Michael McCarthy: Our wondrous flora has been left in the shade

Nature Notebook: We seem to have lost interest in plants per se at all levels

Share
Related Topics

You interested in wild flowers? Who is, these days? The body that campaigns for our exquisite native flora, Plantlife, has fewer than 10,000 members. Compare that to the people who get really excited about cultivated plants in their gardens, the paid-up members of the Royal Horticultural Society. They number 360,000. Go even further and compare it to the people who get excited about wild birds, the members of the RSPB – there are more than a million of them.

And then think about it. There are a hundred times more people interested in birds in Britain – enough to join something – than there are people interested in wild flowers. What's going on? Surely a terrific wild plant, such as a bee orchid, is not a hundred times less fascinating than a special bird, such as a peregrine falcon? Both are wonderful examples of creation, each utterly captivating in its own way. So why does the one have a relatively tiny group of admirers, while the other has a seven-figure fanbase?

This conundrum is bothering Plantlife, which at its annual members' day on Friday is holding a panel discussion on the theme of "Wild plants – the wallflowers at the biodiversity ball?" I think wallflowers is right, but why?

Even though all of human life depends on a suite of about 30 plants – such as wheat and rice – we seem to have lost interest in plants per se at all levels, from academic studies to children's hobbies. In 2007/8, the last year for which figures are available, 18,405 students were accepted to read biology in British universities, while 29,365 studied sports science and 44,625 psychology.

The number accepted for botany, once at science's cutting edge? 195. I'm surprised it was even that many. As for young people – do you know a single boy or girl interested in our flora, in our heart-stoppingly lovely gentians and pasque flowers, our sainfoin and our melilot, our grass of Parnassus and our dog rose? It's as if they've just disappeared off the radar, not just for children, but for the whole population. You know what I think? You don't know what you're missing.

There's life beyond birds

Plantlife is holding its members' day – it's not open to the public – at the Wetland Centre in Barnes, the nature reserve in west London best known for its stunning bird life from bitterns to lapwings.

But Barnes holds a lot more than just birds – it's a great site for dragonflies, and also for bats – and its wild plant assemblage is enormously attractive. You can see bee orchids in Barnes (you have to look hard) and also ragged robin, the charming pink flower of ditches and damp places that is now becoming increasingly rare.

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Photo Booth Host

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company offers London's best photo booth ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers



£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers ...

Recruitment Genius: Project Director / Operations Director

£50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an incredible opportunity for a ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Administrator is requir...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Freeman, centre, with Lord Gladwyn, left, and Harold Wilson on the programme The Great Divide in 1963  

John Freeman was a man of note who chose to erase himself from history

Terence Blacker
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Mr. Cameron is beginning to earn small victories in Europe

Andrew Grice
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'