By Glenn Norris
Daffodils are commonplace throughout the countryside, gardens and almost any urban greenspace as they are an easy-to-maintain spring flower that can provide a range of colours when little else is out. However, the true genetically undiluted Wild Daffodil, Narcissus pseudonarcissus, is a far more geographically restricted plant in the UK.
This was a common plant but is significantly declining due to agricultural improvement of meadows and mismanaged woodlands. They are now considered an indicator species of ancient woodland, and also unimproved meadows. Their drooping heads overlooking water is how they came to be known as Narcissus after the Greek mortal cursed with great beauty caught sight of his own reflection and couldn’t tear himself away until the Gods turned him in to the first Daffodil.
In Sussex, Wild Daffodils are locally frequent with the majority found in old woods on the Weald, and of the Wildlife Trust reserves, populations are known from Flatropers Wood in the east, and The Mens and Ebernoe Common in the west. But none have a population as superb as that at West Dean Woods. This site has restricted access, but a public bridleway runs along the western edge of the nature reserve, and provides the best vantage point to view the daffodils.
The Daffodils at West Dean Woods have been the subject of a long-term study since the 1970s by Brian Hopkins, who has provided a huge amount of data and learning on this plant, such as the numbers flowering each year being controlled by the weather of the previous spring. Standard monitoring found that the population had been increasing until plateauing in the early 2000s.
So if you go for a walk in an area of woodland that has been wooded for several hundred years on the Weald, and find a patch of daffodils deep in the woodland away from the car park, you may well be looking at some bona fide Wild Daffodils.