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This autumn, help us find the Britain’s most colourful and important fungi – waxcaps.
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Our Global Advocacy Coordinator, Claire Rumsey, will be at COP28 to speak up for the vital role of wild plants and fungi in the fight against climate change.
As I pack my bags and head off to Dubai, I wanted to share a few thoughts about what’s at stake at the climate COP and what role Plantlife can play at this huge global event. So, what is COP 28?
It’s the 28th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Given the urgency of tackling climate change, these meetings of the world’s governments happen every year; two years ago, COP26 was hosted by the UK in Glasgow.
This COP will be a pivotal moment for the planet and people around the world will be watching closely. At the conference, the first Global Stocktake will take place – this is where Parties will report on their progress towards slashing greenhouse gas emissions and meeting the goal of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (also known as the Paris Agreement, adopted back in 2016).
We already know that progress needs to go faster and further – we are currently heading for about 2.5°C of warming by 2100, even if current pledges to tackle emissions are achieved. So, at COP28 we need to see governments commit to taking more action to cut emissions – and fast.
Alongside that, we’re calling for the framework for the Global Goal on Adaptation to be finalised with references to nature and the vital role it will play in ensuring we adapt to the impacts of climate change.
We’re calling for the framework for the Global Goal on Adaptation to be finalised with references to nature and the vital role it will play in ensuring we adapt to the impacts of climate change.
Well, the first reason is that climate change and biodiversity loss are two of the greatest challenges we’re facing globally, and they are intrinsically linked. There is simply no way to look at one crisis without considering the other.
Wild plants and fungi underpin all life on earth, they provide us with oxygen, food and fibres for our clothes, fuel, medicines and building materials. But on top of all of that, they are also a powerful force to tackle climate change; much of Plantlife’s work focuses on securing recognition of this. For example:
Despite all the incredible work that is being done worldwide to reduce biodiversity loss and the impacts of climate change, it is thought by experts that we are currently in the 6th mass extinction. Latest estimates show that 45 % of flowering plant species could be at risk of extinction. Plant species are going extinct 500 times faster than they would be without the impacts of human activities – and faster than we can describe and name them.
This is the same for fungi, which can be directly affected by shifts in temperature and moisture levels. The overwhelming majority of fungal diversity is directly dependant on plants– whether as beneficial partners, decomposers or parasites – climate-related habitat change that harms plants in turn affects their co-existing fungi.
COP 28 is naturally facing some controversy, and people are understandably voicing concerns about how much will be achieved.
As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “It’s time to wake up and step up.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres
We’re at a pivotal moment worldwide as to whether we will meet the Paris Agreement and we need a global commitment to ‘phase out’ not just ‘phase back’ fossil fuel production; otherwise, the outcomes of this COP may not be strong or ambitious enough to see us reach the 1.5°C goal in time.
Armed with the overwhelming scientific evidence about the critical role that wild plants and fungi can play in climate action, we’ll be speaking up at COP28 in person and online. We’ll be joining forces with partners from around the world to fight for urgent and ambitious action on nature and climate together.
For more than thirty years, Plantlife has spoken up for wild plants and fungi; making our voice heard at a global level has never been more important. We will continue to do all that we can to ensure that wild plants and fungi stay at the forefront of governments’ minds when making commitments for climate mitigation, adaptation, and building resilience.
We’re on a mission to raise awareness of how important wild plants and fungi are to life and to inspire more people to take action to help them thrive again and I hope you’ll follow our updates for how the meeting goes, here and on our social media channels!
This summer Plantlife Cymru have worked closely with Carolyn Thomas MS, our Species Champion for Butterfly Orchids, to raise awareness of the importance of grasslands far and wide across Wales.
Species Champions are Members of the Welsh Senedd, chosen to represent threatened species found in their constituency and champion them both within the Senedd and across Wales. Carolyn Thomas MS is deeply passionate about supporting our wildlife, from nature friendly green space management to improving protections for our precious biodiversity.
This year, Carolyn was able to join us and North Wales Wildlife Trust for the big Butterfly Orchid count in our North Wales nature reserve Caeau-Tan-y-Bwlch, in June. Participating in the count meant she was able to contribute first-hand to the monitoring and understanding of a rare and beautiful species.
We counted the highest number of Greater Butterfly Orchids ever recorded at the reserve in over 40 years – some 9,456 flowering spikes of this rare plant were found within the diverse upland hay meadow near Caernarfon. Carolyn reflected on this important day in her Senedd statement on 28 June:
“Last Saturday, as the Butterfly Orchid species champion, I took part in a Butterfly Orchid count at a wildflower meadow, owned by Plantlife Cymru and managed by the North Wales Wildlife Trust. The meadow was rich in diverse species, which has created habitat in return for many animals and insects, such as butterflies, ladybirds, damselflies, crickets, spiders and tiny frogs. The place was alive and very beautiful.“
Another visit to a beautiful meadow just outside Mold in north Wales on National Meadows Day gave us the perfect opportunity to discuss some of the threats that our species-rich grasslands face. Our Species Champion was able to see first-hand how a lack of management was allowing scrub to encroach onto the valuable grassland habitat, but also to hear how the efforts of volunteers were protecting the grassland that remained.
Staff and volunteers from Plantlife Cymru and North Wales Wildlife Trust also talked about how incredibly precious fragments of species-rich grassland can too easily slip through the nets of protection and face damage from neglect, but also from development, agricultural use and inappropriate tree planting.
There was also plenty of time just to appreciate the joy of being in such a beautiful place! We were able to admire both Greater and Lesser Butterfly Orchids, as well as Common Spotted Orchids, carpets of Betony and Lady’s Bedstraw, and we were even treated to the sight of a Slow-worm. Some early Field Scabious was just coming into flower, and sheltered sunny meadow areas were alive with butterflies and moths.
In her statement to the plenary ahead of the visit which you can watch here, Carolyn emphasised to the Senedd the vital nature of thriving green spaces and advocated for the protection and restoration of our species-rich grasslands.
Thank you, Carolyn for supporting us in our mission to support grasslands and the wealth of species that rely on them!
Discover how you can identify the mosses where you live, and read about Lizzie's challenge to learn 10 mosses!
Grasslands like meadows and parks are not just home to wildflowers, they are also an important habitat for waxcap fungi.
Ever wondered why we need to go out and count rare plants? Meg Griffiths reflects on a summer of lichen hunting for the Natur am Byth! Project.
Air pollution often poses the biggest danger to internationally rare habitats.
68% of our most sensitive habitats are impacted by excess nitrogen, like the temperate rainforests found along the west coast of Britain.
Full of wonder and mossy goodness these beauties really capture the imagination and lift the spirits of anyone who visits. This unique habitat thrives in areas where there is a high annual rainfall with relatively constant temperatures.
However, temperate rainforests are more than just woodlands; they are a mosaic of trees, open glades, crags, ravines, rocks and gorges. With surfaces absolutely chock full of liches, mosses, liverworts and an array of fungi – they support an important array of wildlife, absorb carbon and slow the flow of floodwaters.
Nitrogen gases in air pollution have the potential to destroy these beautiful places. This pollution can take the form of ammonia emissions from farm manures and fertilisers, or nitrogen oxide emissions from fossil fuels.
Even rainforest areas far from the source of pollution, such as the northwest coast of Scotland, are affected by air pollution as it can travel long distances in the atmosphere.
Trees within the rainforest will temporarily show increased growth from extra nitrogen. However, in the long term any growth will soon stagnate as the earth becomes saturated with excess nitrogen – more than 94% of woodlands are affected by air pollution UK wide.
Higher nitrogen levels mean trees will often suffer from discoloration and increased vulnerability to drought, frost, and disease like acute oak decline.
Woodland fungi are no exception to impacts of air pollution, as many are closely associated with tree roots and health.
Their loss will result in a further decline of tree species, leading to increasing carbon emissions and further contributing to the ongoing climate crisis.
A change in flora is sure to follow an increase in air pollution as tougher nitrogen-tolerant plants, such as nettles and brambles, will outcompete the more sensitive and specialist species within the rainforest. This has a cascading effect on other wildlife which rely on certain wild plants for food, shelter, and reproduction.
Losing species which make up a significant part of the rainforest ground cover, such as mosses and liverworts like Greater Whipwort, reduces the ecosystem’s ability to retain water. This makes the whole area more vulnerable to droughts and floods.
As an essential part of temperate rainforests, lichens require low levels of air pollution to thrive. Lichens provide food, shelter and microhabitats for invertebrates, in addition to contributing to carbon cycling and water retention. Some rare lichen species are only found in rainforest areas and are being pushed to the brink of extinction.
Without lichens, our temperate rainforests would struggle even more to survive. Many are incredibly sensitive to changes in air quality, such as tree lungwort (Lobaria spp) and will quickly be lost to increased levels of nitrogen in the atmosphere.
Tree Lungwort in particular is an amazing indicator species, as its presence signals that the forest is healthy and functioning as it should. This is because it is a slow growing species that is even more sensitive to air pollution than most other lichens.
Tree Lungwort often can become outcompeted and swamped in nitrogen-tolerant algae, knocking the ecosystem out of balance. When we see populations of lungwort recovering, we know that our air quality is improving and with that, the rainforest.
Hope is not lost! For one, you are reading this and arming yourself with information to pass onto your family and friends. When you take action on air pollution, you’re benefiting wildlife as well as people’s health.
You can also support Plantlife’s work to inspire further action to reduce air pollution and tackle its impacts on our natural environment.
Calling governments around the world to recognise the importance of plants and fungi biodiversity for the planet.
In December 2022 countries, organisations, and people from around the world gathered in Montreal to see a new global agreement to protect and restore biodiversity adopted at CoP 15.
Plantlife along with Royal Botanic Gardens Kew were there to ensure that plants and fungi were not forgotten. From our joint exhibition stand we spoke passionately to governments, NGOs, research organisations members of Youth Groups and Indigenous communities about the value of wild plants and fungi, and the need to maintain and preserve their extraordinary diversity worldwide.
On the 9 December 2022, we held a side event on Important Plant Areas-a tool for implementing the Global Biodiversity Framework (which you can watch here: Important Plant Areas- a tool for Implementing the Global Biodiversity Framework (CoP15 side event) – YouTube). Important Plant Areas are an invaluable tool for helping to tackle the ecological, climate and societal crises we are currently facing.
We know that life on earth depends on its extraordinary diversity of plants and fungi, yet two in every five wild plants are threatened with extinction.
Plantlife has been working with partners over the past twenty years to make sure that plant conservation is given priority within global biodiversity agreements. In 2002, this led to the United Nations CBD adopting a Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC), which was updated 10 years later. We helped establish the Global Partnership for Plant Conservation and coordinated the Important Plant Areas programme – an important tool for achieving Target 5 of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation – to protect and manage at least 75 per cent of the most important areas for plant diversity of each ecological region.
The impact of the GSPC and the ongoing importance of specific plant conservation actions was recognised when in Decision 15/5 the Monitoring Framework for the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework the CBD Secretariat:
“Invites the Global Partnership on Plant Conservation, with the support of the Secretariat and subject to the availability of resources, to prepare a set of complementary actions related to plant conservation to support the implementation of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework and other relevant decisions adopted at the fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties, aligned with the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework and also based on previous experiences with the implementation of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation as described in the fifth edition of the Global Biodiversity Outlook1 and the 2020 Plant Conservation Report,2 for consideration by the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice.”
Plantlife is now working closely with members of the Global Partnership for Plant Conservation to establish this set of complementary actions.
Downland and read our Cop15 Briefing Document
IPAs are key sites for exceptional botanical richness; rare, threatened and socio-economically valuable plant species; and rare and threatened habitats. Plantlife developed the first IPA criteria in 2001.
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.
Plantlife, along with the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and Friends of the Earth, is calling on government and industry to replace peat use in gardening and horticulture.
It’s time we stopped this destructive practice. Although the government has set targets to halt horticultural use of peat, too little progress is being made.
Peat-loving bogbean Menyanthes trifoliata at Plantlife’s Munsary nature reserve, Scotland. Photograph by Richard Lindsay
Peat is plant material which is partially decomposed and has accumulated in waterlogged conditions.
Peatlands include moors, bogs and fens, as well as some farmed land.
Peat bogs are particular types of wetlands waterlogged by direct rainfall. Peat bogs grow slowly, accumulating around 0.5 to 1 mm of peat each year, and the water prevents the plants from decomposing. As a result, many areas of UK peat bog have been accumulating gradually for as much as 10,000 years, and can be up to 10m deep. Due to its slow accumulation, peat is often classified as a fossil fuel.
Different types of peat bog have formed in response to the climate and other conditions in differeny locations.
Peat and peatlands are hugely important for plants, the wildlife that depend on them and, ultimately, us humans too.
Peat bogs store vast amounts of carbon, which must kept in the ground to avoid contributing to climate change.
Peat bogs also act like a sponge, soaking up rainwater, and can help to reduce flood risk. Water filtered through healthy peat bogs is of a higher quality than water from degraded bogs, making it cheaper to treat as drinking water. Around 70% of our water comes from British uplands, and over half of this passes through peat.
Plants to find in peatlands include carpets of colourful mosses and cotton grasses, and dotted with bog asphodel, rare sedges, cuckooflower, marsh violet, sundews, common butterwort, marsh cinquefoil and marsh willowherb.
Peatland wild plants support a range of butterflies, dragonflies and birds, including snipe and curlews, merlins and skylarks.
Commercial peat extraction in the UK and Ireland is largely from raised bogs in the lowlands.
Much less peat comes from blanket bog, which is much thinner and more often found in the uplands in Scotland and western parts of the UK.
IUCN UK Peatland Programme (2011), Commission of Inquiry on Peatlands: Summary of Findings, October 2011
In 2015 more than half of peat used for horticulture in the UK came from the Republic of Ireland, where peat is extracted on a large scale for horticulture and for burning to produce heat and electricity. As peat extraction has declined in the UK, we have increased imports from Ireland, effectively exporting much of the environmental impact.
Put simply, our current use of peat is unsustainable.
As well as campaigning, Plantlife works to raise awareness, and conserve and restore peatlands