The golden heads of the Boar’s throat crowned the poor soils of the brick works north of Conyer. The thistle is a much maligned plant yet their flowers are a bonus for pollinators and their grey seeds a feast for finches. And to many brownfields are seen by many as wastelands, even though they are very important places for wildlife and the Carline Thistle is the perfect emblem – a rare golden brown beauty that thrives on the poor soils of post industrial wildernesses.
The Carline thistle
Boar’s throat Wolf and Charlemagne’s thistle are other vernacular names for this wildflower.
Once the seeds have vanished on the wind, the heads appear like medieval brooches. Yet even in this state the flowers still attract bumblebees and solitary bees to feed from their pin cushion faces.
The presence of a Carline Thistle is said to be a sign of poor soils. Poor for what? For farming or for the vagaries of human use. And there in Kent on the remains of an old brick works this land was far from poor. It was awash with herbs – St. John’s wort, Viper’s bugloss, Ox-eye daisy, birds foot trefoil and more. A feast of flowers so typical of brownfield sites in the Thames Estuary and important redoubts for rare invertebrates. They are ‘good’ soils for biodiversity.
Like many brick works along the Estuary they carried London’s Victorian waste having delivered bricks to the Capital by barge. This London rubbish – porcelain, pot ash and glass – was dumped in the areas around the brick works. All around the site are piles of black soot mix with sand and ceramics. And it is this waste that makes such sites rich in wildlife. A paradise for bees, beetles, spiders and birds.
Long may the Carline thistle flourish and it’s golden brown flowers be a banner proclaiming that poor soils are in fact good soils for biodiversity.