Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 30 September 2014

'Drip by drip loss' of wildflowers

A nature charity says Britain is gradually losing its wildflowers, seen here outside the Olympic Stadium in London

Britain has lost 10 wildflower species from the countryside since the Queen came to the throne 60 years ago, a report has revealed.

The study, by nature charity Plantlife, also revealed wildflowers were vanishing from individual counties at a rate of up to one species a year, a "drip by drip loss" that could eventually see more plants disappearing on a national scale.

Downy hemp-nettle, summer lady's tresses and interrupted brome are among the 10 species that have become extinct across Britain in the last six decades, which have seen the countryside lose much of its richness, Plantlife said. The average county has lost around 25 species of plants during that time.

Plantlife warned that without action to protect wild plants, critically endangered flowers such corn buttercup, fringed gentian and the yellow early marsh orchid could be next to disappear.

The report looked at the rate at which flowers were being lost from 50 counties in England, Scotland and Wales and found some, such as field gentian and burnt orchids, were disappearing while once-widespread plants were becoming rarer.

Snakeshead fritillary and meadow saffron have gone from Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire has lost four-fifths of its meadows, and North Aberdeenshire has lost 42 species in a little under a century. In Shakespeare's Warwickshire, the wild thyme, eglantine (sweet briar) and oxlips (the cowslip-primrose hybrid) he describes growing on the fairies' bank in A Midsummer Night's Dream are now all scarce.

Dr Trevor Dines, Plantlife Cymru's conservation director, said while national extinctions caught the attention, "that drip by drip loss at the local level mounts up to something big".

And he warned: "There's something that's happening in our back fields and the hedgerows around us - we're seeing the common things becoming rarer and the rare things disappearing." In the 1950s, "the fields would have been richer in colour, the hedgerows would have been richer in colour and the arable fields as well, you would have seen more poppies, been more aware of flowers, they would have been part of life," he said.

He said action needed to be taken or more plants would vanish at a national level and warned that wild native plants were needed to support the rest of Britain's wildlife, including bees, butterflies and farmland birds.

"Plants are the fundamental building blocks of our countryside," he said. "Our landscape is constructed from plants and it's the diversity of these plants that supports, nourishes and sustains everything else."

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