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Lost lichens and missing mosses

Urgent action needed after reports declare nearly 50 of Wales' smallest wild plants extinct.

March 15 2012

Tree lungwort © Ray Woods

Tree lungwort © Ray Woods

For hundreds of years, lichens, mosses and liverworts in Wales have been used for medicinal purposes and to dye wool, silk and even hair, yet these small simple plants are now under grave threat. Plantlife is launching two Red Data Lists today at the National Museum of Wales, which reveal that a staggering number of lichens and bryophytes are now extinct in Wales.

Plantlife’s Trevor Dines who is one of the authors explains “The Red Data lists turn our gaze onto the tiny lichens, mosses and liverworts that grow on almost every tree, wall, rock, twig, pavement and bit of soil that we see when we are out on a walk. They’re everywhere and yet we hardly ever notice them. Close up they’re incredibly beautiful, turning roofs into tapestries of green with soft carpets and cushions, or miniature alien landscapes of orange and grey on walls. The Red Data lists are a “stock take” of what we have, what’s already gone and are essential for us to prevent further losses”

Environment Minister, John Griffiths spoke at the launch to explain how vital these small plants are for Wales:

"The importance of plants and fungi are sometimes overlooked, but they are the building blocks of our ecosystems here in Wales. These reports are significant because they will help raise the profile of plants and get them the recognition they deserve for the vital services they provide. By doing so, we can ensure that more conservation action is taken towards researching and preserving key species."

Red Alert

The Red Data List findings show that:

  • Wales is home to 73% of British bryophytes and 72% of British lichen species.
  • Yet 1 in 6 of these species are now under threat of extinction with a further 136 species classed as critically endangered or endangered.
  • Lichens and bryophytes are extremely sensitive to air pollution and tell us how clean the air is. They filter our water, help prevent flooding, store huge amounts of carbon and provide homes for many of our invertebrates.
  • There are just 5 lichenologists and 6 bryologists in Wales, making them rarer than many of the species they are passionate about. If more experts are not trained through initiatives like the Lichen Apprentice Scheme more of these treasures will disappear without our knowledge.
  • While Plantlife findings show that Wales has lost a worrying number of lichens and bryophytes, these two reports also mark a major step towards Wales completing Target 2 of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation - a worldwide strategy that aims to halt the continuing loss of plant diversity around the world.