Fall-out is killing 100 plant species

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The Independent Online
ACID rain is killing at least 100 plant species in Britain, according to the conservation charity, Plantlife. They have dwindled or disappeared altogether as air pollution alters the soil beneath them, writes Nicholas Schoon.

Many lichen species have been banished to the less polluted fringes of the country. One type of reindeer lichen, Cladonia stellaris, has become extinct in Britain.

The sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides produced when coal, oil and gas are burnt are the main causes of the acid fall-out. Ammonia produced by intensive livestock farming is now also recognised as playing a part.

The most dramatic impact has been on lakes and rivers. Some Scottish lochs have been severely acidified by the pollution, to the point where no fish can survive.

Plantlife commissioned Dr Andrew Tickle, of Middlesex University, to scour the scientific literature on plant distribution and pollution to produce a report. He says that, of the 100 species recorded as being in decline with acid rain implicated, the majority were mosses and lichens.

The report said communities of plants found in uplands had been hardest hit by the pollution, because the soils have little ability chemically to resist acidification and they receive more rainfall - and therefore a larger dose of acidity.

At a press conference yesterday, Dr Derek Ratcliffe, a former chief scientist of the Government's nature conservation arm, pointed to the Peak District as an upland transformed by decades of acid rain stemming from nearby cities. 'The heather which was once dominant is sadly lacking, and there's not a scrap of Sphagnum (a characteristic peatbog moss).'

(Photograph omitted)