LONDON, UK, May 13, 2005
(ENS): For the first time, all the wild plants in Great
Britain have been assessed for how close they are to extinction,
not just those that already had been identified as rare. The results
released on Monday, show many species that have never before been
included on any threat list are in rapid decline. Of the 1,756 species
of plants studied, 345 species - 19.6 percent - are currently threatened
The Vascular Plant Red Data List for Great Britain is the result
of two years of work by a partnership coordinated by the Joint Nature
Conservation Committee (JNCC), a government agency, and including
the Biological Records Centre, the Botanical Society for the British
Isles, the Countryside Council for Wales, English Nature, the Natural
History Museum, Plantlife, the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh,
and Scottish Natural Heritage.
Using the IUCN-World Conservation Union criteria and classifications
for threatened species the scientists have produced a completely
revised list of the status of Britain's threatened wild plants,
ranging from the extreme case of Extinct, through Critically Endangered,
Vulnerable, to the category of plants of Least Concern.
One new addition to the Critically Endangered category, the corn
buttercup, Ranunculus arvensis, has personal meaning for
Chris Cheffings, plants adviser at the Joint Nature Conservation
Committee, and co-editor of the Red Data List.
"My parent's farm was one of the last sites in Lincolnshire
for corn buttercup," she said. "Alas, that has now all
gone. I grew up seeing purple milk-vetch on the roadsides. This
is now, by and large, gone. Seeing these species being Red Listed
has made this publication much more personally relevant and shocking,
as it is no longer filled with just those rare plants that you never
For the first time, all species that are native or were introduced
to Great Britain before 1500 AD were analyzed. This means that all
species have been treated equally, and there are many new additions
to the list as a result, the JNCC said.
Hybrids are included in recognition of the essential role they play
in plant evolution.
Species in groups that are traditionally very difficult to identify
- such as the more than 230 species of Dandelion in Britain - have
been included in the analysis, due to improved knowledge of their
distributions, the scientists said.
The general pattern has been that the diversity of the British
countryside is being constantly degraded, and as habitats are fragmented,
the associated plants are lost.
As a trend, the Red Data List shows upland plants are declining
due to overgrazing. Arable plants have almost disappeared in large
parts of the country.
Plants of unimproved grassland are disappearing. Many are only
hanging on in small fragments such as roadsides, and these are under
"As a nation, we have been very successful at looking after
our rarest species, but very bad at preventing widespread species
suffering severe declines," the JNCC said. "It is clear
that we must focus our future efforts on halting and reversing the
loss of previously common and familiar species."
The Unlucky 13 - a list within the Red List - shows a range of
plants new to the threatened list. It includes , and the Endangered
Euphrasia anglica - Eyebright that is found nowhere else
in the world. It also includes the field gentian, which got its
picture on the cover of the new Vascular Plant Red Data List.
Simon Leach, botanical adviser at English Nature, said, "This
new Red List tells us about what's been happening to our plants
over the last 40-odd years, and the extent to which so many once
commonplace species have now declined, to the point where they are
"We've been rather good at stopping rare plants from becoming
extinct," said Leach, "but less good, perhaps, at stopping
common plants from becoming less common."
The scientists call achieving that goal "a massive challenge"
that can only happen "through changing the policies for countryside
"We are hoping that agri-environment schemes and other landscape-scale
initiatives will help to arrest and reverse the decline of many
of these declining species," said Leach. "The new Red
List points to those that need the most urgent action."
The Vascular Plant Red Data List for Great Britain is online at:
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