A fifth of England's wildflower species are under threat, according to the country's first Red List for vascular plants, which was launched today at Kew Gardens. The list is a comprehensive and objective analysis of changes in the distribution of native flora and identifies threatened species.
The analysis was carried out by a team of scientists from the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI), the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) and other organisations. Many of the 13 million plant records analysed had been collected by BSBI volunteers and others since 1930.
Dr David Roy of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, said "The England Red List is a landmark publication, using innovative analysis of one of the most comprehensive botanical datasets in the world. It highlights the unique contribution of expert volunteers, a type of citizen scientist, for identifying conservation priorities and understanding threats to our native wildlife."
Top findings of the Red List show that a fifth of England's wildflower species are under threat, with the majority of these threatened species suffering a decline of 30% or more. Wildflowers associated with either highly acid or basic open habitats on infertile soils, such as Great sundew (Drosera anglica) or Burnt-tip orchid (Orchis ustulata) fare particularly badly.
The analysis also identifies species that have suffered such severe declines in lowland areas of England that they meet the 'Threatened' criteria, despite being still relatively widespread and common in upland areas. Others still are now close to being listed as threatened.
Dr Pete Stroh of the BSBI, lead author of the Red List and project coordinator, said the modification or loss of vast swathes of countryside throughout the past 60 years, particularly in lowland England, had been well documented. He continued, "With such rapid change, it is troubling, but perhaps not particularly surprising, to find out that species we have long thought of as common in the 'wider countryside' and under no immediate threat have declined to such an extent that they are now assessed as 'Near Threatened'.
"In many cases, this equates to a decline of more than 20% during what is, botanically speaking, the blink of an eye."
As well as CEH and BSBI, other organisations involved in producing the England Red List are Natural England, the Natural History Museum, Plantlife and Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.
Ian Taylor of Natural England said, "The scientific rigour brought to the England Red List by a partnership of the country's leading botanical organisations will enable us to target our conservation efforts more precisely and with greater confidence on those plants, habitats and landscapes revealed to be most urgently in need."
The production of a first vascular plant Red List for England follows similar lists for Great Britain (2005) and Wales (2008) which examined changes to flora since 1930 and identified species most at risk.
The Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland issued a press release for this story.
Full reference: Stroh, P.A., Leach, S.J., August, T.A., Walker, K.J., Pearman, D.A., Rumsey, F.J., Harrower, C.A., Fay, M.F., Martin, J.P., Pankhurst, T., Preston, C.D. & Taylor, I. 2014. A Vascular Plant Red List for England. Bristol: Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. ISBN: 9780953971862.
A Red List uses a globally recognised and scientifically rigorous approach designed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to assess and determine risks of extinction. The method is applicable to all species and provides information on status, trends and threats.
Vascular plants (also termed ‘higher plants’) have lignified tissues for conducting water and minerals. They include all flowering plants, conifers and ferns. The catch-all term ‘wildflowers’ is often used as a proxy.
Related CEH links
Staff page of Dr David Roy, head of the Biological Records Centre at CEH
Staff page of Dr Tom August
Staff page of Dr Chris Preston