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Read in: EnglishCymraeg
How Plantlife is moving one of the most endangered wildflowers in Europe off the Red Data list for Great Britain.
The Fen Orchid Liparis loeselii, is one of the most endangered wildflowers in Europe, but successful conservation efforts have given hope for its survival. The orchid is only found in two areas of the UK:
We believe that the orchid could finally be removed from the Red Lists for both England and Great Britain.
After a decade of research and partnership work, the orchid has been re-discovered at former sites in the Broads, and the total population has estimated to have risen to over 15,000 plants through proper management.
The orchid has also been reintroduced to its former sites in Suffolk, and the signs are encouraging that it will become established in some of its old homes.
In South Wales, the conservation effort to restore the fragile dune habitat at Kenfig and to rediscover the plant at former dune locations.
At Kenfig numbers had dropped from a conservative 21,000 at the end of the 1980s to just 400 when conservation work began.
After almost 10 years of work, over 4000 Fen Orchids have been counted, more than double the highest number seen in the last two decades.
The orchids once grew at eight dune sites along the south Wales coast, but a lack of active management led to their disappearance. The success at Kenfig gives hope for other dune sites like Whiteford and Pembrey, the former of which the plant has recently been re-found after searching.
Chris Jones, the Warden of Kenfig National Nature Reserve, recently found the very rare fungus, during a routine survey.
Plantlife and WWF study on grassland demonstrate how wild plants and fungi are at the heart of climate crisis. Calling world governments to recognise sites for wild plants and fungi
The effort Greena Moor Nature Reserve management team put in place to save the Three-lobed Water Crowfoot.
Reverse the Red
We know there are some endangered animal species in the world, but did you know some of our plants are also threatened by extinction?
The good news is saving them is possible. Here are three plants species that are endangered in Wales and the fabulous work that’s being done to bring them back from the brink of extinction.
This is our only native species of Cotoneaster in Wales, Cotoneaster cambricus, and in the 1970s it was down to as few as only 6 plants in the wild, making it international critically endangered!
It’s only found in the Great Orme IPA near Llandudno, where our vascular plants officer, Robbie, works alongside the National Trust, Conwy County Borough Council, Natural Resources Wales, PONT, and the tenant farmer, Dan Jones, to graze the land in a way that benefits the species.
This, paired with efforts to plant out young plants have been a resounding success, and we’ve gone from 6 to well over 70 plants. We are now working with research students, Dan and Treboth botanic garden to understand the impacts that changes to grazing practices have on this species, so that we can understand how best to manage for it in the future.
What we’re finding is that managing to support this species is having knock-on positive effects on other species on the Great Orme, which demonstrates how targeted species recovery work can have a cascading positive benefit beyond that species, out into the wider ecosystem.
This small, sunny Welsh plant, a member of the dandelion family, is internationally critically endangered. It makes its home on the most inaccessible mountain slopes of Eryri (Snowdonia), where it is safe from disruption.
However, due to the changing climate, even these sanctuaries are becoming inhospitable, it is both literally and figuratively out on the very edge.
Its preference for inaccessible places, makes it problematic (to say the least) to monitor. However, conservation and extreme sports aligned when Robbie, Alex Turner and Mike Raine went out on ropes to survey for this mountain treasure. Their efforts have revealed that the plant’s population has increased from 2 individuals, to 4!
While that is still terrifyingly few, it represents a doubling of the global population of this species, and gives us hope that with support, these populations can recover.
We are delighted to have received funding for Natur am Byth!, Wales’ flagship species recovery project which we are part of, along with nine other environmental charities. Robbie will be leading on the Tlysau Mynydd Eryri (Mountain Jewels of Snowdonia) to provide an invaluable lifeline to species like Snowdon Hawkweed.
Once the project begins in September we’re going to be working with the National Trust to manage the grazing of sheep and goats on the mountain, which will hopefully create more undisturbed habitat for this species to colonize.
This mountain jewel is part of a suite of species that was once widespread all across the UK and Europe, the Arctic-Alpines.
Following the last Ice Age it would have been found over a large extent of Britain, but colonisation of species from the south as temperatures have risen has saw it retreat to all but our highest mountain tops, where the annual temperatures are sufficiently cool.
This species is classed as threatened on the UK level red list, even though globally it’s been assessed as Least Concern (it can be found across the alpine landscapes of Europe). Each species is really important part of our natural heritage and to lose a species native to a country represents a significant loss, not only culturally, but ecologically too.
Rosy saxifrage is one such species that we’ve lost, it is now extinct in the wild in Wales. But efforts are underway to reintroduce it to a trial site later this year. Fantastically, the plants that will be used are of Welsh provenance, saved from a cutting taken in the 1960s, meaning that our national genetic identity for this species will be preserved and allowed to repopulate our landscape one more.
Our species are the fundamental parts of biodiversity – the more species there are in a habitat, the more diverse that habitat is. It is this diversity that allows ecosystems to function healthily and be more resilient.
This means, when we lose species to extinction, it undermines our ecosystem’s ability to adapt and respond to climate change and other existential threats. This is the primary reason why recovering species is one of our priorities at Plantlife. With partners, we plan to recover 100 plant species, and move them out of high extinction risk categories, into lower risk categories.
We are proud supporters of the global Reverse the Red campaign – a movement dedicated to spotlighting all of the work that’s being done to try and stop extinctions and prevent further species decline.
Tune in across the month to find out more about the species that we and our partners are working on to Reverse the Red and fight back against extinction.
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.
The good news is saving them is possible. Here are three plants species that are endangered in Scotland and the work that’s being done to bring them back from the brink of extinction.
The ultimate northerner in our flora, Scottish Primrose Primula scotica grows on coastal headlands on the north coast, including Dunnet Head, the northernmost tip of mainland – but is found nowhere else in the world. Low-growing and easily overlooked, this tiny flower which only grows a few centimetres tall – calls clifftops, mosaics of heath and machair, and rocky outcrops home.
The county flower of Caithness, Scottish Primrose can only reproduce through seeds and is known to flower twice a year, once in the early spring and again in the summer. It is easily distinguished from the common primrose by its blueish-purple petals.
Scottish Primroses greatest threat is inappropriate grazing, as it declined historically to cultural intensification. However, climate change poses just as great a challenge as it is a species that is sensitive to climate extremes.
Incidentally, species that are found in such a small area will inevitably be in danger of becoming endangered. Unfortunately, long term trends show a steep decline in Scottish Primrose populations – that’s why the Species on the Edge project has identified it as one of its key species. Our North Coast team is focused on working to grow current populations, ensuring that this beautiful rarity is not lost.
Every year in late summer, in a handful of scattered locations, constellations of one of our rarest flowers blink into life across the moors. Once much more widespread, Marsh Saxifrage Saxifraga hirculus in Scotland has now retreated to only six places, all of them remote, far-flung, and one of them on Plantlife’s Munsary Peatlands nature reserve in Caithness.
Favouring damp, nutrient-poor areas with good water flow, marsh saxifrage is an attractive plant with bright yellow flowers which appear through August and into mid-September. Where it does cling on, it can flower in great profusion, with over 1000 flowering shoots at Munsary in some years making this population the largest in Scotland.
Changes in land use, such as afforestation, over-grazing and the draining of moorland, have led to major losses of this beautiful plant. Its extinction in Austria, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands, and its dramatic decline in Britain and across Europe, led to its protection under the European Union’s EC Habitats Directive.
Marsh Saxifrage can recover when conditions are right – the population at Munsary was only discovered in 2002. Plantlife has been involved in its conservation for a number of years, and it seems that this appearance was in response to a drop in grazing levels, with the plant having been hanging on undetected for many years.
Growing almost exclusively in the native Caledonian pine forests of Scotland, Twinflower has suffered as these magnificent forests have been lost. Reduced to a handful of fragments, the pine forests are a shadow of their former selves, and are isolated from each other, scattered as small islands of woodland through the Highland landscape.
This loss of the forests means the loss of the Twinflower. Its populations have become so fragmented and isolated from each other that the distances are too great for its pollinators, which it relies on to produce viable seed. As a result, the remaining populations have become vulnerable to extinctions, with none of the genetic resilience that pollination can bring.
This genetic isolation makes the remaining plants susceptible to disease and changing environmental conditions. In the long-term, if it can’t reproduce, the species will be lost from Scotland.
Plantlife is working on the Cairngorms Rare Plants and Wild Connections project with partners to restore the forests and help the Twinflower re-establish itself. To achieve this, we are undertaking translocations of genetically different patches of the flower to areas near to each other to allow pollination to occur. This is being done with the help of volunteers and in partnership with landowners across the national park.
This means, when we lose species to extinction, it undermines our ecosystem’s ability to adapt and respond to climate change and other existential threats. This is the primary reason why recovering species is one of our priorities at Plantlife. With partners, Plantlife plan to recover 100 plant species, and move them out of high extinction risk categories, into lower risk categories.
Plantlife’s Cairngorms Project Manager Sam Jones reveals how a tiny flower in Scotland is fighting back against extinction in the UK, and what we’ve learnt about this mysterious wee plant.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Discover the activities and work that our volunteers in the Cairngorms do with Sam Jones of the Rare Plants and Wild Connections Project.
Learn about why our Munsary Peatlands reserve is being put forward for inscription as the world’s first peatland UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Plantlife’s Artist in Residence, shares her summer journey across our reserves and some top tips for aspiring botanical artists.
In the UK we have over 45 species of orchid – which might be more than you thought!
Learn more about this wild and wonderful family of plants with Plantlife wildflower expert Sarah Shuttleworth.
Orchids are part of the largest and most highly evolved family of flowering plants on earth. They are usually highly specialised to a specific habitat, with equally specialised relationships with pollinators, and fungi which live in the soil.
The majority of species reproduce via tiny seeds that are known as ‘dust seeds’ which need perfect conditions to germinate – with some species even relying on specific types of fungi in the soil for them to grow. This means that conditions in the soil and habitat need to be exactly right for an orchid species to thrive, hence why we don’t encounter them all the time.
One UK orchid has gained huge notoriety for its rarity, the Ghost Orchid Epipogium aphyllum. This species is currently regarded as extinct but with hopes for its re-discovery. Occurring in Beech woodlands in deep leaf litter where gets its energy from decaying matter, it’s appropriately named for its pinkish white ghostly appearance rising from dead leaves.
Although orchids are not the most common plant you will find, they do occur in a huge variety of habitats. Traditional hay meadows and pastures can host several species, the most common of these are
Many orchids also specialise in woodlands, for example Early Purple Orchid Orchis mascula, Helleborines Epipactus sp and Bird’s-nest Orchid Neottia nidus-avis (pictured), a fascinating yellow orchid without any chlorophyll that depends entirely on getting its food from decaying material in the leaf litter. There are also species that grow in fens and bogs, pine forests, heathlands and dunes.
The majority of the time due to the specific requirements for growth, orchids tend to be associated with long established habitats, that haven’t had lots of disturbance. Therefore, a nature reserve can often be a useful place to look.
The best time of year to look for orchids tends to be late spring and early summer. Quite a few UK orchids have spotted leaves, making them even more distinctive and easy to spot.
They are perennial plants, and in the UK are formed of a spike of flowers on a single stem. They all share a similar flower structure, despite the huge variety in their appearance. There are 3 sepals (outer protective petal-like parts) and 3 main petals, with one that usually forms a lower lip known as the labellum. This lip is often the largest and most distinctive ‘petal’ structure of the flower.
Often their intricate design and some species astonishing mimicry to tempt pollinators is one of the most intriguing features of these plants. With Bee and Fly Orchids imitating these insects to attract them to land on the flower, mistaking them for a potential mate, and thereby pollinating the flower.
The key features of orchids for identification other than habitat, are the leaves (shape and markings) and the lower lip of the flower (labellum). The easiest species to start with are Early Purple Orchid, Common Spotted Orchid, Bee Orchid and Common Twayblade. This is because they are relatively more common than other species and most can occur in grassland and woodland habitats.
Early Purple Orchids are out amongst the bluebells in older woodlands amongst the Bluebells or edges of woods around mid-May. They are a fuchsia pink/purple colour with minimal patterns on the lower petals, and have spotted leaves at the base.
Green-winged Orchids can be found in species-rich, old meadows, often popping up with lots of Cowslips in mid-May. They don’t have spotted leaves and have green streaks on the pink/purple wing like petals.
Early to mid June is then the best time to look for Common Spotted and Bee Orchids in the species-rich grasslands. They have spotted leaves that occur up the stems, and much paler flowers than the Early Purple, that are streaked and patterned with dark pink.
Bee Orchid is very distinctive with its mimicry of a bee flower and unmarked green leaves.
Common Twayblade has two large, rounded leaves that grow opposite each other, with the flower spike starting as a knobbly spike between the two leaves, growing taller to display small green flowers that appear to have two dangly legs.
It is always exciting to find any kind of orchid, and worthy of a photo! Just remember to be careful not to tread on any nearby orchids that are just coming up. Share the photos with friends, as you never known who doesn’t know that our wonderful UK orchid species even exist.
FSC Orchid Guide
The Orchid Hunter by Leif Bersweden
Britain’s Orchids A Field Guide to the Orchids of Great Britain and Ireland by Sean Cole, Michael Waller and Sarah Stribbling
Three Hagges Woodmeadow Site Manager Kara shares what volunteers do, from coppicing to nature surveys, and how you can get involved.
For getting up close to our tiniest wild plants and fungi, you'll need a hand lens. Learn how to use one and get top tips on buying your own.
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.
Every day, our wild plants and fungi are put at risk from planning decisions, chemical sprays and more. Find out what you can do to help protect nature.
This spring, have you thought about getting out to visit one of Plantlife’s wonderful Welsh nature reserves?
Saving the endangered Three-lobed Water Crowfoot plant, which is considered as an aquatic buttercup species.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Did you know some of our plants are threatened by extinction? Here are 3 species that are endangered in Scotland and the work that’s being done to bring them back.
Plantlife’s Cairngorms Project Manager Sam Jones reveals how a tiny flower in Scotland is fighting back against extinction in the UK.
Spring is an exciting time to be on our nature reserves. This is the season when the meadows really burst into life, with lush growth and seasonal flowers.
In the UK we have over 45 species of orchid – which might be more than you thought! Learn more about this wild and wonderful family of plants with Plantlife wildflower expert Sarah Shuttleworth.
Plantlife’s Vascular Plants Officer Robbie Blackhall-Miles finds an exciting new plant species for Wales.
Dave Lamacraft, Plantlife’s Lichen and Bryophyte Specialist, heads out to discover a wealth of extraordinary lichens which call Wales’ rainforests home.
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