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Wild plants and fungi are the essential fabric of our world.

They provide shelter, food, medicines, clean air and a wealth of health benefits to humans and animals alike.

Yet 54% of plant species are in decline and 28% of known fungi are threatened with extinction. Centuries of habitat loss, development and persecution through changes in land use and the effects of climate change have led to the UK being among the world’s most nature-depleted nations.

You can use your vote to give plants and fungi a voice at the 2024 general election on 4 July. 

What you can do

  • Join the Restore Nature Now march in London on 22 June
  • Follow the #Nature2030 campaign for other calls to action
  • Tell candidates that you stand with nature and that you expect politicians and governments to work together for our shared environment
    • Send a short, polite email
    • Attend local hustings
  • Ask your friends, family and colleagues to take action
  • Share our messages via social media- tag local nature groups, candidates, and us on Twitter/X  ,  Instagram , and/or on Facebook with #Nature2030
  • Support Plantlife – join our events, survey work or through donations

With upcoming global environment commitments and nature recovery targets being set in all UK nations, we need determined and rapid action by politicians to reverse the fortunes of our wildlife.

Restore Nature Now

Plantlife is joining forces with 100 other conservation charities in the Nature 2030 campaign calling for five key actions by the next UK Government:

  1. A pay rise for nature and farmers: Doubling the nature-friendly farming budget to £6bn.
  2. Making polluters pay:  Putting a Nature Recovery Obligation on polluting big businesses into law to counter the damage they cause.
  3. More space for nature by 2030:  A rapid delivery programme to fulfil the promise to protect and manage 30% of the land and sea for nature.
  4. Delivering the green jobs we need:  A National Nature Service, delivering wide-scale habitat restoration and creating thousands of green jobs.
  5. A Right to a Healthy Environment:  Establishing a human right to clean air and water and access to nature.

What difference could this make?

The Nature 2030 actions, if delivered by the next government, would go a long way towards bringing endangered plants and fungi back from the brink of extinction, and restoring our unique, species-rich habitats, such as grasslands and temperate rainforests in England.

These will also help to tackle climate change, create a green economy and improve our own health and wellbeing.

We already work tirelessly across the UK to influence and inspire farmers, local communities and other land managers to help create a world rich in wild plants and fungi. Many aspects of environmental law and policy are devolved. But we need all political parties and all nations’ governments to make things happen at a bigger scale and a faster pace, to bring back our wildlife.

Peat-free horticulture for plants, people and planet

We are calling on governments and the horticultural industry to end the use of peat in gardening and horticulture.

Peatlands and their wild plants in Britain, Ireland and beyond continue to be devastated by the commercial extraction of peat. Damaging peatlands has a knock-on effect on wildlife, carbon stores, flood risk and water quality.

It’s time we stopped this destructive practice through new laws to ban peat sales.

Although governments across the UK have promised to do this and many believe that it is already banned, there are still no laws against selling peat.

Plantlife and its partners in the Peat-free Partnership are campaigning for legislation to ban the use of peat in horticulture in all four nations without further delay.

Our governments’ next steps will decide the fate of our precious peatlands. When will they finally mark the end of a decades-long debate and the beginning of a future where peat is left undisturbed for nature, people, and the planet?

Not ‘if’, but ‘when’

Despite tireless campaigning to stop peat extraction and persuade gardeners to go peat-free, vast quantities of peat from bogs in Ireland, the Baltic states and the UK every year is still used by amateur gardeners and professional horticulturalists each year.

However, with an ever-mounting body of evidence documenting the environmental toll of peat extraction, government commitments and clear public support for a ban, the question is finally not ‘if’ but ‘when’.

A ban on all commercial trade in peat across the UK is needed to provide:

  • A legal requirement to end peat use, as repeated voluntary targets have been consistently missed.
  • A level playing-field for the market, so that peat-free companies don’t lose out to their competitors who take advantage of lower prices for peat than alternative materials.
  • An end to imports and exports of peat, protecting peatlands in other countries as well here in the UK.
  • A catalyst for sustainable gardening and horticulture overall, moving away from reliance on raw materials and artificial inputs, and towards ‘greener’ gardening and a circular economy.

What is peat?

Peat is plant material which is partially decomposed and has accumulated in waterlogged conditions.

Peatlands include moors, bogs and fens, as well as some farmed land.

Peat bogs are particular types of wetlands waterlogged by direct rainfall. Peat bogs grow slowly, accumulating around 0.5 to 1 mm of peat each year, and the water prevents the plants from decomposing. As a result, many areas of UK peat bog have been accumulating gradually for as much as 10,000 years, and can be up to 10m deep. Due to its slow accumulation, peat is often classified as a fossil fuel.

Commercial peat extraction in the UK and Ireland is largely from raised bogs in the lowlands.

Much less peat comes from blanket bog, which is much thinner and more often found in the uplands in Scotland and western parts of the UK.

Why is peat important?

Peatlands are home to some of the UK’s most distinctive plant communities. Diverse organisms have evolved in response to the low-nutrient conditions which has led to some remarkable adaptations, like the insect-eating sundews and butterworts, and the spongy blankets of colourful sphagnum mosses.

Peatlands are also one of our most important terrestrial carbon sinks. But, when bogs are drained or the peat is exploited, the peat is exposed to the air and begins to break down, releasing carbon dioxide. This turns a huge carbon store into a vast emitter, contributing to climate change.

Peat bogs also act like a sponge, soaking up rainwater, and can help to reduce flood risk. Water filtered through healthy peat bogs is of a higher quality than water from degraded bogs, making it cheaper to treat as drinking water.

Other plants to find in peatlands such as Plantlife’s  Munsary reserve in Scotland include cotton grasses, bog asphodel, rare sedges, cuckooflower, marsh violet, marsh cinquefoil and marsh willowherb. These support a range of butterflies, dragonflies and birds, including snipe and curlews, merlins and skylarks.

Where does horticultural peat come from?

In 2015 more than half of peat used for horticulture in the UK came from the Republic of Ireland, where peat is extracted on a large scale for horticulture and for burning to produce heat and electricity. As peat extraction has declined in the UK, we have increased imports from Ireland, effectively exporting much of the environmental impact.

So what’s the problem?

Put simply, our current use of peat is unsustainable.

  • Peat ‘grows’ by only a millimetre a year
  • Commercial extraction can remove over 500 years worth of ‘growth’ in a single year
  • Amateur gardening accounts for 69% of peat compost used in the UK – we currently use some three billion litres of peat every year in our gardens
  • 32% of our peat comes from the UK, 60% from Ireland and 8% from Europe

Alternatives to peat

  • The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is demonstrating what’s possible; its gardens are now 97% peat-free and it is committed to reducing peat use wherever practicable
  • The RHS also provides advice on what to look for in peat-free alternatives
  • Many of the National Trust’s gardens have been peat-free for years
  • Gardening Which? Compost trials uncover great peat-free products

What can I do to help protect peatlands?

  • Make your own compost from garden cuttings & food waste if you have space.
  • Only buy peat-free compost and potted plants and encourage your friends and family to go peat-free.
  • Write to your MP, MSP or MS to raise concern about the need for more urgent action by the government and industry.
  • Support Plantlife  and our work towards peat-free horticulture.

The 28th UN Climate Conference of Parties has just drawn to a close in Dubai, during which there had been fierce negotiations over the future of fossil fuels.

In the early hours of this morning the gavel went down and 198 governments agreed to “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner… so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science”. This wording is not as strong as we had hoped, but it is the first time fossil fuels have ever been explicitly mentioned in a final agreement (in almost 30 years of climate COPs) and as the UN Climate Chief Simon Stiell said, it is the ‘beginning of the end’ for fossil fuels.

This issue is at the heart of climate action and this agreement was long overdue.

COP28 in Dubai

What else was decided?

There are other key outcomes from this COP which give us reasons for hope:

  • The first ever Global Stock Take includes references to the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework – the link between biodiversity loss and the climate crisis and ‘protecting, conserving and restoring nature…’ using not only science but Indigenous Peoples knowledge.
  • The newly established Loss and Damage fund, which if you will recall was implemented on the very first day of the conference, making it an historic moment. This fund now sits at $792 million which will go to developing nations in need, recognising that they have been most affected by climate impacts.
  • The Global Goal on Adaptation, designed to “ensure an adequate adaptation response” to protect people, livelihoods and ecosystems, talks about the multi-stakeholder approach to adaptation needed, using knowledge from different sectors of society.

Successes for biodiversity, food and farming

More specifically focused on the intertwined climate and nature crises, we welcome two new initiatives coming out of this COP.

1.COP28 UAE Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action

The acknowledgement and recognition of the adverse impacts of climate change on agriculture and food systems, and on billions of people including smallholders that are dependent on their resilience for food and livelihoods, is a great step in the right direction. Just two years ago, there was little or no mention of this issue, yet 158 governments endorsed the Declaration at COP28.

2. COP28 Joint Statement on Climate, Nature and People 

This was an absolutely vital step in ensuring the climate and biodiversity crises are no longer considered as separate issues. We have known for a long time that they are fundamentally and intrinsically linked, and this is the first step in connecting the outcomes of the UNFCCC COP28 and the recently adopted Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.

This announcement was made: ‘At COP28 during Nature, Land Use and Ocean Day, we affirm that there is no path to fully achieve the near- and long-term goals of the Paris Agreement or the 2030 goals and targets of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework without urgently addressing climate change, biodiversity loss and land degradation together in a coherent, synergetic and holistic manner, in accordance with the best available science.’

Eighteen governments have endorsed this declaration so far and we need to see many more signing up to this joined-up approach in the weeks ahead.

bird standing in a field of grass

We’re going to keep talking about grasslands

At Plantlife, we work tirelessly to bring the value of grasslands to the forefront of conversations around farming, nature, biodiversity and climate, both in the UK and internationally. Covering more than half the Earth’s land surface and with the livelihoods of around 800 million people depending on them, the importance of grasslands and savannahs cannot be underestimated.

More generally, this COP marked a turning point for the role of Indigenous Peoples and the recognition of their contribution in not only safeguarding 80% of the world’s biodiversity, but their knowledge in living in true harmony with nature. Adopting this way of thinking will be a pivotal step in combating the climate crisis. Plantlife is aware of the importance of Indigenous knowledge particularly when it comes to Important Plant Areas (IPAs), with one of the criteria for identification being related to cultural significance.

You can read more about IPAs here specifically the Chiquitano people of Bolivia who identified 18 IPA sites to protect the Chiquitano dry forest which many of the community depend on for their food and livelihoods.

It is safe to say there was a healthy dose of concern and scepticism about this COP. What would come out of it? Would this be ambitious enough to secure a safe future for generations to come – from large cities in the Global North to the Small Island Developing States on the frontline of the climate crisis? The reference to fossil fuels and the language in the final text can be considered a win, but now we look to parties to solidify the ‘how’ and the ‘when’ of implementing the measures to ensure we stay at or below 1.5 degrees of warming.

One thing is crystal clear: we are at a pivotal moment, for the stability of our planet and all life on Earth, and Plantlife will keep working to show how wild plants and fungi can be at the heart of the solution.

Relevant to COP28

Why nature is an important part of the climate conversation
Blogbird standing in a field of grass

Why nature is an important part of the climate conversation

Our Global Advocacy Coordinator, Claire Rumsey, shares her experience at COP28 understanding the role of nature and Indigenous Peoples in the climate conversation.

The Importance of Grasslands Globally
Briefing Document

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.

Planting Plant Conservation at the Core of COP28 Climate Talks
Press Release

Planting Plant Conservation at the Core of COP28 Climate Talks

We are teaming up with WWF (the World Wide Fund for Nature) at COP28 to press for better recognition of grasslands and savannahs, alongside other habitats.

We are Heading to Dubai for Global Climate Talks
BlogPerson 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

Wild Plants and Fungi are at the Heart of Climate Crisis
Our PositionA Marbled White butterfly sitting on a clover in a meadow

Wild Plants and Fungi are at the Heart of Climate Crisis

At Plantlife, we are focused in gaining recognition for grassland ecosystems around the world as nature-based solutions to the climate crisis. Storing between 25-35% of the world’s terrestrial carbon, they are an underutilised resource.

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. 

This ‘death by a thousand cuts’ is pushing many species to the brink of extinction. Yet in local communities around the UK, people are running fantastic campaigns to stand up for wildlife and protect their local sites from being destroyed.

Plantlife’s top tips

If you believe that wild plants and fungi are at risk at a site near you, here’s a few ideas for what you can do:

1. Knowledge is power

Find out which species are found on and around the site – fungi, plants and animals. Your local Wildlife Trust, environmental records centre or a botanical group might already have information about the site’s wildlife. If not, organise your own survey – this is best done in the summertime. You may be able to get help from your local botanical society or other local experts. (Remember to get the landowner’s permission beforehand if necessary.)

2. Share the love:

Share any records of species found with your Local Records Centre and/or a national monitoring scheme. These will be verified and then taken into account by the local planning authority and others. (It’s always important to share your wildlife sightings, as this is vital to help us understand what’s happening to wildlife across the UK – and you never know when your data might help to protect those species that you’ve enjoyed spotting.)

3. Connect the dots

Check the ecological assessment or environmental statement which should be available as part of the planning application or development plan. Assess it against your own information and ask questions such as: Did the field survey include lichens, mosses and fungi? Was it done at a time of year when any species present could be found (i.e. not in winter)?

4. Make some noise

Raise any concerns directly with the ecologist (if there is one) in the local planning authority, with your elected councillors, with your friends and neighbours and with the local media.

5. Follow up

Many planning applications are approved with conditions to protect local wildlife – in this case, you can monitor whether these conditions are actually followed during and after construction of the development. In England, you can monitor whether Natural England’s Standing Advice on Protected Species is being followed.

6. On that farm

Where you think a site is at risk from a change in its use – such as ploughing, drainage or chemical spraying on a wildflower meadow – then the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) (Agriculture) regulations may apply. These regulations protect land that hasn’t been ploughed or had fertiliser added in the past 15 years and the landowner must apply for permission before changing its use.

– England
– Scotland
– Wales

More information:

  • Use the Wildlife Assessment Check, a free online tool designed to help check whether a proposed site and works are likely to require expert ecological advice
  • Consult the relevant government websites for up-to-date information about legislation and planning processes:

– England: here and here
– Scotland
– Wales

 

Send us your news

Please send details of ‘live’ cases happening close to you by emailing conservation.enquiries@plantlife.org.uk

Plantlife can’t take action on all cases, but we’ll use this evidence to put more pressure on government and local authorities, and to raise awareness of what’s at stake.

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.