A cowslip survey

Cowslips at the entrance to our estate

Regular readers know how much I love the cowslips at the entrance to our estate. They usually bloom around now and I'm delighted they've increased in numbers consistently over the years.

Here you can see the original roadside bank from which they've spread into the meadow below, and now they've also leapt across the road to the opposite verge. An estate setting like this is more unusual as they're more of a wildflower meadow favourite. I think we're seeing the results of some seed spreading which took place over 20 years ago when the road builders established this mini-meadow and wetland to cope with runoff from the A350 nearby. 

Last week I learned the sight I love is becoming increasingly rare owing to habitat loss and the remaining populations may not be as healthy as they could be. As a result, Plantlife is asking for anyone who knows of a local patch of cowslips to conduct a short survey. I've just discovered cowslip plants have two different types; one bears male flowers (called the "S morph") and the other female (the "L morph"). Thankfully it's relatively easy to tell them apart: look into the centre of a flower and if you see a star-like structure it's male, or if it's a milky white flat 'plate', then it's female. The above link has good photos to show you as well as full details of what's involved.

The closer the ratio of the two is to 50:50, the healthier the population. Plantlife ask for a 100 plants per survey (or less if the patch is smaller than that) and by collating the results from as many surveys as possible, they can gain a good idea of how well our cowslips - and in turn our grassland habitats - are doing. It took me just 15 minutes to complete my survey, then a further 5 to complete my return. My ratio was 53 male, to 47 female which I guess is pretty healthy and probably helps to explain the population increase I've seen over the years.

Cowslips usually bloom in April/May, so the time is now if you'd like to take part!


  1. Learn something new every day. I shall complete the survey too.

  2. I used to have lots of cowslips in my garden then suddenly they dwindled to just a few, having read that they like dry chalk and I have waterlogged acidic soil, I now kmow why! I will now go and see how many males and females I have left.

    1. We're on lime here Pauline, which I meant to say is a good factor in keeping my local population healthy. It'll be interesting to see how your ratio compare. The survey asks for the location pinpointed on a map, so I guess Plantlife can easily see if factors such as geology affect the ratios.


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