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

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

 

Who is speaking up for plants and fungi?

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

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

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

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

A group of children and adults painting banners in a room

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

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

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

Ways you can stand up for nature

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

Here’s some ways you can ask for change:

 

Take part in organised protests

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

Spread the word

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

Support us

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

More ways to get involved…

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

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

How to Grow a Wildflower Meadow

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

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.

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

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. 

We’re speaking up for wild plants, will you join us?
A group of protestors holding a banner which reads 'A world rich in plants and fungi'

We’re speaking up for wild plants, will you join us?

What are we doing to speak up for our wild plants during the nature crisis, and how can you join us on our mission to protect nature?

COP28: Success for farming, food and biodiversity, but fossil fuel agreement was ‘long overdue’
Inside COP28

COP28: Success for farming, food and biodiversity, but fossil fuel agreement was ‘long overdue’

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.

What’s new in Plantlife’s agricultural work

Many of our upland and lowland landscapes in Wales are dominated by green fields. In fact, 83% of our farmed landscape is managed as permanent grassland or for rough grazing. Our future agri-environment schemes will be a vital part of paving the way to restoring these landscapes. As a result, Plantlife have been working hard on our response to the Welsh Agricultural Bill and the Sustainable Farming Scheme Proposals for 2025. 

Challenges faced by Permanent Grasslands in Wales 

Permanent grasslands (those not regularly ploughed or reseeded) are often overlooked in climate change mitigation. However, they are a key nature-based solution to the challenges we face. One reason they get so overlooked is a lack of collective knowledge about grassland soil carbon.  They are also side-lined by an emphasis on tree planting and peatland restoration in policy. Effective management of permanent grassland is at the heart of Wales’ livestock production and the wider farming economy. We need it to be at the heart of addressing the climate and biodiversity crisis as well. 

Benefits of permanent grasslands 

Grasslands are incredible habitats, which can sequester and store carbon, and improve biodiversity. They provide natural flood defences, enhance our health and wellbeing, lock up pollutants. Importantly, they also sustain an irreplaceable part of Wales’ cultural heritage.

Plantlife’s work in permanent grasslands in Wales

At Plantlife, we would like to see greater recognition for the multiple benefits these grasslands can provide. We are asking Government to support farmers and land managers to adapt their farming practices. Also, for the government to assist farms to restore and maintain species-rich grassland. Unfortunately, in the past, grassland restoration has seen lower payment rates compared to, for example, the support for arable farms. The new scheme needs to be economically viable for all farmers to enter. It will be important that there is good advice for farmers and land managers to access, apply and manage these schemes. 

Working with local farmers around Cae Blaen-dyffryn nature reserve 

As well as putting pressure on Welsh Government to do the best it can for our farmed environment, we are also working towards restoring agricultural grasslands ourselves. 

Hywel Morgan has recently joined the Plantlife Cymru team as our Agricultural Advisor. He will be working in the landscape around our Cae Blaen-dyffryn nature reserve, near Lampeter. He is speaking to local farmers and seeking to understand where the most mutually beneficial and sustainable actions for grassland conservation lie.  

We hope that over time, we can work a lot more with this farming community. Plantlife will be seeking funds for the grassland restoration based on opportunities we identify. Hywel’s brings personal knowledge of farming and will gain local insight from speaking to the farming community. This will help us to advocate for grassland restoration solutions that have the best chance of success. 

Stay tuned to our blog and sign up to our newsletter; Hywel might share his insight what he learnt from talking to the local farming community.