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I’ve been spending a lot of time reading what little information there is on One-flowered Wintergreen, Moneses uniflora, during site visits, and chatting with other experts. I’ve been trying to figure out what has caused its sharp decline in abundance and distribution globally, and how we can help prevent it here in Scotland.  

The uncomfortable answer I’ve come to is that we still don’t really know all that well. Around 10% of the Scottish population is in the Cairngorms, the rest distributed sparsely across the Highlands. In the last 50 years, I estimate that we’ve lost half of our populations, and of those remaining, only a few are stable or improving. We may soon lose all One-flowered Wintergreen in the UK without intervention. 

Why is One-flowered Wintergreen in trouble? 

One-flowered Wintergreen is the only member of its genus Moneses, closely related to Pyrola, a group containing the other wintergreens, such as Intermediate Wintergreen (Pyrola media). Sadly, all are rare and in decline.  

True wintergreens are partial-mycoheterotrophs, which means that they have an alternative to photosynthesis for acquiring their energy to grow. They can parasitically take sugars and other minerals from fungus in woodland soils.

This ability to uptake energy from the soil as a supplement to their photosynthesis is likely part of why they are so challenging to understand and to propagate in captivity. There have also been suggestions that the presence of specific fungi is necessary for the tiny powder like seeds to germinate. 

What have we learnt?

One-flowered Wintergreen does not seem to have an easily definable niche. It is very rare, only occurring at specific sites, and often isolated to an area a few tens of metres across in a large and apparently suitable woodland.

Recently, we have had some breakthroughs helping us to understand this plant better. Trials of cattle grazing in woodland have yielded rapid recovery in a One-flowered Wintergreen population. Another site was heavily trampled and disturbed in the process of Rhododendron removal, again yielding rapid recovery of Wintergreen. These plants all seem to recover on sites where bare ground, trampled wood, and organic material are present.  

On forestry sites, One-flowered Wintergreen appears to grow only along forestry tracks and where the ground has been historically disturbed. A picture is starting to emerge of this species favouring periodic heavy disturbance of woodland soils.

Armed with this information we are providing advice to current land managers. We are also investigating options for a small-scale trial translocation of One-flowered Wintergreen, as much to aid in our learning of the needs of this rare flower, as to aid the genetic resilience of a small and struggling population.  

Saving One-flowered Wintergreen

Thousands of years ago, before significant human alteration to the landscape of Britain, perhaps One-flowered Wintergreen existed in a particular niche. It may have relied on the bare ground made by a wild boar digging for roots in the woodland, or the wood pulp made by a beaver chopping a tree, or the trampled ground under the hoof a mighty Auroch. 

In the modern world humans create this niche for them more than animals, and sadly, our modern management of pine woods has favoured it less. Through research and collaboration, we will be able to manage woodlands holistically, providing a mosaic of habitat for One-flowered Wintergreen in Scottish pinewoods, as well as other rare native species. 

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Did you know that more than 90% of fungi are unknown to science?

Throughout February, Plantlife is participating in Reverse the Red’s Fungi month – a chance to better understand the mysterious worlds of some of our rarest fungi species.

Two white mushrooms with tall stems growing out of green moss

What is Reverse the Red?

Reverse the Red is a global movement aimed at raising awareness of the work being done by organisations and communities to reverse the trend of biodiversity loss, ensuring the survival of wild species and ecosystems.

The initiative brings together scientists, advocates, and partners who use data and science-based conservation approaches, with the goal of reducing our rarest species vulnerability, and eventually removing them from the Red list.

What is a Red List?

Red lists are a globally recognised way of listing and identifying the threat of extinction to species. Species are  assessed objectively based on ongoing scientific information and research.

The world’s most comprehensive list is the International Union for Conservation of Nature IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. There are other more local red lists, such as the Great British Red List.

Why do fungi need our help?

Fungi are a crucial partner to nearly all life on Earth, with an estimated 2.5 million species of fungi found around the world. But more than 90% of fungal species are unknown to science. 

This lack of data means it is hard to know if some of these important species need conservation help.

Only 0.4 % of fungi that we know about have had their global conservation status assessed for the IUCN Red List Assessment. That is only 0.02% of the fungi estimated to exist – imagine the amazing species yet to be found!

But we can help fungi.

People around the world are getting outside and recording fungi to help better understand them.

Since the beginning of 2020 more than 10,200 species of fungi have been named as new to science.

This includes 6 new species of webcap uncovered in the UK – 3 in Scotland and 3 in England, such as Cortinarius heatherae, spotted alongside a river beside Heathrow airport. 

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New pools are being created at Greena Moor, a secluded Cornish nature reserve, for the endangered Three-lobed Water Crowfoot Ranunculus tripartitus.

The work was funded by Natural England through their Species Recovery Programme and charitable trusts including the Stuart Heath Charitable Settlement. Nature Reserves Manager Jonathan Stone  have been working to protect the ‘star’ of Greena Moor.

Three-lobed Water Crowfoot is an aquatic member of the buttercup family, the plant has small, white, starry flowers. Like most crowfoots, it has two kinds of leaves; the surface leaves are three-lobed and broad, but the underwater leaves – rarely seen with this species but seen here in this photo – are finely divided and feathery.

The plant was in only two pools

In March 2020, Three-lobed Crowfoot occupied only two small pools near the ford, covering an area of just 7m2, and it was clear that a lack of suitable shallow water bodies was preventing further spread of the species at Greena.

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

Importance of Grazing

Grazing also plays an important role, helping to control competing vegetation and distributing seed. The cattle grazing at Greena appears ideal, and on the Cornish Lizard heaths Three-lobed Crowfoot has become far more common under similar management conditions.

White flowers with green leaves in a pool of water

10 New Natural Pools

The nature reserves management team have created 10 new pools to encourage more Three-lobed Crowfoot plant. We are very hopeful to seeing similar increases of this beautiful endangered plant over the coming years.

 

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