15 March 2002

GOLDENOLDIESSAVED

A dale of golden daffodils brings thousands of sightseers

to the North Yorks Moors National Park every spring and

now farmers are helping ensure they will still be there to

be enjoyed for years to come. Tom Montgomery reports

TO GET the full feel of spring after a long, gloomy winter head for Farndale, a pretty little village in North Yorkshire. For mile after mile you can see wild daffodils, here carpeting the meadows, there blooming in clumps alongside the tiny River Dove.

Every year 40,000 visitors pass this way, agreeing with the poet Robert Herrick, who lamented: "Fair daffodils, we weep to see you haste away so soon." Prophetic words, for the brief, stunning spectacular could be declining and steps are being taken to find out if and why.

The co-operation of farmers in revealing the answers and keeping the flowers blooming is vital, according to Rona Charles, ecologist for the North Yorks Moors National Park.

The numbers of sightseers converging by coach and car on the normally quiet Dale is now so huge, a temporary one-way system has to be introduced during "daffy time" to prevent gridlock on the narrow country lanes. A special bus operates to try to reduce the pressure.

&#42 Necessary evil?

Locals may see the sheer weight of numbers as a necessary evil but recognise the importance of the flowers to the economy. Bed-and-breakfasts, pubs and tea-rooms all have a stake in the masses of blooms.

A dozen farmers have voluntarily "signed up" to participate in a management agreement aimed at finding out whether the famous daffodils are on the wane. In the past, people from nearby towns arrived to fill baskets with them to sell on street corners. It is now an offence to pick, dig up or damage them.

"We keep hearing they are not as good as they were, which is difficult to quantify," said Mrs Charles. "They are present in the same areas as 15 years ago but the flowering could be less dense and the colonies becoming thinner. We just dont know." Weather factors can have a big influence on daffodils but the scheme is trying to discover if more intensive agriculture is playing a part. "Stocking rates are likely to be higher than in the past and there is certainly less old grassland," said Mrs Charles.

&#42 Trampling

Constant trampling by sheep and cattle may not square with acres of golden daffodils so the farmers keep their animals out of fields containing the flowers from January to April. The scheme was introduced last year but owing to foot-and-mouth this will be the first chance to monitor it. "Well see how it goes for the next few years," said Mrs Charles.

Andy Fawbert, of Hall Farm, Farndale, is a supporter and keeps his sheep off 10 fields containing the flowers until they are past their best.

He has one of the finest shows of daffodils. But he feels that occasional, selective grazing of the daffodils could make the bulbs stronger and give more blooms. "Certain areas now have hardly any flowers when they used to be covered," he said.

His father, Len, 89, can remember a spot that was picked and grazed and the daffodils were so thick you couldnt drop a pin without hitting one. Now there are hardly any.

Fertilising the fields in the past may also not have done the daffodils any good, said Andy.

The whole question of what is and what is not good for the daffodils is a complicated one and Mrs Charles is the first to admit they havent got to the bottom of it and people like Andy could be right.

Farmers have never been slow off the conservation mark in Farndale whether it is helping with footpath restoration or managing their fields sensitively. Part of the area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Agriculture is the mainstay of the Dale and the daffodil fields are found mainly on small, working farms.

&#42 No big trumpets

The daffodils that Words-worth immortalised were not the big trumpeters blossoming in our gardens. They were probably Narcissus pseudonarcissus, the smaller, wild variety that likes the damp pasture and soils of Farndale.

The Dale, which may take its name from Ferna, the Gaelic for the alder growing on the banks of the Dove, is an ancient recorded valley mentioned in the 12th century when the Abbot of Rievaulx Abbey was granted a clearing there.

Romantics like to think it was the monks that planted the first bulbs but natural propagation is more likely. The daffodils occur in other parts of the Park but not in such profusion.

The Farndale daffodils come into bloom any time from mid-March onwards, depending on the weather, and last about a month. Visitors can enjoy a two-and-a-half mile daffodil walk that is part of a public right of way.

owing to foot-and-mouth this will be the first chance to monitor it. "Well see how it goes for the next few years," said Mrs Charles.

Andy Fawbert, of Hall Farm, Farndale, is a supporter and keeps his sheep off 10 fields containing the flowers until they are past their best.

He has one of the finest shows of daffodils. But he feels that occasional, selective grazing of the daffodils could make the bulbs stronger and give more blooms. "Certain areas now have hardly any flowers when they used to be covered," he said.

His father, Len, 89, can remember a spot that was picked and grazed and the daffodils were so thick you couldnt drop a pin without hitting one. Now there are hardly any.

Fertilising the fields in the past may also not have done the daffodils any good, said Andy.

The whole question of what is and what is not good for the daffodils is a complicated one and Mrs Charles is the first to admit they havent got to the bottom of it and people like Andy could be right.

Farmers have never been slow off the conservation mark in Farndale whether it is helping with footpath restoration or managing their fields sensitively. Part of the area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Agriculture is the mainstay of the Dale and the daffodil fields are found mainly on small, working farms.

&#42 No big trumpets

The daffodils that Words-worth immortalised were not the big trumpeters blossoming in our gardens. They were probably Narcissus pseudonarcissus, the smaller, wild variety that likes the damp pasture and soils of Farndale.

The Dale, which may take its name from Ferna, the Gaelic for the alder growing on the banks of the Dove, is an ancient recorded valley mentioned in the 12th century when the Abbot of Rievaulx Abbey was granted a clearing there.

Romantics like to think it was the monks that planted the first bulbs but natural propagation is more likely. The daffodils occur in other parts of the Park but not in such profusion.

The Farndale daffodils come into bloom any time from mid-March onwards, depending on the weather, and last about a month. Visitors can enjoy a two-and-a-half mile daffodil walk that is part of a public right of way.