Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 12 July 2014

The race to save a beautiful flower found in only three places in Northern Ireland

The rare wood cranesbill
The rare wood cranesbill

The battle is on to save one of Northern Ireland's rarest plants.

This tiny flower is the extremely rare wood cranesbill that now survives in just three sites in Co Antrim.

But an operation is under way to help save the beautiful flower from dwindling away completely. Volunteers arrived in the Glens of Antrim yesterday, wielding trowels and gardening gloves in a last ditch bid to save the rare plant.

It may have looked like a simple gardening session, but yesterday was a turning point in the battle to save the cranesbill.

The flower is only found in the Glenarm region but the Ulster Wildlife Trust is hoping yesterday's transplant efforts will give it a new lease of life.

The trust cares for two of the sites as nature reserves and this year the Northern Ireland Environment Agency has granted permission to translocate the flower to another site nearby.

It comes after a previous experimental attempt to seed the same field failed.

The flower was always restricted to the Glenarm area but it used to occur along the Antrim Coast Road closer to Larne, thriving in hay meadows and grassland, woodland or scrubby woodland.

The flower's decline was linked to agricultural improvement such as cutting for silage instead of hay, but another problem has been in the woodlands where it used to occur.

Many sites were designated as Areas of Special Scientific Interest and the woods were fenced, but when the grazing stopped in these woods it became too heavily shaded for the cranesbill to thrive.

BACKGROUND

A perennial wildflower that grows in hazel scrub, open ash/hazel woodland and old unimproved meadows. Flowers are bright pink-mauve with a white eye. The seeds ripen from the beginning of July in a capsule with a long stalk, resembling a 'crane's bill'. Wood cranesbill has been declining in range over the past 30 years and is listed as a priority species for conservation. It's illegal to uproot, pick or destroy them.

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