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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

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.

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 nodding yellow heads of spring-flowering daffodils are now our most recognisable symbol of St David’s Day; indeed, they’re a symbol of Wales itself. However, daffodils are relative newcomers to this scene, dating only to the 19th century as an emblem for the country. The Leek, however, has been a symbol of Wales for so long that its stories date back to St David himself, who is thought to have died in the year 589.

The History of the Wild Leek in Wales

Legend describes how Welsh soldiers were ordered to identify themselves by wearing a Leek on their helmet, as they fought the Saxons in the north of England and the Midlands, under the command of King Cadwaladr of Gwynedd.

As with all such oral histories so long and so widely told, there are many different variations of this legend; however, the long presence of the Leek across many centuries of Welsh history is undeniable.

Most of us now think of Leeks as the large, cultivated vegetable we see in supermarkets – not at all suitable for attaching to a helmet in battle! However their genus, Allium, also contains a number of species that are either native, or ancient introductions to Britain. These have a far lengthier heritage than the domesticated vegetable, and would have been growing in north Wales at the time of both King Cadawladr and St David.

One of these is Allium ampeloprasum var. ampleoprasum, a variety of the Wild Leek that still grows today in Anglesey. It is a large plant, growing up to 2m high, with a dense spherical flowerhead of pink-purple flowers. This would certainly have made a distinctive and plausible addition a soldier’s helmet. Could this be the real Leek of Welsh legend?

 

Has Wild Leek always been found in Wales?

Wild Leek isn’t actually native to Britain – but it’s one of the archaeophytes, meaning that it was introduced by humans long ago – perhaps by traders, hundreds of years before the time of St David. It’s likely that it would have been grown and valued by the people of north Wales for its nutritional and medical properties.

Wild Leek on Angelsey

Evidence for this can be found in The Red Book of Hergest (c. 1375-1425). This is one of the most important books ever written in Welsh, and it is a compilation of mythology, poetry, and chronicles of the time. It includes contemporary medical texts, which name Leeks in many recipes for treatments and cures.

The regular appearance of Leeks in other, later texts also suggests that the plants were quite readily available to the people of Wales. They must have been much more common than they are today.

The Future of the Wild Leek

Sadly, Wild Leek is now considered at risk of extinction in Wales, with small populations remaining only on Anglesey, and on Steep Holm and Flat Holm islands. However, a healthy population is held in cultivation by Plantlife Cymru’s Robbie Blackhall-Miles.

This will help to secure the long-term safety of this now rare species in Wales. Given its fascinating and long association with the communities of Wales, possibly even St David himself – this is surely to be celebrated- especially on St David’s Day.

More ways to learn about wild plants and fungi

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.

Protecting Waxcaps: All the Losses We Cannot See…

Protecting Waxcaps: All the Losses We Cannot See…

Britain’s waxcap grasslands are considered to be the best in Europe. Discover the pressures these colourful fungi and their habitats face…

Described as ‘small but delightful’ by the British Lichen Society, Cladonia peziziformis, known by it’s common name the Fire Lichen, is a tiny, ground-dwelling lichen, found on just a handful of heathland habitats in South and West Britain. An increasingly rare lichen, it is classed as Critically Endangered in Britain and Near Threatened in Wales.

At less than 1cm tall, with ear-shaped green-grey scales at its base and upright fissured stalks topped with brown fruiting bodies, a hand lens is essential to get a proper look at this miniature, otherworldly species. But the real mystery of Cladonia peziziformis lies in its life cycle.

What do we know about the ‘Fire Lichen’?

A close up of a lichen growing on the ground

In Wales, most records of this lichen are from heathlands within a short distance of the coast, and although these records are well dispersed, ranging from the tip of Anglesey to the Gower Peninsula, the locations where it’s found have an unusual uniting factor.

Cladonia peziziformis only seems to appear in the aftermath of a heath fire, briefly establishing itself on the bare soil, then vanishing once the heath starts to recover. So, what’s going on? Is burning required to create suitable conditions for this species?

One theory is that the nutrients released by plant ash during a burn may play a role in the lichens ecology. Plant-derived smoke also contains multiple chemical compounds which may act as a germination cue, triggering its growth from a spore bank in the soil, though there has been no study to investigate this.

After its initial establishment, it’s thought that Cladonia peziziformis then starts to disappear as it is slowly outcompeted by the recovering heath vegetation.

However, in the last few years, longer-lived populations of Cladonia peziziformis have been discovered in Southern England, occurring on short, heavily grazed less acidic grasslands and heathlands, where localised burning does not always take place.

The fact that this ‘fire lichen’ can be found in habitats which don’t have fires suggests that perhaps its requirement for short open vegetation and bare soil is actually the key factor for its success.

Natur am Byth! answers a burning question…

Two people kneeling in a heathland pointing at a small plant

So, are heathland burns and their associated nutrient and chemical release needed to aid Cladonia peziziformis establishment, or is it the creation of bare ground and short vegetation from fires which benefits the species?

This is what the Natur am Byth! project is trying to find out. Field trials are planned to directly compare the impact of controlled burns vs heathland cutting (to replicate heavy grazing) on C. peziziformis establishment.

Working alongside universities, we will also support lab trials to further investigate the impacts of fire, analysing ash, smoke, and soil nutrient content, and applying smokewater and ash to soil samples containing lichen spores to test for germination cues.

As well as providing training opportunities for students to engage with science and conservation, this research will aid our understanding of heathland fire dynamics, helping to inform future management to support Cladonia peziziformis and wider heathland management in Wales.

The Natur am Byth partnership is Wales’ flagship Green Recovery project. It unites nine environmental charities with Natural Resources Wales (NRW) to deliver the country’s largest natural heritage and outreach programme to save species from extinction and reconnect people to nature. Thanks to players of the National Lottery over £4.1m from the Heritage Fund was awarded to the partnership in June 2023. NRW has contributed £1.7m and the Natur am Byth partners have secured a further £1.4m from Welsh Government, Arts Council of Wales and a number of charitable trusts, foundations and corporate donors. These include donations from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, and significant support from Welsh Government’s Landfill Disposals Tax Communities Scheme administered by Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA).

Photo credits: Dave Lamacraft, Eve Grayson, John Spill and Lizzie Wilberforce.

Our work in Wales

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. 

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.

  • Go to:

Species-rich meadows and pastures are hanging by a thread. As we watch governments deciding on detail and picking payment rates for their respective agri-environment schemes – will policy decisions be lifelines for farmers and nature, or money for old rope?   

It is time for us to take a new look at old grasslands.  

Understanding the value of grasslands

Small square hay bailer in field

Permanent, species-rich grassland needs to be properly valued, prioritised and resourced. We are calling on policymakers to help our brilliant farmers protect these special grasslands, which are the product of decisions by generations of farmers.

Today a strategic approach by governments – in England, Scotland and Wales – is needed to ensure the right decisions for future generations, for nature and for grassland.

Why should governments listen?

Our new report ‘Farming Income for Semi-Natural Grasslands’ shines a light on the risks, rewards and potential in farming nature-rich grasslands. It spells out some of the tough questions facing farming and conservation efforts in England, Wales and Scotland – and what governments can do to help.

The report highlights inspiring farmers who are rethinking the value of species-rich grasslands as a way to rebalance inputs, outputs and profit. Many of them are concluding that permanent low-input grasslands can be key to making farm finances more sustainable.

However, other farmers are re-evaluating these grasslands and warning that agri-environment scheme offers aren’t sufficient to secure the future management of species-rich grasslands, the report reveals. Right now, for example, farmers in Wales are being offered drastically reduced payment rates for habitat management and in England farmers are being offered less for managing species-rich grasslands than they would get on the same land for short term herbal leys of minimal conservation value.

WATCH: Plantlife’s Agricultural Advisor, Hywel Morgan talks about the benefits of sustainable farming:

Cows in a field of grass by a gate in Greena Moor

Governments need to prioritise grasslands

Governments across the UK need to have strategic approaches to permanent grasslands, the report concludes. Grasslands need to be recognised for their multifunctionality when it comes to land use, nature and climate.

Strategic plans for grassland should include:

  • long-term agri-environment schemes to provide a compelling basis for farmers to see permanent species-rich grassland as a viable business option;
  • access to high quality advisory and support services for farmers, including peer-to-peer knowledge transfer on managing high nature value grasslands
  • developing grassland data and specialist capacity within government agencies.

Why are grasslands important?

Permanent grasslands in the UK have been persistently undervalued, our previous work [1] with partners has demonstrated. Alongside producing high-quality food, these grasslands deliver habitats for nature, ecological connectivity, carbon and water storage, flood mitigation, and healthy soils. In summary, species-rich grasslands offer a way to combine food production with nature, in ways more complementary than competitive.

The report ‘Farming Income for Semi-Natural Grasslands’ was funded by Airwick Botanica, and researched and compiled by SLR Consulting, on behalf of a partnership of WWF UK, Plantlife and Pasture for Life.  The partner bodies are very grateful to the inspiring farmers who volunteered case studies.

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.

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. 

The Importance of Grasslands Globally

The Importance of Grasslands Globally

This WWF & Plantlife document makes the case for the world to recognise the vital role that grasslands and savannahs can play in addressing the climate and biodiversity crises.

As I write this, I’m eating a piece of toast. As you read this, you may be eating something too. All 8.1 billion of us need food. Just like other types of consumption, such as oil and gas, our food consumption requires and releases energy. In fact, the food system is responsible for more than a third of greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans.

two brown cows grazing in a field

Why we’re all talking about food

It therefore makes sense that food is a central focus of the climate Conference of the Parties (CoP28) taking place at the moment in Dubai.

The CoP28 theme today is ‘Food and Agriculture’, which is a good opportunity to put down my toast and highlight some of the food and agriculture discussions at CoP28, and what they mean for wild plants and fungi.

Wild plants and fungi – not just for lunch, but for climate

We rely on wild plants and fungi for so much, however they are the overlooked centrepieces at the heart of all ecosystems.

Take grasslands: the livelihoods of around 800 million people depend on them and they cover more than 50% of the world’s land.

Imagine nomadic reindeer herders navigating the Steppes in Mongolia, or small-scale pastoralists grazing their livestock on Kenyan savannahs. Humans are part of a virtuous Venn diagram, with grasslands at the centre:

  • food is produced from the livestock
  • the livestock provide the grazing needed to maintain a balanced grassland ecosystem
  • the healthy ecosystem stores carbon and is also more resilient to the impacts of climate change
Small square hay bailer in field

But not all agriculture is equal…

It’s important to differentiate this approach to grassland management from the more intensive farming, that shatters the mutualistic relationship between people and the natural environment.

Intensive, large-scale agriculture relies on greenhouse gas-emitting synthetic fertilisers and ploughing, with tightly packed livestock damaging the sensitive flora and degrading the soil.

That’s why we’re looking to world leaders at CoP28 to recognise the value of healthy grasslands and savannahs as part of a sustainable food system, that helps boost biodiversity and tackle climate change.

We need joined-up action across governments and their policies tackling farming, food security, public health, nature & net zero.

CoP28 announcement

At CoP28, 134 countries have signed up to the United Arab Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action, committing to integrate food into their climate plans by 2025.

This could be an important step towards real action to bring down emissions from global agriculture, in tandem with supporting farmers, pastoralists, and smallholders who farm in a low-carbon way.

However, alongside real action there’s also real risk – of greenwashing. We should be sceptical of subsidies that still go towards funding intensive agriculture, or untested technological solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

We’ll be watching how governments put this Declaration into practice.

Food for thought

Of course, it remains to be seen whether governments will make tangible commitments to actually shift food production away from intensive agricultural practices.

Will governments stop harmful agricultural subsidies and instead pay and support less intensive farming, that helps restore swathes of degraded grassland?

Will they ignore the huge farming and fertiliser lobby to help farmers break free from costly input cycles?

Will the rights of indigenous people and local communities to their land and traditional pastoralism be respected?

We want the protection, sustainable management, and restoration of healthy grasslands to be meaningfully incorporated into countries’ climate and biodiversity strategies.  

As I finish my meal, these are the questions I will ponder ahead of CoP28’s final few days. The solutions to the climate and biodiversity crises are by no means bitesize, but I have hope, if we’re all sat together at the same table. 

Jo Riggall

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.

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. 

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.

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

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.

COP28: Why Food and Farming Matters
Small square hay bailer in field

COP28: Why Food and Farming Matters

One of the most important discussions at COP28 is about – food and agriculture. Find out why they are so important for global governments.

Characterised by the presence of unique lichens, bryophytes, mosses, and liverworts, rainforest habitats are highly fragmented and face threats from invasive non-native species, such as Rhododendron ponticum, alongside ash dieback, inappropriate grazing, and air pollution. 

How governments can protect and restore this internationally-rare habitat

Temperate rainforests have some of the highest diversity and abundance of wild plants and fungi in Britain, with many sites qualifying as Important Plant Areas.

Protecting and restoring this ecosystem would speed up progress in meeting national and global targets to address the nature and climate emergencies, including the 2030 Global Biodiversity Framework. Investment in rainforest restoration would also build on past and present conservation actions, and help to build a green economy through employment, skills training and tourism. 

 

The future of Britain’s temperate rainforest and its unique species depends on targeted action by the Scottish, UK and Welsh Governments to:    

1. Establish national rainforest funds from both public and private sources to support long-term landscape-scale projects and other practical action.

a) The Alliance for Scotland’s Rainforest has identified the cost of restoring the temperate rainforest zone in Scotland to be £500 million.   

2. Increase protection of remaining rainforest sites and species through national strategy, policy, and legislation.  

3. Provide advice and support for land managers to enhance and restore rainforest on their land.  

4. Take urgent action to tackle key threats to rainforest including air pollution, invasive non-native species (INNS), and deer management.

a) More than 94% of the UK’s woodland is impacted by excess nitrogen deposited through air pollution and rainfall. Lichens are essential species in temperate rainforests, but they need clean air to thrive. Lichens provide food, shelter, and microhabitats for invertebrates, in addition to carbon cycling and water retention.  

b) Invasive non-native species, like Rhododendron ponticum and ash dieback currently have the potential to wipe out much of the species diversity in Britain’s temperate rainforests. Funding projects that address this, in addition to making powers of enforcement more widely known and used where necessary, give rainforests to chance to thrive.  

c) Deer are a natural part of thriving temperate rainforest areas; however, at their current population density, particularly within Scotland, their grazing prevents essential tree species from growing and this leads to a decrease in long-term regeneration of woodland areas.  

Our work

A Temperate Rainforest Strategy for England:
branches and tree covered with lichens

A Temperate Rainforest Strategy for England:

A new English government strategy for temperate rainforest has been released, but restoring the rainforest in England requires a more detailed approach that recognises and addresses the threats. To put the rainforest on the path to recovery, concrete action is needed.

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.

Saving species in Devon and Cornwall’s rainforests
Wistmands Wood Building resilience rainforest

Saving species in Devon and Cornwall's rainforests

Our wild and wet woodlands and the species that live within them are facing severe threats which Plantlife will be tackling through the Species Recovery Project.

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

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Inside COP28

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As COP28 draws to a close, it's not just about fossil fuels. We will keep showing that wild plants and fungi need to be central to the climate solution.

I have recently joined the Plantlife team on the Glaswelltiroedd Gwydn (Resilient Grasslands) Project, at a time when grassland fungi are at their peak.

Chris and I have farmed our small slice of westfacing Cambrian mountain for the last 22 years. In that time, we have seen the variety and diversity of plant life quietly improve, and this has extended to the amazing fungi in our grassland.

Our land is a mosaic of rock, bog, wet and dry grassland, with a little bit of improved pasture so we can ensure we produce our Welsh Black cattle purely on grass (with no bought in feed) – minimising our environmental impact. Maintaining a speciesrich grassland has benefits for soil health and overall environmental resilience above and below ground, which expands into the wider environment encouraging insects and birds and even safeguarding water quality.  

Cattle on grassland

What are waxcaps?

Fungi are fickle in their appearance and may not throw up fruiting bodies every year, or in the same place, but generally in autumn, the fungi that are particularly spectacular are the family of waxcaps. They are a colourful and magnificent family of 60 or so grassland fungi.  

On our farm, we’d already counted 21 species of waxcap, but this year that was surpassed by the first appearance of species number 22, the Yellow Foot Waxcap Cuphophyllus flavipes. It has a domed grey cap and pale gills that run down the stem, which is white with distinct yellow colouration to the base. 

Blackening Waxcaps, Hygrocybe conica

The fungi I found

This summer was unusual, with August and September being almost constantly wet, bringing out a large number of Blackening Waxcaps, Hygrocybe conica, early in the season (there is a second flush now). This was followed swiftly by solitary Citrines, H.citrinovirens, which appeared in some unlikely places (including the edge of an ‘improved’ field).  

A particularly pleasing waxcap to appear recently was the aptly named and rather large Splendid Waxcap, Hygrocybe splendidissima. The large, bright red cap quickly expands, spreading as it matures and is similar to other red ones but generally larger. All types of red waxcap are indicators of particularly good quality waxcap habitat.

And we can’t forget the small orange ones that are devilish to identify! We are expecting more species to appear as the autumn progresses.  

Does fungi change farming? 

Having at least some species-rich grassland on a farm is important to help restore balance within the system. In simple terms, providing refuge for beneficial insects and a food source for birds, which then prey on pests, strengthens the ecosystem. Plus, just like us, grazing livestock will appreciate a varied diet and as with us, it helps to improve gut health. The fungi pose no risk to livestock and they tend not to eat them. 

The financial impact of maintaining some species-diverse and fungi-friendly grassland on a farm needn’t be an issue. Steeper slopes and poorer areas of farmland are not economic to maintain as highly productive swards, so there can be a net gain by returning these areas into species-rich grasslands, which provide resilient grazing areas at difficult times of the year. 

Splendid Waxcap, Hygrocybe splendidissima

How do you ID fungi?

One of the challenges with fungi identification is that they can change shape and colour as they expand.

But, if you’ve spotted some waxcaps, here are some handy things to look out for:

  • Cap shape and colour
  • Gill colour and the way they attach to the stem
  • Characteristics of the stem
  • Texture (slimy, dry or fibrous)
  • And for some, the smell!

Britain is home to some of the most important waxcap grasslands in the world – but many species are becoming rare and declining. We need your help identifying and protecting them through the #WaxcapWatch.

What can fungi tell us?

Fungi are particularly sensitive to soil damage due to their predominantly underground life cycle, so it is the undisturbed grassland with no artificial inputs that they thrive in. This may be grassland with a good diversity of wildflower and grass species, but it’s important to note that many outstanding waxcap grasslands are botanically quite nondescript.  

What links waxcap grasslands with flower-rich ones is that they have declined dramatically across the UK through changes in agricultural practices and urban development.  These grasslands are multifunctional and could have an important place in mitigating climate change through carbon sequestration, resilience against drought and flood, improving water quality and the wellbeing of both environment and people. 

If you want to improve fungal communities on your farm, here are some simple actions:

  • Short grazed or cut swards encourage the fungi to fruit 
  • No soil disturbance, in particular ploughing, as it breaks the underground network 
  • No artificial fertilisers, excess nutrients in the soil supress the function of the fungi 
  • No sprays, as weedkillers (even the targeted ones), damage the fungi as well as the weeds 
  • Application of lime may in moderation form part of management; some species thrive in calcareous soils, but dramatic changes in pH are likely to be damaging 

Images: Cows in field Photographed by: Lydia Nicholls

And if you’d like to learn a bit more…

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Yellow flowers of Bog Asphodel among grass and other bog plants.

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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.

‘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

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