Come and be part of a global voice for wild plants and fungi
This autumn, help us find the Britain’s most colourful and important fungi – waxcaps.
Plantlife’s Big Give Christmas Challenge 28 Nov- 5 Dec, make a positive impact in protecting remarkable lichens.
Go the extra mile and run wild for Plantlife
Become a Plantlife member today and together we will rebuild a world rich in plants and fungi
For getting up close to our tiniest wild plants and fungi, a hand lens works much better than a magnifying glass. Learn how to use this handy piece of kit and discover top tips on buying your own.
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.
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!
Lecanora through a hand lens
Discover the hidden world of lichens through a hand lens
Three Hagges Woodmeadow Site Manager Kara shares what volunteers do, from coppicing to nature surveys, and how you can get involved.
Discover the activities and work that our volunteers in the Cairngorms do with Sam Jones of the Rare Plants and Wild Connections Project.
For getting up close to our tiniest wild plants and fungi, you'll need a hand lens. Learn how to use one and get top tips on buying your own.
In 2022 Lizzie Wilberforce took up the challenge of trying to learn some of Britain’s most common moss and liverwort species, near her home in damp, mossy west Wales.
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?‘
Thuidium tamariscinum has a name that is a little tricky to commit to memory, but its wonderful complex fern-like structure is very distinctive. It’s abundant in my local woodlands and hedge banks, and is one of the first mosses I learned to recognise in the field.
Plagiochila asplenioides, a large leafy liverwort that was one of the first to catch my attention on local road verges.
Discover the names of temperate rainforest mosses which could be in woodlands near you!
Grasslands like meadows and parks are not just home to wildflowers, they are also an important habitat for a colourful type of fungi which prefer farmland to forests – waxcaps.
Every autumn one of the UK’s most colourful natural displays takes place: jewel-coloured waxcaps emerge through the grass across our countryside, cities and even some of our gardens. Let’s find them!
Waxcaps are types of mushrooms known for their shiny-looking caps. Together with other types of fascinatingly named fungi called pinkgills, earthtongues, club and coral fungi – they form a group called “grassland fungi”.
Waxcaps and grassland fungi come in a rainbow of different colours including vibrant violets, yellows, greens and pinks.
They also come in weird and wonderful shapes, which can help you to identify the species you’re looking at.
Chris Jones is the Warden at the Kenfig National Nature Reserve, one of our Dynamic Dunescapes sites, and has worked as a practical conservationist for over 25 years.
Kenfig is one of the largest sand dune systems in Wales and provides a unique habitat for a variety of rare and specialised species, including over 20 species of Waxcap fungi.
‘Waxcap fungi are commonly found in grasslands and meadows, and they are known for their ecological importance. They are often found in areas with short, grazed vegetation, but they can also occur in disturbed habitats, such as lawns and roadside verges.
Waxcaps are mostly found in the late summer and autumn, typically from September to November, depending on the local weather – but you can find them all year round.
The meadows where waxcaps are found are known as ‘waxcap grasslands’. These grasslands need specific conditions for waxcaps to thrive and are becoming rare.
On waxcap grasslands, waxcap fungi form partnerships with plants, where they exchange nutrients with the roots of host plants, benefiting both the fungi and the plants. This only happens in habitats with a high level of biodiversity, which the aims to identify.
Waxcap fungi are fascinating not only for their vibrant colours but also for their significance as indicators of healthy grasslands. Their conservation is important for maintaining biodiversity and preserving these unique and beautiful fungi for future generations to enjoy.
Many waxcap species are considered rare or threatened, primarily due to habitat loss and changes in land management practices such as tree planting and intensive agriculture. If you find any, please record them on the Waxcap Watch app.
I LOVE Waxcaps, they are AMAZING! It is ridiculously hard to pick a favourite, but if I had to choose it would be… all of them.’
This autumn, help Plantlife find Britain’s most colourful and important fungi – waxcaps.
Plantlife and NPMS staff tested 10 popular plant identifying apps out on the field and picked 3 of the best for you to take out on your next wildflower hunt.
These days it seems there is an app for everything, including finding out what creature critter or plant you are looking at. But are they useful? Are they accurate?
We tested 10 popular apps out on the field to put them through their paces, and picked 3 of our favourites. We looked at ease of use, accuracy, costs involved and what additional features they have.
Our favourite app from the ones tested, this is free to download with no intrusive adverts or other costs involved.
The aim of the Flora Incognita research project is mapping plants, therefore they record and use the location of where the plants are found.
That means using this app is not only beneficial to your learning, but also makes an important contribution to biodiviersity monitoring and research.
This app combines traditional plant identification with the latest methods of AI. To identify, simply click on the plus symbol which takes you through your options.
Ease of use 5/5Identification skills 4/5Range of features 4/5
Claiming to be ‘the botanist in your pocket’, this app uses advanced artificial intelligence and was accurate for a wide range of species, from Sea Thrift to trickier species such as Mouse-ear Hawkweed.
Advertised as £24.99 a year, you can use the app indefinitely to identify plants without paying: when you open the app you come to a pre-home screen where you click cancel.
Other benefits include the app’s ability to identify common grasses, sedges and fungi – but we recommend some caution with these due to the cryptic nature of IDing these species. Picture This also has common questions and answers for each plant, along with stories and other interesting facts such as flowering times.
iNaturalist was created with the aims of recording your observations and sharing them with the ability to crowdsource identifications. The app is free and has a range of handy features that make uploading a breeze, including an automatic location based on the photos’ GPS tag, and the ability to record other wildlife such as insects and birds.
We found the app very accurate to a plant’s genus, a group of similar species, and sometimes even down to the specific species when multiple photos are added. This makes it the perfect tool for you to take your plant ID knowledge further with a field guide.
Seek is a simpler version of iNaturalist with an easier interface for the family. We found Seek had less accuracy in the field, so if you’re looking for something more thorough, we recommend downloading iNaturalist.
Ease of use 5/5Identification skill 5/5Range of features 4/5
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.
In the UK we have over 45 species of orchid – which might be more than you thought!
Learn more about this wild and wonderful family of plants with Plantlife wildflower expert Sarah Shuttleworth.
Orchids are part of the largest and most highly evolved family of flowering plants on earth. They are usually highly specialised to a specific habitat, with equally specialised relationships with pollinators, and fungi which live in the soil.
The majority of species reproduce via tiny seeds that are known as ‘dust seeds’ which need perfect conditions to germinate – with some species even relying on specific types of fungi in the soil for them to grow. This means that conditions in the soil and habitat need to be exactly right for an orchid species to thrive, hence why we don’t encounter them all the time.
One UK orchid has gained huge notoriety for its rarity, the Ghost Orchid Epipogium aphyllum. This species is currently regarded as extinct but with hopes for its re-discovery. Occurring in Beech woodlands in deep leaf litter where gets its energy from decaying matter, it’s appropriately named for its pinkish white ghostly appearance rising from dead leaves.
Although orchids are not the most common plant you will find, they do occur in a huge variety of habitats. Traditional hay meadows and pastures can host several species, the most common of these are
Many orchids also specialise in woodlands, for example Early Purple Orchid Orchis mascula, Helleborines Epipactus sp and Bird’s-nest Orchid Neottia nidus-avis (pictured), a fascinating yellow orchid without any chlorophyll that depends entirely on getting its food from decaying material in the leaf litter. There are also species that grow in fens and bogs, pine forests, heathlands and dunes.
The majority of the time due to the specific requirements for growth, orchids tend to be associated with long established habitats, that haven’t had lots of disturbance. Therefore, a nature reserve can often be a useful place to look.
The best time of year to look for orchids tends to be late spring and early summer. Quite a few UK orchids have spotted leaves, making them even more distinctive and easy to spot.
They are perennial plants, and in the UK are formed of a spike of flowers on a single stem. They all share a similar flower structure, despite the huge variety in their appearance. There are 3 sepals (outer protective petal-like parts) and 3 main petals, with one that usually forms a lower lip known as the labellum. This lip is often the largest and most distinctive ‘petal’ structure of the flower.
Often their intricate design and some species astonishing mimicry to tempt pollinators is one of the most intriguing features of these plants. With Bee and Fly Orchids imitating these insects to attract them to land on the flower, mistaking them for a potential mate, and thereby pollinating the flower.
The key features of orchids for identification other than habitat, are the leaves (shape and markings) and the lower lip of the flower (labellum). The easiest species to start with are Early Purple Orchid, Common Spotted Orchid, Bee Orchid and Common Twayblade. This is because they are relatively more common than other species and most can occur in grassland and woodland habitats.
Early Purple Orchids are out amongst the bluebells in older woodlands amongst the Bluebells or edges of woods around mid-May. They are a fuchsia pink/purple colour with minimal patterns on the lower petals, and have spotted leaves at the base.
Green-winged Orchids can be found in species-rich, old meadows, often popping up with lots of Cowslips in mid-May. They don’t have spotted leaves and have green streaks on the pink/purple wing like petals.
Early to mid June is then the best time to look for Common Spotted and Bee Orchids in the species-rich grasslands. They have spotted leaves that occur up the stems, and much paler flowers than the Early Purple, that are streaked and patterned with dark pink.
Bee Orchid is very distinctive with its mimicry of a bee flower and unmarked green leaves.
Common Twayblade has two large, rounded leaves that grow opposite each other, with the flower spike starting as a knobbly spike between the two leaves, growing taller to display small green flowers that appear to have two dangly legs.
It is always exciting to find any kind of orchid, and worthy of a photo! Just remember to be careful not to tread on any nearby orchids that are just coming up. Share the photos with friends, as you never known who doesn’t know that our wonderful UK orchid species even exist.
FSC Orchid Guide
The Orchid Hunter by Leif Bersweden
Britain’s Orchids A Field Guide to the Orchids of Great Britain and Ireland by Sean Cole, Michael Waller and Sarah Stribbling
You made it to the end of No Mow May! On behalf of your wildflowers and pollinators, thank you for breaking with convention and for re-imagining your lawns and your local green spaces.
You can see the difference you’ve made, and we hope you’ve been pleasantly surprised by the result. By not mowing through May you have rekindled your wildflowers and thrown a much-needed lifeline to your pollinators.
Now the growth season moves into June, things don’t have to get messy or overgrown, but you can still maintain a space for your local wildlife. You might be concerned that if you let things grow any higher your mower may no longer be able to do its job!
We have some ideas about how you can build on your success while keeping things under control!
If your grassy growth has got away from you, don’t panic. Not all mowers can cope with tall vegetation but most can if you mow in two stages.
Firstly, check your lawn for wildlife – and never mow around the edges towards the centre, this leaves no escape route for wildlife. Instead, as you mow, progress gradually towards sanctuary areas such as uncut grass strips at boundaries.
Next, set the blades as high as possible then mow strips only half as wide as the mower. This will reduce the load on the mower’s engine and make the job easier. You can then re-pass as normal with blades set lower to finish the job. Alternatively, if you have one, a strimmer can be a better way to tackle a taller sward.
Now you have an opportunity to design your wildflower landscape. Grassland wildlife comes in different flavours and you could incorporate these different elements into your plan.
You might need to keep your paths and recreation areas mown short but perhaps you could frame these functional areas with a flowering lawn mown once every 4 to 8 weeks. This allows common, low-growing wild flowers to regrow and reflower throughout the summer while you maintain a shorter, neater height. Picture a carpet of red and white clovers, golden trefoils, puddles of blue selfheal and the white froth of yarrow. You will find that even in the fiercest droughts, the wildflowers will stay green and keep flowering while grasses fall dormant and turn brown.
If you are feeling bolder you might want to trial leaving some of your open space unmown for longer. By mowing only twice a year outside of April to July you could try to recreate the effect of a traditional hay meadow. This allows taller growing flowers such as red campions, purple knapweeds and mauve scabious to grace your space with a more dynamic swirl of colours animated by a summer breeze. You can picture this flavour of grassland as a perennial, herbaceous border you never need to weed feed or water. It holds more value for wildlife because when left undisturbed for longer, wildflowers and grasses can support the lifecycles of those invertebrates that depend upon them.
The more adventurous among you may want to take it to the next stage around the boundary of your plot. Grassland left unmown won’t support so many wildflowers but will provide vital sanctuary for wildlife during hot summers and cold winters. Tussocks of grass and tall herbs will develop, and this structure is a great way to provide another niche for wildlife that complements the more flower-rich areas. Such sanctuary strips need only be a few feet wide at the base of your hedgerow and they only require a minimum of management when you snip out woody saplings or the bramble gets too much. You will be providing vital protection for toads and voles while seedheads will act as natural bird feeders for visiting finches.
Leaving borders to grow supports a wealth of wildflower and wildlife
By the end of No Mow May, your garden lawn may also look like this!
Creating a patchwork of lawn lengths in your garden can support a range of wildflowers
Some of the tools Mark uses in June to manage his lawn
Some wildlife may have taken refuge in your liberated lawn. Here are some quick tips for keeping wildlife safe while you mow:
This will prevent the build-up of cuttings which can stifle the regrowth of wildflowers. With no cuttings to rot back down into the soil, it will also help to reduce the fertility of the soil. More fertility gives the advantage to your grass over your flowers. This produces a lush green lawn but it will be much less colourful and much less valuable for wildlife.
If collecting up or raking off your cuttings seems like more work, remember that you are actually saving effort by managing some zones less frequently. This means that you don’t have to mow everywhere all at once every time. In fact, by removing the cuttings each time you cut, fertility will reduce each year meaning that regrowth will be less and less each year. That means you won’t need to cut so often in the future so you can save yourself the effort, reduce your carbon footprint and enjoy the wildlife! Wilder lawns also capture and lock away more carbon in the soil, so you will be doing your bit for the climate too.
You can use cuttings to mulch your vegetable beds to suppress weeds, retain soil moisture and add fertility where you want it. Composting is also a great way to recycle your cuttings with other organics into soil you can use next season.
So, your lawn or your open space is your canvas, and you hold the paintbrush. You can rekindle wildflowers from those that are already present and the seeds that have remained naturally dormant in the soil. You might also consider introducing some native perennial wildflower seed or native perennial wildflower plants this autumn. We will have more advice on this later in the year.
However you choose to enjoy your new wildlife area, we wish you every success. Now that you have added a little more colour to the world, we hope you are rewarded with the fizz of grasshoppers, the delight of birdsong and a space that dances with butterflies and buzzes with pollinators.
By letting us know if you or your community space is taking part, you’ll be added to our map showcasing the collective power that this campaign has.Now sit back and watch the wildflowers grow…
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.
We can’t wait to see your blooming wonderful communities this No Mow May!
It’s estimated that there are 23 million gardens in the UK – that’s a lot of land with which we can be gardening for wildlife!
A rainbow of wildflower in your lawn doesn’t just bring garden owners joy, but is also the sign of a healthy and thriving garden.
Different flowers provide different resources for different wildlife species; Clover on a short flowering lawn provides a lifeline for bumblebees, long grasses provide an essential resource for butterflies and moths such as the Small Skipper, and Goldfinches are attracted to Knapweed when it sets seed.
But how do you increase the diversity of plants in your garden? Here are some tips from Plantlife’s wildflower experts to help you create a blooming bonanza!
It’s not too late to let us know you joined the No Mow May. By telling us if you took part in 2023, it will give us a better picture of how many gardens and green spaces were part of No Mow May this year.
Every day, our wild plants and fungi are put at risk from planning decisions, chemical sprays and more. Find out what you can do to help protect nature.
This ‘death by a thousand cuts’ is pushing many species to the brink of extinction. Yet in local communities around the UK, people are running fantastic campaigns to stand up for wildlife and protect their local sites from being destroyed.
If you believe that wild plants and fungi are at risk at a site near you, here’s a few ideas for what you can do:
Find out which species are found on and around the site – fungi, plants and animals. Your local Wildlife Trust, environmental records centre or a botanical group might already have information about the site’s wildlife. If not, organise your own survey – this is best done in the summertime. You may be able to get help from your local botanical society or other local experts. (Remember to get the landowner’s permission beforehand if necessary.)
Share any records of species found with your Local Records Centre and/or a national monitoring scheme. These will be verified and then taken into account by the local planning authority and others. (It’s always important to share your wildlife sightings, as this is vital to help us understand what’s happening to wildlife across the UK – and you never know when your data might help to protect those species that you’ve enjoyed spotting.)
Check the ecological assessment or environmental statement which should be available as part of the planning application or development plan. Assess it against your own information and ask questions such as: Did the field survey include lichens, mosses and fungi? Was it done at a time of year when any species present could be found (i.e. not in winter)?
Raise any concerns directly with the ecologist (if there is one) in the local planning authority, with your elected councillors, with your friends and neighbours and with the local media.
Many planning applications are approved with conditions to protect local wildlife – in this case, you can monitor whether these conditions are actually followed during and after construction of the development. In England, you can monitor whether Natural England’s Standing Advice on Protected Species is being followed.
Where you think a site is at risk from a change in its use – such as ploughing, drainage or chemical spraying on a wildflower meadow – then the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) (Agriculture) regulations may apply. These regulations protect land that hasn’t been ploughed or had fertiliser added in the past 15 years and the landowner must apply for permission before changing its use.
– England– Scotland– Wales
– England: here and here– Scotland– Wales
Please send details of ‘live’ cases happening close to you by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Plantlife can’t take action on all cases, but we’ll use this evidence to put more pressure on government and local authorities, and to raise awareness of what’s at stake.
We will keep you updated by email about our work, news, campaigning, appeals and ways to get involved. We will never share your details and you can opt out at any time. Read our Privacy Notice.