Churchyard Nature Note with Andrew Tompsett

March 2018

Photos:  Peter Phelan (copyright)



Daffodils for Mothering Sunday


Mothering Sunday will soon be here and, as usual, we plan to celebrate the day with Cornish daffodils for every Mum at church. Local farmer, Andrew Richards, has once again kindly offered some from his Illogan crop and our valiant church team will brave the mud and cold winds to pick several bucketfuls to be bunched for the Sunday.


One can scarcely miss noticing the larger quantities of daffodils now grown in St. Illogan parish and despite all the concern over Brexit, most of these are still picked by hard-working people from Rumania who carry on regardless of the weather. The Cornish daffodil crop is now a large industry estimated at some 5,000 acres. The Isles of Scilly and West Cornwall are the earliest areas in the UK, with Lincolnshire and Scotland following on to give a total of some 5 months of outdoor grown flowers for the spring market.


Our churchyard daffs keep flowering year after year, if not decade after decade, so why are the farmed crops regularly moved from field to field? Historically, over the 100 or so years since they have been grown commercially, the crop has suffered some severe pest and disease problems, in fact, in the early 1920’s, the crop was almost totally wiped out by a pest known as eelworm. Disaster was averted when an Englishman named James Ramsbottom, perfected a control technique known as ‘warm- water treatment’ in which bulbs are soaked for 3 hours in water at 44.5°C every time they are lifted. Any crop grown on a field scale tends to encourage pests and diseases compared with our churchyard daffodils which live mostly in isolation and in grass. So rotation is used with cereals, brassicas, grass and potatoes, known as ‘break crops’, which are resistant to most of the specific daffodil problems. For many years it was a 2 year cycle optimising income from both flowers and dry bulb sales. Now, with the bulb trade in the doldrums, daffodil plantings on farms are tending to be left in the ground longer to maximise flower yield, whilst also watching to see if the bulbs will remain healthy with fewer warm-water treatments.


As you walk through the churchyard do have a close look at the small clumps of our older varieties such as the delicate double variety ‘van Sion’ said to have flourished in England since the 14th century.


Andrew Tompsett


Churchyard – The hard-working churchyard team were very pleased to receive the donation of a robust, heavy-duty mower from the Portreath Garden Machinery company. Our grateful thanks to PGM and for all the help rendered in respect of other equipment over the year. Any new volunteers to help drive and cut the grass are welcome!


Nest boxes – Kate and David Williams have just ‘spring-cleaned’ all 11 churchyard nest boxes. Blue tits seem to have been the most successful species with several used nests, either empty or containing the odd failed egg. One of the robin boxes also appeared to have been successful. Unused boxes are being relocated. This wildlife haven is indeed a valuable asset to the parish.