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The fate of one of Scotland’s important and last remaining undeveloped dune systems now lies in the hands of Scottish Ministers after Highland Council’s North Planning Applications Committee voted to grant permission for an 18-hole golf course development on the nationally and internationally protected site for nature.

What you need to know

Councillors voted by eight in favour, six against to allow the plans by developer C4C for Coul Links, near Embo in East Sutherland, against the advice of Highland Council’s own planning officers, and in the face of almost 750 objections including from statutory consultee NatureScot, Scottish Government’s advisers on nature.

Serious concerns have been raised about the wide-ranging impact the golf course would have on the protected sites and nature found within it, but these were not seen as important enough by a majority of Councillors on the Planning Committee to refuse the plans.

The Conservation Coalition is extremely disappointed and very concerned by Highland Council’s decision to grant permission for the plans and is now calling on Scottish Ministers to step in to save Coul Links from development.

This is the second time in five years that Highland Council have decided to support a golf course at Coul Links against officers’ advice and despite the plans being overwhelmingly opposed. The last development was ultimately turned down by Scottish Ministers in 2020 due to the detrimental impact it would have had on nature.

The latest updates:

  • A date has been set for an Inquiry into hugely damaging plans for an 18-hole golf course development on the protected nature site of Coul Links in the Highlands. The DPEA has been considering what further evidence it requires to compile a report on the case and make a recommendation to Ministers. Hearings, a process where the Reporters ask experts for and against the proposal questions to better understand the key issues, are due to take place week beginning 11 November.

Our work in Scotland

Sustainable farming needs government support, report reveals
Wildflowers growing in a meadow with cattle behind

Sustainable farming needs government support, report reveals

As governments continue to undervalue grasslands, Plantlife is calling on policymakers to help farmers make sustainable choices. 

Save Coul Links

Save Coul Links

The Conservation Coalition urge Ministers to step in and save Coul Links as Highland Council votes to grant permission for the golf course.

Government Action for Temperate Rainforests 

Government Action for Temperate Rainforests 

Discover how Plantlife is working with governments to protect and restore temperate rainforest along the Atlantic coast of Britain.

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. 

The evidence is clear. Nitrogen has built up in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels and intensive farming. Transport, power stations, industry, farm fertilisers and livestock are all major sources of nitrogen oxides and ammonia emissions.

Deposited directly from the air and in rain, this nitrogen is a form of pollution, creating acidic conditions and causing direct damage to our wild plants, lichens and fungi.

Purple Harebell flowers in a grass field

Over two thirds of our wild flowers, plants like Harebell Campanula rotundifolia and Betony Betonica officinalis require low or medium levels of nitrogen. Only robust species, such as Nettle Urtica dioica, Cleavers Galium aparine and Hemlock Conium maculatum thrive in soils with high nitrogen levels.

Species-rich grasslands, woodlands, heathlands and peat bogs are all under threat from air pollution. This even reaches remote mountain tops and the rainforest of Scotland’s west coast as they have higher levels of nitrogen-rich rainfall.

Alarmingly, 68% of sensitive habitat area in the UK has excessive levels of nitrogen – in England and Wales alone, this figure rises to more than 93% (Trends Report 2022, published on the UK-AIR website).

Reducing air pollution will have huge benefits for biodiversity as well as public health and our climate. Ammonia emissions from farming need particular attention as they have fallen so little in recent decades compared to other air pollutants.

Armed with powerful evidence and practical solutions, Plantlife is ‘talking about nitrogen’ with governments and partners across the UK to drive forward the action that is so urgently needed.

 

What is Plantlife calling for?

Yellow plant growing on twigs
  • Legally-binding government targets for reducing ammonia & nitrogen oxide emissions with plans of action for meeting these.
  • A joined-up approach to tackling nitrogen pollution in all its forms (air, water & soils) and to benefit public health, biodiversity and climate action.
  • Nitrogen levels to be taken into account in monitoring and management of protected wildlife sites – particularly in Areas and Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
  • Statutory action plans in severely-affected areas to reduce local emissions and restore damaged habitats.
  • Effective regulation, incentives, advice and support to enable farmers to reduce ammonia emissions.
  • Greater public awareness of the impacts of air pollution on plants and ecosystems, putting pressure on governments and others to take urgent action.

What can you do?

  • Join Plantlife to support our nitrogen campaign and other vital work to save wild plants.
  • Write to your MP and Environment Minister raising your concerns about this issue and making reference to Plantlife’s reports.
  • Share Plantlife’s reports with local farmers, conservation groups and other environmental organisations that you belong to, raising awareness of the issue.
  • Help monitor the impact of nitrogen on your local wildlife and improve our knowledge through citizen science, for example by joining the National Plant Monitoring Scheme.

Reports and Supporting Information

We Need to Talk About Nitrogen UK Report

This report summarises current evidence and raises awareness of where nitrogen is coming from, the impacts on habitats, plants and fungi, and how it is recorded.

We Need to Talk About Nitrogen Wales Report

A call to protect Wales’ internationally important wild flora and fungi from air pollution. This report focuses on the less well-known issue of ammonia pollution arising from intensive farming.

Cleaner Air for Scotland’s Wildlife Report

This report presents the available evidence on atmospheric nitrogen deposition and its impacts on Scotland’s plants and fungi and the wildlife that depend on them.

Our Work

A big win for grassland, but farmers need more
Cows in a field of grass by a gate in Greena Moor

A big win for grassland, but farmers need more

After a big government announcement, our experts have been delving into the details on the latest funding changes for farmers.

Government Action for Temperate Rainforests 

Government Action for Temperate Rainforests 

Discover how Plantlife is working with governments to protect and restore temperate rainforest along the Atlantic coast of Britain.

Scotland’s Strategic Framework for Biodiversity Consultation

Scotland's Strategic Framework for Biodiversity Consultation

Learn how you can make an impact on Scotland's new Natural Environment Bill, putting wild plants at the heart of plans for nature recovery. 

The report headlines are alarming – calling for decisive and urgent action to protect our species.

Here’s a closer look at some of the headlines from the report, what they mean for our species and habitats in Wales, and what we at Plantlife are doing to make a difference:

 

1. Of 3908 species [all taxa] that have been assessed – 18% are threatened with extinction from Wales

This means that almost 1 in 5 species are at risk of being lost forever.

When we lose species to extinction, it undermines our ecosystem’s ability to adapt and respond to environmental pressures. For this reason, recovering species is one of our strategic missions at Plantlife.

We achieve this mission in partnerships through funded species recovery projects, such as Natur Am Byth, and through targeted interventions that support declining priority species, such as our work on Fen Orchid, Tree Lungwort and Yellow Marsh Orchid.

2. Plant species associated with upland habitats like bogs and heathlands have declined.

As temperatures rise, plants that are adapted to live in the cooler upland areas have two options: they can either move further north or move higher up into the mountains. However, for species with fragmented populations, northward expansion is impossible, and so their only choice is to move to higher ground where the temperature is cooler.

Without intervention, these species will eventually have nowhere else to go, and they could be lost from Wales completely. 

This is one of the reasons that the arctic-alpine plant community has been selected as a priority for the Natur Am Byth project. The Tlysau Mynydd Eryri (Mountain Jewels of Snowdonia) project sets out an action plan to directly intervene and save these vulnerable alpine plants.

small flowers growing in between rocks

Other pressures threatening upland plant communities are the expansion of coniferous woodland plantations, inappropriate grazing patterns and excessive levels of air pollution.

We are working to address these threats holistically, through direct intervention, influencing land management practices and wider advocacy work to ensure policies and legislation help address these threats.

3. The flora of Wales is changing – there has been a decrease in the distribution range of 42% of vascular plant species.

In order to bolster and support our plant species, we target our work where its most needed.

The majority of our species-rich grasslands have been destroyed since the 1940s, and they are now among Great Britain’s rarest habitats. This is despite grasslands having the potential to contain the greatest number of species per square metre of any habitat, and store large amounts of carbon securely in their soils.

Wildflowers growing in a meadow with cattle behind

Our new Glaswelltiroedd Gwydn (Resilient Grasslands) project seeks to improve the health of our grasslands in protected sites across Wales, supporting species to recover and thrive.

We are also calling on governments in England, Scotland, and Wales to take a strategic approach to grasslands and meaningfully incorporate them into climate and nature policy, in order to achieve national and international targets.

It’s time for action

Although many of the headlines can seem bleak, the State of Nature report serves as a call to action.

Rather than becoming demotivated, the direction that this report provides should act as a catalyst to produce positive change where it’s most needed.

Armed with this knowledge, we will continue taking proactive steps to support our species and help them recover wherever we can.

Our Work

Natur Am Byth! Pen Llŷn ac Ynys Môn
A close up of a lichen growing on the ground

Natur Am Byth! Pen Llŷn ac Ynys Môn

Discover how Wales’ flagship green recovery project Natur am Byth! is helping to unravel the mystery of a vanishing lichen.

Sustainable farming needs government support, report reveals
Wildflowers growing in a meadow with cattle behind

Sustainable farming needs government support, report reveals

As governments continue to undervalue grasslands, Plantlife is calling on policymakers to help farmers make sustainable choices. 

A waxcap journey on a Welsh farm
Cattle on grassland

A waxcap journey on a Welsh farm

It’s waxcap season in the Upper Ystwyth and Plantlife’s Sheena Duller explains why fungi and farming can go so well together.

The ‘State of Nature 2023’ report is the most comprehensive set of reports on nature across the four UK nations, based on the latest and best data collated by thousands of skilled volunteers.

The startling data has renewed calls from Plantlife and its partners for urgent action for nature’s recovery by governments and across society.  

The ‘State Of Nature 2023’ reports that:

  • 54% of flowering plants and
  • 59% of mosses and liverworts

…have declined in distribution across Great Britain since 1970. Also:

  • 28% of fungi are threatened with extinction

Hope for nature restoration

The reports also show that nature restoration projects, such as those delivered by Plantlife, and the shift towards nature-friendly farming can have clear benefits for nature, people and planet.

15% of flowering plant and 26% of bryophyte species increased their distribution thanks to nature restoration projects such as Building Resilience and Restoring Fen Orchid.

We need more of this work, on a bigger scale, now.

Plantlife and its partners are calling on all governments and political parties to put nature’s recovery at the heart of their policies as a matter of priority.

Plantlife’s work to restore nature

What can I do to help?

Nature is in crisis. Time is running out.
We can’t wait any longer: we know the solutions and our politicians must act now.
Use your voice to call for action for our wild plants and fungi now.

Here are some actions you can take: 

Pink purplish Scottish Primrose flowers in a field of grass

Scottish Primrose

Primula scotica

The ultimate northerner in our flora, Scottish Primrose Primula scotica grows on coastal headlands on the north coast, including Dunnet Head, the northernmost tip of mainland – but is found nowhere else in the world. Low-growing and easily overlooked, this tiny flower which only grows a few centimetres tall – calls clifftops, mosaics of heath and machair, and rocky outcrops home.

The county flower of Caithness, Scottish Primrose can only reproduce through seeds and is known to flower twice a year, once in the early spring and again in the summer. It is easily distinguished from the common primrose by its blueish-purple petals.

Scottish Primroses greatest threat is inappropriate grazing, as it declined historically to cultural intensification. However, climate change poses just as great a challenge as it is a species that is sensitive to climate extremes.

How we’re helping Scottish Primrose

Incidentally, species that are found in such a small area will inevitably be in danger of becoming endangered. Unfortunately, long term trends show a steep decline in Scottish Primrose populations – that’s why the Species on the Edge project has identified it as one of its key species. Our North Coast team is focused on working to grow current populations, ensuring that this beautiful rarity is not lost.

Marsh Saxifrage flower

Marsh Saxifrage

Saxifraga hirculus

Every year in late summer, in a handful of scattered locations, constellations of one of our rarest flowers blink into life across the moors. Once much more widespread, Marsh Saxifrage Saxifraga hirculus in Scotland has now retreated to only six places, all of them remote, far-flung, and one of them on Plantlife’s Munsary Peatlands nature reserve in Caithness.

Favouring damp, nutrient-poor areas with good water flow, marsh saxifrage is an attractive plant with bright yellow flowers which appear through August and into mid-September. Where it does cling on, it can flower in great profusion, with over 1000 flowering shoots at Munsary in some years making this population the largest in Scotland.

Changes in land use, such as afforestation, over-grazing and the draining of moorland, have led to major losses of this beautiful plant. Its extinction in Austria, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands, and its dramatic decline in Britain and across Europe, led to its protection under the European Union’s EC Habitats Directive.

How we’re helping Marsh Saxifrage

Marsh Saxifrage can recover when conditions are right – the population at Munsary was only discovered in 2002. Plantlife has been involved in its conservation for a number of years, and it seems that this appearance was in response to a drop in grazing levels, with the plant having been hanging on undetected for many years.

Twinflower on the woodland floor with sunshine behind

Twinflower

Linnaea borealis

Growing almost exclusively in the native Caledonian pine forests of Scotland, Twinflower has suffered as these magnificent forests have been lost. Reduced to a handful of fragments, the pine forests are a shadow of their former selves, and are isolated from each other, scattered as small islands of woodland through the Highland landscape. 

This loss of the forests means the loss of the Twinflower. Its populations have become so fragmented and isolated from each other that the distances are too great for its pollinators, which it relies on to produce viable seed. As a result, the remaining populations have become vulnerable to extinctions, with none of the genetic resilience that pollination can bring.  

This genetic isolation makes the remaining plants susceptible to disease and changing environmental conditions. In the long-term, if it can’t reproduce, the species will be lost from Scotland.

How we’re helping Twinflower

Plantlife is working on the Cairngorms Rare Plants and Wild Connections project with partners to restore the forests and help the Twinflower re-establish itself. To achieve this, we are undertaking translocations of genetically different patches of the flower to areas near to each other to allow pollination to occur. This is being done with the help of volunteers and in partnership with landowners across the national park.

 

Why are we doing this work?

A waxcap mushroom growing in the grass, with mountains in the background

Our species are the fundamental parts of biodiversity – the more species there are in a habitat, the more diverse that habitat is. It is this diversity that allows ecosystems to function healthily and be more resilient.

This means, when we lose species to extinction, it undermines our ecosystem’s ability to adapt and respond to climate change and other existential threats. This is the primary reason why recovering species is one of our priorities at Plantlife. With partners, Plantlife plan to recover 100 plant species, and move them out of high extinction risk categories, into lower risk categories.

We are proud supporters of the global Reverse the Red campaign – a movement dedicated to spotlighting all of the work that’s being done to try and stop extinctions and prevent further species decline.

Tune in across the month to find out more about the species that we and our partners are working on to Reverse the Red and fight back against extinction.

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.

Thriving in areas where there is a high annual rainfall with relatively constant temperatures, our temperate rainforests are full of wonder and mossy goodness, capturing imaginations and lifting spirits of visitors.

However, they are more than just woodlands; it’s a mosaic of trees, open glades, crags, ravines, rocks and gorges. With surfaces absolutely bursting with liches, mosses, liverworts and a variety of fungi; they support a vast array of insects, birds and other wildlife, absorb carbon and slow the flow of floodwaters.

What is damaging temperate rainforests in the UK?

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 this threat as it can travel long distances in the atmosphere.  

UK Nitrogen depositions map

In fact, data shows that most areas of temperate rainforest in Britain have exceeded what is known as critical load. Critical load refers to the maximum amount of pollutants that something (either a person or habitat) can be exposed to before significant harmful impacts start to occur.

This map shows how the temperate rainforest zone (the area in which we would expect to see temperate rainforest sites) has been impacted by this overabundance of nitrogen from ongoing air pollution. Almost all of the rainforest in England and Wales – and almost half in Scotland – has exceeded the critical load. In total, 66% of the zone has exceeded critical load, and in many areas of England and Wales the overabundance of nitrogen goes way beyond this threshold.

Impacts of nitrogen pollution will soon be evident as 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 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. 

How does air pollution affect our wild plants?

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.   

Facing the loss of lichens

As an essential part of temperate rainforests, many lichens are incredibly sensitive to changes in air quality and require low levels of air pollution to thrive. These 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.

Tree Lungwort Lobaria spp 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. 

How can I help protect temperate rainforest for the future?

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 – making it doubly important!

We are working hard to combat air pollution in parliament and beyond.

Want to take it a step further?

Join us at the Restore Nature Now march in London on 22nd June, to demand that future leaders prioritise nature and biodiversity. We need immediate political action to bring endangered plants and fungi back from the brink of extinction and restore species-rich habitats, like our temperate rainforest.

Find out more information about the march and how you can get involved here.

Discover more about temperate rainforest

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.

Lichens: A Beginner in a City
Rob Hodgson with lichen characters

Lichens: A Beginner in a City

Living in Bristol, Rob Hodgson went on his own lichen journey, showing how anyone can go lichen hunting from anywhere.

We are Heading to Dubai for Global Climate Talks
Person wearing a hat smiling

We are Heading to Dubai for Global Climate Talks

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.

See what our CEO Ian Dunn has to say on International Biodiversity Day 2023

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)). Important Plant Areas are an invaluable tool for helping to tackle the ecological, climate and societal crises we are currently facing.

 

The Global Biodiversity Framework must work for wild plants and fungi

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.

Far too often, world’s flora and fungi are relegated to a green background for more charismatic wildlife.

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.

What impact will my artificial lawn have?

Tragically, approximately 97% of Britain’s wildflower meadows have been destroyed since the 1930s.  

This makes the loss of remaining grasslands – whether the garden lawn or on the road verge – even more important for wildflowers, insects and other wildlife. Flower-rich lawns carpeted in daisies, buttercups and clover provide a bounty of pollen and nectar for pollinators who simply cannot survive in a plastic environment.  

With more than 20 million gardens in the UK, artificial grass in our gardens is an opportunity lost for nature’s recovery.  

While there is a time and place for artificial grass in, for example, high performance sports pitches in towns and cities, when it comes to gardens you simply can’t beat the real thing. Grassland habitats such as garden lawns are home to thousands of wild plants that, in turn, support a wonderful wealth of other wildlife.    

Artificial grass

Is it really that bad for nature?

Using the latest estimates, an artificial lawn of 60sqm for an average urban garden will create about 435kg CO2e of greenhouse gas emissions through the plastic manufacturing process.  

Simply by leaving your lawn as real grass and introducing less frequent mowing, you’re reducing the carbon emissions of your lawn. You’ll also be creating a habitat by allowing wildflowers to flourish, which have the potential to absorb even more carbon into our soil for the future.  

Artificial turf also adds to the heat island effect; this is when often urban areas become hotter than rural areas, which is amplified during heatwaves. As well as being too hot to enjoy in summer, micro-plastic shedding artificial lawns are difficult to recycle – a problem we don’t want to be leaving future generations to deal with. 

Blue Butterfly on a grass lawn

Disconnected from daisies

Artificial grass is not just to the detriment of wildlife but to us, too; children can’t make a daisy-chain on a plastic lawn.  

The increasing popularity of artificial grass underlines how disconnected we are becoming from the natural world around us. Polling undertaken by YouGov for Plantlife revealed that 80% of people couldn’t name Common Dog-violet which grows in 97% of the UK, and only 11% of 16-24 year-olds felt confident they could name wild flowers. Given this steep decline in knowledge and appreciation which is also reflected in further education, it is perhaps little wonder that many of us feel comfortable with artificial ‘low maintenance’ solutions, despite warnings about global plastic pollution.  

What is the best garden solution for nature?

The answer is simple – a real grass lawn is best for nature. 

For those lucky enough to have a garden or access to green space, with living grass and wildflowers, they can prove a wonderful place to reconnect with nature if managed for people and wildlife. While our gardens need to work well for all – more frequently mown areas provide functional zones for children to kick a ball or people to unwind on a deckchair – that doesn’t mean they cannot also play home to wildlife – from finches feeding on seed-heads to slow worms slithering in the grass. Areas of infrequently mown turf are win-win. They require little maintenance and offer opportunities for so many species of plants and other wildlife. 

No Mow May looks to highlight the positive steps that people can take to make space for nature. At a time when people may feel disconnected or disempowered in the face of the climate and biodiversity crisis, individual actions add up to a community network of wilder lawns. Connected habitats are exactly what our wild plants, fungi and wildlife need to thrive.

Yellow rattle: The Meadow Maker

Yellow rattle: The Meadow Maker

Yellow Rattle, is the single most important plant you need when creating a wildflower meadow. Here’s everything you need to know.

How to make a pollinator friendly garden
Ashy Mining Bee on a Dandelion.

How to make a pollinator friendly garden

Pollinators in the UK are in decline. But there are things you can do to be more pollinator friendly and help these important creatures.

How to ID plants through DNA barcoding
Sarah Shuttleworth at DNA barcoding course

How to ID plants through DNA barcoding

It’s not just animals that have DNA in their cells, plants and fungi do too – and understanding it can help us with hard to identify plants.

“Sloping rocky banks and red sandstone cliffs. Extinct.” This is the brief and rather depressing entry for Purple Oxytropis Oxytropis halleri in my old Flora of Angus book (Ingram and Noltie, 1981).

The plant has been gone from Angus for a long time, as it has from North Queensferry and several other locations in Scotland. It’s one of our rarest wildflowers.

Purple oxytropis – a relict

Purple oxytropis is an impressive plant – a member of the Fabaceae (legume) family, with purple flowers, silky leaves and growing in sometimes large colonies in the few places where it does still exist. In the UK, the species is only found in Scotland. Elsewhere, it’s only found in the high mountains of central Europe.

Its Scottish distribution is described as ‘relict’. Most of its remaining populations are coastal, with its stronghold on the north mainland coast. There are a very few populations on the north-east coast, and one extremely isolated population away down on the Mull of Galloway, in the south-west. It’s also found near the summits of three Scottish mountains, two in Perthshire and one in Argyll.

So why is it so rare?

It’s likely that it was never a very common plant, and this country is very much on the northern edge of its range. But there’s no doubt that it was more widely distributed in the past than it is today. Some populations have been lost due to development destroying its habitat. The species is vulnerable to over-grazing– it’s tasty to grazing animals (of which we have an increasing number in Scotland). It also likes open conditions, so won’t thrive in areas that get too encroached with scrub or trees.

Purple oxytropis is dependent on pollinators, mainly bees, to successfully reproduce. Anything impacting on these pollinators will in turn impact on the ability of purple oxytropis to survive.

Its remaining isolated coastal populations are also extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Rising sea levels could be catastrophic, and associated erosion could spell disaster. The species isn’t widely distributed enough to withstand local impacts like this. A recent study carried out for Plantlife concluded that it is probable that the Mull of Galloway population will become extinct if no new plants appear and highlighted the threat that a single event such as a landslip could have on the fragile population there.

The isolated nature of the remaining populations means that the plants are likely to exhibit low genetic diversity and high levels of inbreeding, which will weaken them and make their future survival less likely. However, We don’t know enough about the genetics of the species to be sure.

Does any of this matter?

How much should we care about trying to save a species which is already on the edge of its range? Surely, it’s doing okay in the Alps? The problem with that argument is simply, where do you draw the line? If we lose it from Scotland, does the next closest population become the ‘edge of range’ one which it’s OK to lose? And then the next?

If we want to live in a country that’s rich in wildlife, we must look after the species that make their home here. The problems facing Purple Oxytropis are difficult but not insurmountable. And by tackling the problems facing this species, we will also address these problems for a host of other species which are facing similar threats.

Looking at a map of Purple Oxytropis distribution over time is like watching a series of lights blinking out one by one. I don’t think anyone wants the map to go completely dark. It’s up to us to keep as many lights on as possible.

Plantlife is taking action for Purple Oxytropis through Species on the Edge partnership.