Coantic. The specialists believe that to save these species the use of herbicides and fertilisers will have to be reduced, with a return to shallow ploughed furrows.