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Read in: EnglishCymraeg
What do the peaks of the Eryri mountains and our garden lawns have in common?
Robbie Blackhall-Miles, Plantlife’s Vascular Plant expert, explains how grazing works to protect our most species-rich habitats.
In Britain, agriculture is a dominant force in the plant communities we have, and our farm livestock is key in replicating the impacts of the constant movement of the wild herds of grazing animals that once roamed our countryside. Many, if not all, of our plant communities rely on some form of grazing or vegetation removal to ensure that they survive.
An understanding of conservation grazing, hay cutting and scrub management can help our most species rich habitats thrive.
Overgrazing is one of the key issues for Arctic Alpine species for example, but of course it is not necessarily the only problem. For some, like plants that live in Calcareous grassland, under grazing may as equally be an issue. Or maybe it’s the fact that the plant community isn’t being grazed by the right type of animal? Or is it that it isn’t being grazed at the right time of year? Or that when its grazed there isn’t enough of the animals that need to be grazing it? Or maybe too many? So many questions!
It’s a question I often ask myself, and one that came up when we developed the Tlysau Mynydd Eryri Eryri’s Mountain Jewels project that forms part of Natur am Byth!. With 10 very different plant species and 2 invertebrate species, we must think about multiple different ways to ensure these are all looked after.
For our tall herb species such as Alpine Saw Wort Saussurea alpina and the Eryri Hawkweed Hieracium snowdoniense we almost certainly need to consider grazing in the Autumn with cattle and maybe a short pulse of grazing in early May.
For the Thyme rich calcareous grassland, with its complement of rare eyebrights (like Welsh Eyebright Euphrasia cambrica), that is so important for the Eryri Rainbow beetle Chrysolina cerealis we probably need sheep right up until late April and then not again until a period in late August or September.
For Mountain Avens Dryas octopetala (pictured) we probably don’t want any grazers near it until the winter. If trees or brambles start to dominate a habitat, then we need a herd of goats but if we want some montane scrub of Juniper and Willow with tall herbs around the edges then the goats mustn’t get near.
By having a combination of all these grazing animals managed and moved into just the right places at just the right time of year we can certainly have a good ‘go’ at getting the conditions right for everything.
What is interesting about this question though is that it is also applicable to our lawns. #NoMowMay encourages us to leave our lawns un-mown for a whole month. We can extend it into ‘Let it bloom June’ but by then the daisies, dandelions and other short turf flowers of early May will have gone over and been outgrown by a multitude of other species.
How can we ensure we please all the species so we can please all our pollinators? Well, we can make a very good go at it by simulating some of those grazing animals with our strimmer and our lawnmower.
To create just the right tapestry of lawn heights in the garden we can use our mower to create paths through our meadow lawns, changing the flow of the paths (maybe missing out some of the special plants that may have colonised the uncut lawn) on a regular basis. This random cutting aims to simulate grazing animals moving through the landscape.
We can even simulate the different types of grazing animals by choosing different heights to cut the paths. If you want daisies again make like a sheep and cut it short, if you want Knapweed and Oxeye daisies to reflower later on in the season you can be a cow and cut some of them before they finish flowering, if you get brambles or nettles then browse them down to the floor like a goat.
By leaving some patches long, some patches medium height and some patches short you will make an interesting mosaic of different lawn habitats that suits as many different species as possible. At the end of the year, before the grass starts to go brown and drop its seeds, one of the most important things you can do for your lawn-meadow is to graze it down completely (just like a huge herd of bison on migration would do) and reset the process for next year’s #NoMowMay fun.
Whether its management of montane grassland and scrub for rare Arctic Alpines or a #NoMowMay lawn, conservation management is an important tool in ensuring we try to please all the species all the time as much as we possibly can. It isn’t a perfectly exact science, and it changes from year to year, and species to species, but the principles are there and for grasslands it’s really just all about the grazing (or mowing).
Discover how you can identify the mosses where you live, and read about Lizzie's challenge to learn 10 mosses!
Grasslands like meadows and parks are not just home to wildflowers, they are also an important habitat for waxcap fungi.
Ever wondered why we need to go out and count rare plants? Meg Griffiths reflects on a summer of lichen hunting for the Natur am Byth! Project.
Plantlife’s Vascular Officer Robbie Blackhall-Miles finds an exciting new plant species for Wales. Read more about the Hares Foot Clubmoss and its discovery in Eryri in his words.
New things are always exciting, right? The first time something in your garden flowers, a new patch of Bee Orchids in an unmown lawn, a new record of something rare on your NPMS patch? How about a whole new plant species for your country?
That’s exactly what happened to me in the summer of 2021 – but first, some background.
Clubmosses are a group of plants that really excite me. They are a group of plants that have been around in one form or another since the Silurian period (that’s over 430 million years ago). We have five species here in Eryri: Alpine, Marsh, Fir, Lesser and Stag’s Horn. We had another, Interrupted Clubmoss Lycopodium annotinum, until the late 1830’s when William Wilson last saw it above Llyn Y Cwn (The lake of the Dogs) high above Cwm Idwal. By 1894 J.E. Griffith had declared Interrupted Clubmoss extinct in Wales in his ‘Flora of Anglesey and Carnarvonshire’. I have hunted for Interrupted Clubmoss now for years to no avail – I won’t give up.
A good day out in the mountains for me is a ‘four clubmoss day’. A ‘five clubmoss day’ will take me past just a couple of very specific points where I would see Marsh Clubmoss Lycopodiella inundata as well, and would force me on to a longer and circuitous route to get to the places to see the other four.
When I botanise abroad, the Clubmosses feature as high points in my adventures and I was particularly pleased to find one of our own indigenous species, Stags Horn Clubmoss Lycopodium clavatum growing high in the mountains of South Africa when I was there in 2017.
Seeing these plants, that have remained little changed for such a long time that still exist in our anthropogenic world, really excites me. I always look out for them whether they be tiny plants of Lesser Clubmoss Selaginella selaginoides growing in Calcium rich seepages or fens, or huge sprawling mats of Alpine Clubmoss Diphasiastrum alpinum that grow high on our most exposed sheep grazed mountain slopes.
And so it was that one day in 2021 whilst walking a path that I rarely use, I spotted a clubmoss that really stood out to me. This clubmoss bore a resemblance to Stags Horn Clubmoss, but its growth habit was remarkably upright and the majority of its cones being solitary at the end of its stems (peduncles) rather than in twos or threes on the end of short stems (pedicels) at the apex of the peduncles. In the back of my mind, I remembered another species of clubmoss that had quite recently been confirmed as being present in the UK. So, using the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland’s Code of Conduct I collected a small sample and took lots and lots of photographs.
On returning home that day I contacted a friend, David Hill, to see what he thought of the find – we were both a little confused and unhappy to declare what we thought it may be. You see, Hares Foot Clubmoss Lycopodium lagopus hadn’t been found further south than Scotland in the UK, and was considered rare there. The confusion for us was that L. lagopus and L. clavatum are very closely related and share a lot of characteristics.
The conversation continued between us for almost a year before I was able to go back to the site and see the plants with fresh cones. This time I carefully collected another sample and even more photographs and took them with me to the BSBI Botanical Conference at the Natural History Museum in London, where I thought I would be guaranteed to bump into Dr. Fred Rumsey – the man who wrote ‘the paper’ on Hares Foot Clubmoss as a UK species.
Sure enough, Fred was happy to declare this to have all the characteristics of Lycopodium lagopus and thus a new member of the Welsh flora.
Seeing our Welsh Clubmosses is exciting, finding a brand spanking new one is REALLY exciting. I had bottled up my excitement at finding this ‘something new’ for an awfully long time. The specimens had sat on my desk for nearly two years before Dr Rumsey had managed to see them. So, I am really pleased to tell you about it now.
We have six species of Clubmoss in Wales again, but not with the one we thought we may rediscover. To see them all in one walk would be a very long walk indeed so a ‘four clubmoss day’ will remain a good day in the mountains, a ‘five clubmoss day’ is still exceptional and a ‘six clubmoss day’, I am afraid, is just exhausting. One day I may be able to have a ‘seven clubmoss day’- that Interrupted Clubmoss may yet still survive somewhere in the mountains of Eryri.
Some of our plants in Wales are threatened by extinction, but here are 3 species that are being brought back from the brink of extinction.
This summer Plantlife Cymru worked with Species Champion Carolyn Thomas MS to raise awareness of the importance of grasslands in Wales.
Agricultural grasslands dominate Wales’ rural landscape. Finding ways to restore species-rich habitats to farms is a priority for Plantlife Cymru.
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