Thursday, 18 September 2014

England Red List for Vascular Plants: the launch

Botanists assembled in the Jodrell Atrium, Kew,
 yesterday for the launch of the England Red List
Image: L. Marsh 
The first England Red List for Vascular Plants was launched yesterday at Kew Gardens and is now available to download free of charge via the BSBI website here

You can also buy a copy from Summerfield Books here.

Pete Stroh (BSBI's Scientific Officer) is England Red List lead author and project co-ordinator. His presentation yesterday to the massed ranks of some of Britain's top botanists and invited members of the press, and the follow-up talk from co-author Ben McCarthy of Plantlife, made grim listening in places. 

Pete Stroh in Kew Gardens yesterday
Image: Shama/BSBI Publicity Team
Top findings of the England 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. 

Pete Stroh gets a few words of encouragement from
co-author Mike Fay (Kew) before he goes onstage
Image: L. Marsh
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. 

And many wildflowers which a lot of us still think of as common and widespread across England, are now close to being listed as threatened.

Trevor Dines and Fred Rumsey take the air
Image: J. Stowe
Pete said “The modification or loss of vast swathes of our countryside throughout the past 60 years and more, particularly in lowland England, has been well documented.

"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.”

Botanists in the Jodrell Lecture Theatre yesterday
Image: L. Marsh
The Q&A which followed the two talks was kicked off by a question from Mike McCarthy of the Independent

The resulting discussion about changes in plant distribution benefited greatly from the presence of so many eminent and experienced field botanists, including most of the England Red List co-authors and both authors of 2005's Vascular PlantRed Data List for Great Britain, Lynne Farrell and Chris Cheffings. 

Lynne Farrell, Prof Mick Crawley and author Peter Marren
Image: J. Stowe
Fred Rumsey of the Natural History Museum (he's also a very active BSBI member) is a co-author of the England Red List and was at the launch. 

He said “Many people may be surprised to see some very familiar plants on this list – the extent of whose decline at an English level has been a revelation. It really shows the challenge we face in the most populous, developed and agriculturally productive areas of our country to preserve healthy ecosystems with flourishing biodiversity.”

Pete tells his fellow botanists about the ERL
Image: Shama/BSBI Publicity Team
lan Taylor, Natural England's specialist for the conservation of vascular plant species, is another co-author of the report and you can read his comment here on Natural England's excellent England Red List webpage.

The millions of botanical records collected by BSBI members over the years provided the data on which the ERL analysis was carried out. David Pearman, Chris Preston and Trevor Dines, co-authors of the New Atlas of the British & Irish flora were also at Kew yesterday to hear Pete explain what happens when you apply the internationally recognised IUCN criteria to all that data. David and Chris are also England Red List co-authors.
Although the decline in some of our best-loved wild flowers is not good news, at least we now have evidence of what is actually happening to our native plants. 

Pearman, Preston & Dines, authors of the 2002
New Atlas of the British & Irish flora
Image: L. Marsh
As David Roy of the Biological Records Centre/Centre for Ecology & Hydrology says, “The ERL 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 for identifying conservation priorities and understanding threats to our native wildlife”.

Congratulations to Pete and his co-authors on their tremendous achievement. Now, what can we do to halt the decline in our wild plants?