One in ten plant species threatened by extinction

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The Independent Online
THE first world list of threatened plants was launched yesterday in a bid to save more than one in 10 species facing extinction. It highlights a risk to 33,000 species in 200 countries, including 19 in Britain. Among them are the Lundy cabbage, on the Bristol Channel island of Lundy, the Cornish eyebright and scurvy grass in Scotland. The World Conservation Union Red List took 15 years' work by botanists and organisations world- wide and was published in association with the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh and Kew.

Conservationists hope it will pave the way for international action to tackle the threat. Mark Collins, chief executive of the World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge, which compiled the database, said: "We now have an accurate inventory of the world's plant species at the start of the millennium. Of these, more than a staggering 33,00 species, representing 12.5 per cent of the world's known plants, are at risk of extinction." The aim now was to set priorities, help identify key regions for targeted funding and to use the list as a baseline for the measurement of progress.

The idea of international Red Data Books was first conceived in 1963 by Sir Peter Scott, conservationist and founder of the Slimbridge Wildfowl Trust. Since then, regional and international lists have been devised but the list published yesterday was the first world list for "vascular plants", which include ferns and flowering plants.

It was published simultaneously in London, with the help of the botanist Professor David Bellamy, and also in Washington DC, Cape Town and Canberra. Dr Collins said: "The Red List represents just the tip of the iceberg, as much information is still lacking. This is not just arm-waving, this is two-and-a-half kilos of solid book. Our priority now is to ensure that the database underlying the list continues to be updated."

There are practical reasons to save many of the plants, as many may have medicinal uses as yet undiscovered. Diosgenin, a key ingredient in the contraceptive pill, comes from the yam. Although the species used for the pill is not at risk, other yam varieties are. Dr Collins, whose unit is funded largely by international conservationists on a project-by-project basis, said: "Billions of dollars of pharmaceuticals are traded every day and many are based on natural sources."

Brian Huntley, of the National Botanic Institute of South Africa, said the new list would inevitably contain errors, but was vital in implementing conservation projects.