Consider the lilies of the field ...

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The Independent Online

The news that one in five of Britain's wild flowers is now threatened with extinction is the most graphic illustration yet of the terrible damage done to our countryside in recent decades. This is principally a consequence of the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy and the crazy overproduction it sanctioned for so long.

The news that one in five of Britain's wild flowers is now threatened with extinction is the most graphic illustration yet of the terrible damage done to our countryside in recent decades. This is principally a consequence of the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy and the crazy overproduction it sanctioned for so long.

But it is more than that: it is a warning that if we cannot save the poppies and cornflowers, the gentians and wild orchids which have meant so much to people down the centuries, and which bloom still in the corners of our minds, we risk a spiritual impoverishment such as no generation has known before.

We take plants for granted. We forget completely that all human life is predicated on a small suite of plant species, no more than about 30, from wheat to rice, without which we could not live. And so we have been less aware of the threats to our flora than of threats to our wild birds, say, or butterflies. It has not helped that Britain's botanical community, for so long inward-looking and obsessed with classifying things, has come late to conservation.

But come it has, and now we are starting to see the results. The publication today of the new Red Data List for our higher plants, in which the solemn one-in-five warning is contained, is both a magnificent achievement and a watershed.

From now on, no one can be unaware that it is not just in the tropical rainforests where large-scale extinction lurks. It is lurking out there, right now, in the seemingly unchanging, intimate, familiar British countryside.

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