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On the high peaks of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) and on the Glyderau there grows a forest that is little more than a foot high. A forest of Juniper Juniperus communis subsp. nana nestled among the rocks in the crags and crevices. They are everywhere, if you look in the right places, creeping through the thin turf and sprawling over rocks.

 

Where can you find Wales’ Juniper forests?

If you scramble over the jagged ridges of Crib Goch and Crib Y Ddisgl you will find them. On Esgair Felen they tumble down the cliffs and on the upper reaches of the Watkin Path you will be walking through the middle of this ‘coedwig fach’ (little forest). Y Lliwedd, one of the satellite peaks of Yr Wyddfa, holds the largest of these forests and here you can’t fail to notice them, although you may not realise they are trees.

Their twisted and gnarled trunks keep close to the ground, bonsaied by the cold and the wind in the exposed locations in which they grow. These small trees are glacial relics from a time between the ice ages, like many of our Arctic – Alpine species.

They are clinging on literally for dear life in the least accessible locations in our mountains where they find refuge from the goats and the sheep and the deep time history of clearance of our mountain woodlands.

These Juniper plants, alongside Dwarf Willown Salix repens, are the fragmented upper reaches of a special type of woodland that has almost disappeared from the mountains of Eryri.

A woodland of low growing scrubby willows, junipers and other ‘Krummholz’ trees and shrubs. ‘Krummholz’ is a German word that is used to describe dwarfed gnarled trees that push high into the mountains to eke out their existence in a tangled and contorted state.

 

Protecting the foot high forests

This scrubby, fairy woodland would have once spread from about 450 metres in altitude, the natural treeline, almost to the summits of Eryri. Elsewhere in Britain it is found in the Scottish Highlands and there are fragments of it in the Lake District. It still just about exists here in Wales on the edges and ledges where people and grazers have never ventured.

The trees of Eryri are under recorded, with limited records of trees in the high mountains, so there is still so much more to understand about these sky-high forests.

Recently, whilst out climbing, I discovered a tree species I was not expecting on a ledge, a Bird Cherry Prunus padus. The discovery of this cherry links our mountain woodlands even more directly to those of Scotland where Bird Cherry is a common feature.

Read more about the work Natur am Byth! is doing through the Tlysau Mynydd Eryri project to better understand these tiny but fascinating forests, alongside Bangor University.

The importance of the coedwig fach in Cymru

Restoration of this mosaic of alpine woodland comes with great benefits. This habitat is ecologically vital, for invertebrates’ montane trees and shrubs are particularly important and many of these woody species support high diversity of endemic ectomycorrhizal fungi. Additionally, mountain woodland habitat and willow scrub can provide protection against extreme weather for rare tall herb and alpine plant communities which would otherwise be exposed and struggle to persist in alpine environments.

The increasing diversity enabled by these wooded upland communities has positive impacts for small mammals and birds such as Ring Ouzel. Succession in these wooded habitats builds soil organic matter through their leaf litter. These woodlands reduce erosion by building these soils and halt water runoff which reduces the impacts of flooding.

So, if you are planning a trip up Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) any time soon, keep an eye open for the forest you are walking through and take a moment to stop and think about what the mountains may have looked like before their woodlands almost disappeared, the other species that were lost with them and the way they could look again.

Our work in Wales

Rosy Saxifrage reintroduced into Wales after 62 years extinct 
person holding a plant with white flowers

Rosy Saxifrage reintroduced into Wales after 62 years extinct 

The beautiful mountain plant, Rosy Saxifrage, has returned to the wild in Wales after becoming extinct in 1962.  

Juniper on the Peaks: A Foot High Forest 

Juniper on the Peaks: A Foot High Forest 

Discover the gnarled woodlands on the wildest peaks in Wales, as Robbie Blackhall-Miles reveals the secrets of Eryri’s miniature but magical Juniper forests.

How to Grow a Wildflower Meadow
Wildflower meadow landscape with a variety of species near Cardiff, Wales

How to Grow a Wildflower Meadow

Whether it’s your back garden, local park, community field or lawn, wildflower meadows are amazing spaces with so much to offer.

Hazel Gloves Fungus’ common name comes from the finger-like projections of the stromata, cushion-like plate of solid mycelium. Found on Hazel trees in Britain, it is actually parasitic on the Glue Crust fungus Hymenochaete corrugate, and not the Hazel tree itself.

It was incredibly exciting to find Hazel Glove fungus. I knew about its importance as a rainforest indicator species and also its rarity status. I had seen many photos of it and so when I turned to take a second look at something I saw in the corner of my eye, I knew at once what it was.

I couldn’t share my unbridled joy at my discovery with anyone else in that moment, unless you include telling the singing Dipper I had just spotted or indeed talking to myself about it as I walked back along the trail. However, I was able to capture that moment on camera to relive again.

What does finding Hazel Gloves Fungus tell us?

Hazel Glove fungus is an indicator of good air quality and temperate rainforest conditions, making it a flagship species for this threatened habitat. Temperate rainforests are found in areas that are influenced by the sea, with high rainfall and humidity and damp climate.

They are home to some intriguing and sometimes rare bryophytes, plants and fungi. Plantlife are working in many ways to protect and restore this globally threatened habitat. 

Fungi need you to find them!

I have since sent in my record to the county fungi recorder with a 10 figure grid reference, only to discover that this species has not been officially recorded in that area before, which only heightened my sense of achievement.

Recording fungi and sending your finds to local wildlife recorders creates a more accurate picture of the wild and wonderful world around us – and helps people like us know where to target conservation efforts.

It’s estimated that more than 90% of fungi are unknown to science, and only 0.4% of the fungi we know about have enough data to be assessed for global conservation status – letting us know if they’re critically endangered or not.

Learn more about fungi

No Mow May: Can your garden be a carbon store?
Garden meadow by pond (c) Shuttleworth

No Mow May: Can your garden be a carbon store?

It’s not just trees that capture and store carbon – our meadows and grasslands can play an important role too.

The Wildlife in our Meadows
Duke of Burgundy butterfly on cowslip.

The Wildlife in our Meadows

From bumblebees to birds and moths to mammals – meadows are micro-cities of wildlife. Here's what to spot in your wildflower meadow.

Finding Hazel Gloves Fungus: Why Recording Matters

Finding Hazel Gloves Fungus: Why Recording Matters

Hazel Gloves Fungus is a priority species on the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, learn more about this rainforest fungi this Reverse the Red month.

The landmark State of Nature report is a stark call to action, published by the RSPB. The headlines are alarming, with species populations in decline, species communities changing and extinction rates increasing. The report makes it clear that to protect our wildlife we need cohesion and mobilisation of all sectors of society.

Against this backdrop, and under the weight of responsibility to the environment, communities are now rallying together to ask for change. From small online actions such as signing petitions at home, to organising rallies in our capital, such as the Restore Nature Now demo organised by Chris Packham and his team in September 2023.

 

Who is speaking up for plants and fungi?

A group of protestors with banners reading 'restore nature' and 'our species need us now'

That’s what we asked ourselves when we were invited to join the Restore Nature Now rally.

Plantlife hasn’t traditionally taken much of an active stance as an organisation, but amidst the list of NGOs who would be attending, there was a stark absence of anybody to fly the flag for our flora and funga.

We recognise our own responsibility to step up for the plants and planet we love.

A group of children and adults painting banners in a room

Plantlife advocated for the need for plants and fungi to be prioritised and valued at all scales, from landscape management planning right up to government decision making.

We emphasised that our species need us now, that they are the fundamental building blocks of biodiversity, and we simply can’t afford to lose them.

We attended alongside over 40 organisations, enlisting the help of community art groups to help up visualise our mission into a banner and meeting with supporters who had responded to our call to action.

Ways you can stand up for nature

The loss of our plants and fungi is a political issue in that it affects every one of us, and is beyond party politics. Despite the central role they play in biodiversity support and carbon storage, plants and fungi are still overlooked and undervalued by decisionmakers.

Here’s some ways you can ask for change:

 

Take part in organised protests

The atmosphere at Restore Nature Now at DEFRA was exciting and energising, with talks, speeches, poems, songs and readings from scientists, artists and all kinds of empowered nature-lovers. Most organised events are inclusive, positive, safe and legal. It is awe-inspiring to hear people’s stories, hopes and visions. Look out for events shared by local groups and charities.

Spread the word

Regardless of which species or habitats we advocate for, each is interconnected and interdependent on each other. Like the formation or start of a whole new ecosystem, we need to make connections and have conversations with people beyond our organisations and groups. We need new friends and allies, people with a shared vision for change.

Support us

The money that supports us doesn’t just save wild plants through practical action for our most at-risk habitats and landscapes. It also fuels our passionate team of wild plant and fungi advocates to demand change at all levels, from local action to national governments. We can’t do this without you.

More ways to get involved…

What does a No Mow May lawn look like?
No Mow May lawn with Bulbous Buttercup and Meadow saxifrage

What does a No Mow May lawn look like?

Thousands of people across the country have been letting it grow for #NoMowMay this year – and this is what it looks like!

How to Start a Community Meadow?

How to Start a Community Meadow?

Want to start a community meadow, but not sure where to begin? Read our guide to creating a flower-filled haven for your local community.

How to Grow a Wildflower Meadow
Wildflower meadow landscape with a variety of species near Cardiff, Wales

How to Grow a Wildflower Meadow

Whether it’s your back garden, local park, community field or lawn, wildflower meadows are amazing spaces with so much to offer.

Get lost in the miniature world of lichens and bryophytes

Did you know that there’s entire miniature kingdom, rich in hundreds of species that we can discover right on our doorsteps? Lichens and bryophytes can grow almost anywhere, from the intrepid lichens we can spot growing on our city centre pavements, to the tiny forests of mosses flourishing in woodlands.

Want to get started learning about these tiny but fascinating species? Join Lizzie Wilberforce on her journey to learn 10 moss species >

Discover winter on our reserves

Plantlife reserves aren’t just for summer! The wildflower meadows we manage, that bloom in a rainbow of colour in the summer, provide the perfect overwintering habitats for wildlife.

Our reserves team have spotted overwintering birds like Lapwing at our Lugg reserve in Herefordshire, and Snipe at Cae Blaen-dyffryn in Wales. Some of our most iconic winter species, Ivy, Holly and Mistletoe provide food for hungry birds and invertebrates at our Ranscombe and Joan’s Hill reserves.

Find your nearest reserve >

Go out and find NPMS species

The evergreen, spiny bushes of Gorse flower with a coconut perfume all year round, hence the phrase ‘when Gorse is in flower, kissing is in season’ – perhaps more relevant on our reserves home to Mistletoe! Gorse is one of our National Plant Monitoring Scheme species, a chance for volunteers to record plants which appear in designated squares across the country.

You might also spot Hart’s-tongue Fern on your woodland walks, or even Shepherd’s Purse on a school field!

Eagle-eyed plant spotters are encouraged to sign up to the NPMS scheme by picking a square here >

Leaving your lawn wild

If you took part in this years No Mow May and left an area of your lawn to grow wild year round, you’re helping nature this winter without having to lift a finger! Areas of longer grass left completely unmown from spring to autumn are home to a wider range of wildflowers, and the species that depend on them.

These long grasses left on the edge of your lawn provide valuable feeding material, shelter, and nesting sites for species such as hedgehogs, toads, butterflies and even lizards – connecting them across our landscape.

Read more tips on creating your wildest lawn yet >

More ways to enjoy plants and fungi

What does a No Mow May lawn look like?
No Mow May lawn with Bulbous Buttercup and Meadow saxifrage

What does a No Mow May lawn look like?

Thousands of people across the country have been letting it grow for #NoMowMay this year – and this is what it looks like!

How to Start a Community Meadow?

How to Start a Community Meadow?

Want to start a community meadow, but not sure where to begin? Read our guide to creating a flower-filled haven for your local community.

How to Grow a Wildflower Meadow
Wildflower meadow landscape with a variety of species near Cardiff, Wales

How to Grow a Wildflower Meadow

Whether it’s your back garden, local park, community field or lawn, wildflower meadows are amazing spaces with so much to offer.

Thanks to its association with Christmas, and its appearance on cards and decorations, Mistletoe is probably one of our most recognised native species. This association also means that the ‘kissing plant’ is also harvested in huge volumes each year for seasonal decorations. That tradition probably derives from a long history of use in ritual, which may have started with Celtic druids.

It’s seen variously as a symbol of fertility, love, and peace across European cultures. However, the kissing tradition itself appears to have developed more recently, perhaps in the 18th century.

More about Mistletoe

But what of the plant in the wild? Although it has a widespread distribution in the UK, it is quite rare in many areas. Its greatest abundance is strongly clustered around the Welsh-English border areas.

In fact, it’s also the county flower of Herefordshire, where you can find our Joan’s Hill Farm Nature Reserve. Here, it is strongly associated with the area’s fruit orchards, although it grows on a wide range of deciduous trees such as poplars and limes as well as orchard species.

The life of a parasitic plant

Mistletoe is an ‘obligate hemi-parasite’ of the trees on which it grows: that is, it doesn’t just grow on trees as a physical host. It actually can’t survive without the biological symbiosis it has with the host tree, although it does also photosynthesise. So how does that relationship work?

Mistletoe produces seeds in white berries – itself unusual, being our only native plant with truly white berries. The seeds are spread through the landscape by birds, such as thrushes (via their droppings) and Blackcaps (which move seeds mechanically on their bodies).

Both routes allow seeds to stick to new tree hosts, where if the location is suitable, they germinate. The young emerging seedlings are photosynthetic, and so at this early stage they are not dependent on the tree.

As the seedlings grow, some shoots penetrate the bark of the tree and connect with the tissue beneath- the beginnings of the parasitic relationship. In the plant’s first year, its connections with the tree’s tissues already provide it with water and crucial mineral nutrients.

It’s only then, over the following few years, that the plant very slowly begins to grow. Mistletoe is a long-lived perennial.

How does parasitism work?

Parasitism is a form of symbiosis where one partner benefits at the expense of the other. Mistletoe thrives on account of the tree, but the reverse is not true. If a tree has a lot of Mistletoe, it can eventually affect the tree quite severely, impeding growth, and for example, making it more susceptible to drought as a result of water loss.

Parasitism has evolved multiple different times across the plant world. The largest flower in the world, Rafflesia arnoldii, is the flower of a parasite. There is a parasitic conifer, Parasitaxus usta, that grows in New Caledonia, and Hydnora africana looks like it comes from a scifi movie.

Discover more parasitic plants in the UK

In the UK we have a wealth of parasitic and hemi parasitic plants that gain nutrients directly from other plants as well as a whole bunch of plant species that rob their nutrients either fully or partially from fungi.

  • We have 21 different species of eyebright, Euprasia, in the UK. Some, like Euphrasia cambrica, (pictured) are found here and nowhere else in the world. The beauty of eyebright flowers is best viewed with a hand lens. Some eyebright species can be seen in abundance during the summer at nature reserves such as Caeau Tan y Bwlch in North Wales. Here you can find rare Euphrasia monticola alongside thousands of Greater Butterfly Orchids.
  • If you happen to be in your local supermarket carpark it is worth looking out for the newly described variety of broomrape, Orobanche minor heliophila. This variety of Orobanche minor was only recognised in the UK in 2020. This plant is only found growing with a shrub from New Zealand that is often planted in carparks called Brachyglottis × jubar ‘Sunshine’.
  • We have two species of toothwort here too – one, Lathraea squamaria, is native and associates with Hazel trees; the other, Lathraea clandestine, was introduced as a garden plant and will happily parasitise several different trees and shrubs without doing them any serious harm.
  • Yellow Rattle, Rhinanthus minor (the meadow maker) is a hemi parasite and we use this feature in wildflower meadows to reduce the vigour of grasses and benefit the other plants. Its relative is Rhinanthus angustifolius is now very rare in the UK. Eyebrights, cow wheats, louseworts and bartsias also serve the same role as yellow rattles in meadows and woodlands.
  • We have 14 different species of broomrape many of which only associate with a single, or a very small number of, host species. Broomrapes are spectacular plants and rival many of our terrestrial orchids for beauty – it’s worth going out and trying to see some of them. The easiest ones to find are probably Ivy Broomrape or Common Broomrape
  • Possibly the most vampire-like parasitic plants we have in the UK are the dodders, Cuscuta. Three species of dodder are found here, two are native and one is introduced. When they germinate, they can ‘sniff out’ their host plant species which they then twine around before the penetrate the hosts stems to extract nutrients with haustorium – rootlike structures that absorb water or nutrients from the host.
  • Many orchids like Neottia nidus-avis, the Bird’s-nest Orchid, and heather relatives such as Monotropa hypopitys, the Dutchmans Pipe (pictured), extract all their nutrients from fungi without providing anything back to their host. This is a type of parasitism called myco-heterotrophy.

Learn more about plants

Rosy Saxifrage reintroduced into Wales after 62 years extinct 
person holding a plant with white flowers

Rosy Saxifrage reintroduced into Wales after 62 years extinct 

The beautiful mountain plant, Rosy Saxifrage, has returned to the wild in Wales after becoming extinct in 1962.  

Juniper on the Peaks: A Foot High Forest 

Juniper on the Peaks: A Foot High Forest 

Discover the gnarled woodlands on the wildest peaks in Wales, as Robbie Blackhall-Miles reveals the secrets of Eryri’s miniature but magical Juniper forests.

Why the Wild Leek is a Symbol of Wales

Why the Wild Leek is a Symbol of Wales

The Wild Leek has been a symbol of Wales for so long that its stories date back to St David himself.

The autumn spectacle of multicoloured waxcaps is an important indicator of ancient grasslands that have been unploughed for decades, and which are rich in carbon and soil biodiversity.  

Unfortunately, many of these irreplaceable grassland fungi sites continue to disappear under tree planting, new houses, intensive farming, transport infrastructure and more. It is certain that many more are also lost unseen, because of a series of interlinked issues that place the conservation of fungi far behind that of other taxa like mammals and birds. 

What issues do grassland fungi face?

The first, and perhaps most important, is the shortage of skilled field surveyors able to identify and record fungi (known as mycologists). Fortunately, there does seem to be an increasing interest in fungi amongst the public. The 1,500 members of Plantlife’s #WaxcapWatch Facebook page is a reflection of this, and is very encouraging.

However, the number of people working professionally as field surveyors remains very low. Most ecological consultancies, who undertake survey work to protect wildlife during development, don’t employ mycologists. 

This lack of expert recorders and recording means that we still have very little data describing the distribution of fungal species across large parts of the country, especially compared to other taxa.

What happens when there is no data?

There is huge pressure on land use today. We need land for farming, for tree planting, for renewable power generation, for housing: the list goes on. Our ability to deliver nature’s recovery depends on us making good decisions when planning these activities. That in turn ensures that nature is protected, and actually restored, in line with government targets and policies. 

However, picture this: plans are afoot to build a large new housing estate on formerly sheep-grazed agricultural land. Ecological surveys are required. However, a search of databases doesn’t reveal any fungal records, because no field mycologists have ever visited the land.

The ecological consultancy visits the site in summer, because that’s when plants, birds and mammals are best surveyed. They don’t employ a mycologist. The plants in the fields aren’t that interesting- and so the proposal gets the go ahead. In fact, the fields are incredibly rich in waxcaps, but nobody knows, and nobody looks. The site is lost without ever being recognised for its biodiversity. 

The impact of development on our hidden fungi

This is a very real problem that Plantlife is currently observing in multiple cases across Wales at present. Fungal surveys are difficult to do, and often considered unreasonably burdensome for developers, even for large projects. As a result, we are losing precious ancient grasslands before we’ve even been able to recognise them for what they are. You can’t compensate for an impact on something you never knew was there. 

It’s also likely to be an increasing problem in the coming years with large infrastructure projects being planned. For example, in Wales there is a huge amount of work scheduled to reinforce our electricity supply grid, with new cabling going in across the country. Julie James MS, the Minister for Climate Change in Wales, has said the presumption will be that new cables will be underground, to reduce the visual impact. Will the impact on fungi be adequately identified and mitigated? At present, that seems unlikely. 

What can we do to help grassland fungi?

All is not lost, and there are many things we can do to address this problem. 

  • We need government, local authority planners, and developers, to recognise that current systems regularly fail to identify sites that are important for fungi, and make sure that the impacts on our internationally important ancient grasslands are better addressed.
  • We need better legal protection for fungi. For example, there are presently only 27 species protected under Section 7 of the Environment (Wales) Act 2016, compared to 51 birds and 188 invertebrates.
  • We need more investment in surveying fungi before committing to land use change. That means training and employing more field mycologists, but also making more and better use of new techniques such as eDNA surveys. These surveys can identify fungi present in the soil, and help to reduce our dependence on surveys during the autumn fungal fruiting season.
  • We need more data. We can all help with that, by recording fungi when we see them. Even if you aren’t an expert, you can take part in our Waxcap Watch, which only asks for the colours of grassland fungi you see. This helps to identify sites of potential value. When the value of a site is understood and recorded, it makes it easier to fight to defend that value.

More ways we’re saving wild plants and fungi

Give plants and fungi a vote at the general election
A group of protestors holding a banner which reads 'A world rich in plants and fungi'

Give plants and fungi a vote at the general election

We depend on Plants and Fungi, however their future depends on what elected politicians do for nature. Use your vote to give plants and fungi a voice at the 2024 general election.

No Mow May: Can your garden be a carbon store?
Garden meadow by pond (c) Shuttleworth

No Mow May: Can your garden be a carbon store?

It’s not just trees that capture and store carbon – our meadows and grasslands can play an important role too.

Peat-free horticulture for plants, people and planet
Yellow flowers of Bog Asphodel among grass and other bog plants.

Peat-free horticulture for plants, people and planet

Extraction of peat for gardening and horticulture continues to damage wildlife and our climate, despite government commitments to phase it out. Plantlife is calling on governments and industry to end the use of peat in gardening and horticulture to benefit nature and our climate. 

How volunteers care for Three Hagges

Volunteers have been helping to care for the woodmeadow for over 10 years. The group was founded by residents in surrounding villages joining forces to turn a 10ha arable field into the Three Hagges nature reserve that we know and love today.  

We meet every Tuesday morning, rain, shine, or snow, and we do a range of practical conservation tasks to keep the woodmeadow a pleasant place for visitors and a thriving habitat for wildlife.  

Tasks change from season to season but include: 

  • Growing flowers and trees from seed in our bespoke polytunnel 
  • Planting wildflower plug plants and trees
  • Collecting seed 
  • Maintaining paths, benches and interpretation boards within the woodmeadow 

This winter we are coppicing areas of Hazel and we will use the material to create dead hedges throughout the site. Last year we used the hazel to create a woven story-telling den which was great fun. 

There’s always a long list of jobs to do so we never run out of tasks! 

Get involved with protecting nature

We’re lucky to have a wonderful network of volunteers who help survey and record the different species here. Volunteers regularly do moth trapping, as well as bumblebee, bird, reptile and plant surveys. This helps to understand the biodiversity this special place supports. 

The woodmeadow is incredibly diverse – you may be lucky enough to come across a basking Grass Snake or see a Buzzard circling overhead as you explore Three Hagges and the pond is teeming with dragonflies and damselflies in the summer. 

We can even keep track of weather conditions and water levels on site too through our recently installed weather station. None of this monitoring would be possible without the expertise and dedication of our survey volunteers. 

The magic of Three Hagges Woodmeadow

The whole of Three Hagges Woodmeadow is incredibly special. There are surprises around every corner to enjoy, such as a bee hotel, Crombie Roundhouse (a traditional shelter made of materials found in the wood) and wildlife pond.  

I love how the site changes throughout the seasons. In spring, the meadows and woodland are coming alive, with early spring flowers. Looking closely in the woodlands you can spot Violets, Wood Anemone and Stitchwort.  

As summer moves closer, the wildflower meadows burst with colour and are truly breathtaking as a sea of purples and yellows take hold with species like Field Scabious, Common Knapweed and Bird’s-foot Trefoil. 

Volunteering at Three Hagges

Without the volunteers, Three Hagges Woodmeadow would simply not exist. Volunteers have worked tirelessly growing hundreds of wildflowers a year so that the meadow is bursting with colour, and cutting back vegetation from benches and interpretation boards so that the site can be enjoyed by visitors.  

I would be completely lost without my team of volunteers – I couldn’t enhance and maintain Three Hagges on my own.

The volunteers are the heart and soul of the woodmeadow and they turn up, whatever the weather, to work hard, laugh hard and go home tired and happy. 

Where we work

The Cairngorms is characterised by two rare habitat types – the pinewoods and the high mountaintop plateau (habitat consistently above 650m). These are the main areas we work on, alongside upland species rich meadows and grassland fungi sites. 

The Cairngorms is a beautiful and varied landscape, from rough river floodplains, giving way to woodlands, moorlands and mountains.  

Above 1000m the flora becomes very different from what we are familiar with in the rest of the UK, with mosses, liverworts, hardy sedges and grasses, and dwarf woody plants no higher than your ankles clinging to rocks. It is closer to arctic communities than our lowlands.

How volunteers safeguard rare plants

We are lucky to have an amazing team of volunteers who support our work on rare pinewood flower species, as well as helping to identify and conserve species from meadows to mountaintops. 

In the pinewoods…

We focused on translocation of the pinewood species Twinflower Linnaea borealis cuttings between sites as we know remaining patches are declining due to lack of cross-pollination. Volunteers helped collect the cuttings, grew them on in their gardens, and helped plant them out at the new sites. 

Our other pinewood species, One-flowered Wintergreen Moneses uniflora, is poorly understood, and most of our work has focused on learning about causes of their decline and what we can do about it. 

From meadows to mountains…

In partnership with the James Hutton Institute, intrepid mountain climbing volunteers collected soil samples for eDNA analysis from Munro’s across the Cairngorms. This helped us discover more about the fungi that lie beneath the surface, doubling the total recorded mountaintop fungi for Scotland in one survey. 

In the meadows, Pastures for Life helped establish a grazing trial of a new conservation grazing technique called mob grazing in Strathspey. Volunteers put in hundreds of hours surveying over 250 quadrats at our trial farms each year, so we can understand more about the impact of this technique on wild plants and fungi. 

Volunteer Story: Saving Twinflower

In June 2023, volunteers mobilised quickly for emergency watering of Twinflower cuttings. The weather in May was perfect and we started the first round of planting out, putting ~550 cuttings into the ground. 

Immediately following this, June was startlingly dry and hot. We were panicking that our hard work would be wasted, with every cutting perishing in the unusually dry conditions. Freshly planted cuttings are especially susceptible to drought, as their roots haven’t yet established.  

Volunteers spent the month of June collecting water from burns and hiking up hills and across rough terrain laden with bottles just to sprinkle it over our plots and repeat the process again a few days later. I am so grateful to those that helped, and comforted to know we gave our Twinflower cuttings the best chance we could. 

Opportunities to volunteer

Volunteers have always been key to this project and are involved in all sorts of activities with us here in the Cairngorms. They can be attending a training course one week, surveying meadows the following week, pulling out invasive Rhododendron, and even taking care of rare plants at home. 

You don’t have to be a botanist to get involved with Plantlife. We’ve had help from school children, students, mountain climbers, and all sorts of folks who know very little about plants or nature. 

All you need to volunteer with us is a passion to learn new things and a drive to get involved and help out. 

Heritage Fund Logo - In black

 

Using a hand lens will not only make it easier to identify plants such as lichens, but you’ll also be able to see the beautiful, intricate structures on a plant which are not easily visible to the naked eye. 

A hand lens is a pocket-sized magnifier, which you can pick up from your favourite natural history or ecology suppliers to kick start your botanical explorations. When looking for your new hand lens, start with one with x10 magnification, and expect to spend £10-£20. 

How to use a hand lens 

Hand lenses are not used in the same way as a traditional magnifying glass but are held close to the eye. Here’s how to do it:

1. If you are right-handed, hold the lens in your right hand as close as you can to your right eye (and vice versa for left-handers). If you wear glasses, you can take them off or not – whatever is the most comfortable.

2. Hold the plant between the thumb and forefinger of your other hand and bring it very close to the lens until it comes into sharp focus. Don’t move the lens.

3. Always try to have contact between the hand holding the lens and your cheek, as well as between your left hand and your right hand. This gives you maximum control and allows you to keep the plant and lens steady. With practice this will become easier and easier, and you’ll find you can do it without shutting your other eye.

Now wonder at the marvels of even our smallest wild plants and fungi, and discover the hidden botanical world around you!

More ways to get involved

What does a No Mow May lawn look like?
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‘Inspired by Lief Bersweden’s Couch to 10 Mosses on Twitter, I decided to give it a go and independently teach myself some mosses and liverworts out on my walks. 

I have always been interested in identifying plants, even as a child. As an adult, I’m now able to identify most common species on my patch, but still with a huge amount still to learn. Bryophytes, known as mosses and liverworts, were even more of a mystery to me. 

I’d always appreciated the aesthetics of their soft cloaks of green that envelop damp woodland, and the sheer resilience of the small, tufty species eking out a living in the harsh conditions of our sun-baked stone walls. 

Naming them, however, always felt like an art that was out of my reach. 

Lizzie’s ID tips for beginners

The first step is to spot just 1 or 2 interesting but abundant species when out for a walk, and to then bring home a very small piece of them to ‘key out’ – using an ID guide to identify the species.  

Here are some tips which have helped me, for when you’ve spotted your first moss species. 

1. Just give it a go

Don’t be intimidated! Mosses and liverworts have a bit of a reputation for being tricky, but it’s great fun when you get into it. Looking a bit closer through a hand lens also reveals whole new levels of intricacy and beauty in these glorious plants. 

2. Find an ID guide 

These 2 publications have been incredibly helpful as ID guides: the British Bryological Society’s ‘Mosses and Liverworts of Britain and Ireland’ has been my go-to book for keying samples out, and of course a hand lens is vital. 


I’ve also found that the Species Recovery Trust’s booklet ‘A Field Guide to Bryophytes’ has been helpful for quickly spotting some of the most common species I was likely to encounter based on habitat. 

3. It’s natural to make mistakes 

Going wrong and getting stuck has been an inevitable part of being a beginner. I’ve found that the Google Lens mobile phone app – whilst it does a poor job of species identification, can sometimes do enough to point me in a new direction if I’ve gone wrong early in the key.  

Carmarthenshire road bank 08-10-23

4. Learn from other people

A guidebook will take you to the right species, but it won’t always tell you which one or two features are the easiest to spot in the field – an expert will help you learn that shortcut much more quickly.

My county recorder, Sam Bosanquet, has been incredibly patient and helpful. Your local county recorder could have access to distribution maps such as Sam’s Carmarthenshire County Flora, which are a good sense check – find your county recorder here.

I’ve also recently joined the British Bryological Society, which gives me access to supportive recording groups and events.

 

5. Embrace the seasons

I’ve also had to accept that my learning is seasonal – but one of the great things about mosses and liverworts is that it has provided me with new things to do in the tail ends of the year. 

 

Enjoy your learning journey

Sometimes it’s felt like one step forward and two steps back, with long names and complex features that I struggle to keep in my brain. However, embracing it as a slow process has meant it’s always stayed fun. 

I’m gradually getting better at recognising some of the commoner species in the field, and every now and then, I’m even filling in a gap on the distribution maps – which help protect these species for the future. 

Bryophytes desperately need more advocates and recorders. So, if you’ve ever thought about giving it a go, but thought them a bit intimidating- don’t! Set yourself a target of 10 and give it a go. Who knows where it’ll take you next?

 

A couple of species to look for

More ways to get involved

What does a No Mow May lawn look like?
No Mow May lawn with Bulbous Buttercup and Meadow saxifrage

What does a No Mow May lawn look like?

Thousands of people across the country have been letting it grow for #NoMowMay this year – and this is what it looks like!

How to Start a Community Meadow?

How to Start a Community Meadow?

Want to start a community meadow, but not sure where to begin? Read our guide to creating a flower-filled haven for your local community.

How to Grow a Wildflower Meadow
Wildflower meadow landscape with a variety of species near Cardiff, Wales

How to Grow a Wildflower Meadow

Whether it’s your back garden, local park, community field or lawn, wildflower meadows are amazing spaces with so much to offer.