How Britain is failing to protect our most endangered wild plants from extinction

A A A

Britain is failing to meet its stated objectives designed to protect the nation's most endangered wild plants from going extinct, according to a group of leading botanists.

In four years' time, Britain is supposed to have met 16 different targets designed to safeguard its threatened flora, but the country is on track to meet fewer than one-third of them.

Experts are to meet today at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, to work out ways of accelerating the effort to preserve the flowering plants, lichens and mosses most at risk of being lost from the British Isles.

One of the main concerns is that just one in five threatened species of wild flower is currently recognised as a priority for conservation; the true figure, however, is much higher.

One of the targets set for 2010 is that 60 per cent of threatened plants are to be actively conserved rather than just being recognised as conservation priorities, said Sir Peter Crane, the director of Kew Gardens. "We are finding it a challenge to meet these ambitious targets, even here in the UK with a relatively small and well-documented flora," Sir Peter said. "This makes us all the more aware of the greater challenge faced by our counterparts in tropical countries with far greater plant diversity and much more limited resources."

As part of its commitment to the international Convention on Biological Diversity, in 2003 Britain laid down 16 targets for 2010 - the Plant Diversity Challenge.

Species of lichens are especially at risk because so little is known about them. One of the pinhead lichens, Calicium corynellum, for instance is so obscure that it does not even have a common name. This particular species is only known from four churchyards in Northumbria and the Scottish Borders, and it only grows under very special conditions; one colony died when a flagstone was removed to stop water from splashing up.

Another exceptionally rare species is the flamingo moss - named because its stalk and capsule are like the neck and head of a bird. This moss is restricted to living on the waste from old lime works and is known at only seven sites, mainly in South Yorkshire. And another rare species is the tooth fungi, which grow on the roots of trees and cannot survive without this connection. Scientists need to know more about how these woodland organisms are coming under threat.

Mike Fay, the head of genetics at Kew, said today's meeting is a clarion call for experts to pull together to understand some of the immense problems they face in preserving the rarest of our native plants. "We knew in 2003 when the targets were set that they were going to be fairly challenging. Some species are doing well but some are falling right off the edge and we need to know why," he said.

Chris Cheffings, the plants adviser for the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, said it is vital to use this opportunity to assess what needs to be done. "We are really falling behind on targets for ensuring that plants are used sustainably, and for conserving threatened plants," he said.

"We will need a wide-ranging commitment if we are going to have things back on track by 2010, and that will mean more than just botanists working together to achieve the targets. We need to step up our efforts to communicate the plight of plants and fungi to all sectors of society."

Victoria Chester, the chief executive of Plantlife International, said: "The significant progress towards achieving the Plant Diversity Challenge targets for plant conservation is due almost entirely to the dedication and expertise of more than 50 voluntary societies, charities and local people.

"Our plant and fungal kingdoms are central to UK biodiversity and are true indicators of the health of our environment," she said.

"The fact that the future of such a fundamental building block of British wildlife rests on the continued goodwill and limited resources of these groups is something that policymakers and funders need to recognise above all else."

'Falling off the edge'

BLUEBELLS

A common site in many woodlands, and one of the "emblematic" plants of the British Isles. They thrive best in cool, damp and shady conditions so have been identified as one of the species that could "fall off the edge" if global warming takes hold.

BROWN GALINGALE

This is a sedge that grows on the edge of ponds, where the water level fluctuates with the seasons. It is threatened by an invasive species, the New Zealand pygmy weed, which was originally introduced by horticulturalists but has now spread rapidly.

BURNT ORCHID

One of the fastest-declining species of flowering plant in Britain. It was once relatively common on the chalk grasslands of England, an apparently stable environment. Botanists don't know why it is disappearing so quickly, and so have little idea about how to preserve it.

LADY'S SLIPPER ORCHID

A rare success story. It was once reduced to a single clump in the wild due to over-collection. A propagation programme has led to successful reintroductions and some of these plants have reached flowering size. Botanists hope they will soon be self-sustaining.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager - Media Sales - £36,000 OTE

£28000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award-winning company, whi...

Recruitment Genius: C# .NET Developer / Application Support - Junior

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This business has an industry r...

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: They make daily deliveries to most foodservice...

Recruitment Genius: Transport Planner

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: They make daily deliveries to most foodservice...

Day In a Page

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'
Singapore's domestic workers routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals

Singapore's hidden secret of domestic worker abuse

David Cameron was shown the country's shiniest veneer on his tour. What he didn't see was the army of foreign women who are routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals
Showdown by Shirley Jackson: A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic

Showdown, by Shirley Jackson

A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic
10 best DSLRs

Be sharp! 10 best DSLRs

Up your photography game with a versatile, powerful machine
Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

Solved after 200 years

The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

Sunken sub

Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

Age of the selfie

Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

Not so square

How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

Still carrying the torch

The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

...but history suggests otherwise
The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

The bald truth

How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

Tour de France 2015

Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

A new beginning for supersonic flight?

Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash