This report tells the awful story of how local losses of plants from our counties add up to a national disgrace. Over the reign of HM The Queen 10 plant species have become nationally extinct – hardly a subject for a jubilee celebration. Those 10 losses are the culmination of an avalanche of local loss that continues and accelerates to this day.Although I recognise that it’s partly a matter of the availability of data, plant conservationists do a good job in making these national losses more locally relevant by charting the county losses of plant species. Plantlife produces a league table of counties – ordered by the rate in which flower species have been lost from the county. My county of residence, Northamptonshire, has the third highest rate of species loss at a stunning 0.82 species per year. So, in the 30 years I have lived in Northants, we have lost 25 species of plant from the county – that’s scary. Why isn’t Northants County Council mounting a recovery plan now?
Banffshire and Middlesex are arguably the only worse places to live than Northants which is closely followed by Berwickshire, Sussex, Cambridgeshire, Denbighshire, Leicestershire, Bedfordshire and the Bristol region. No wonder I am a nature conservationist – I’ve spent most of my life in those places! Another 7 counties are also above the ‘one species lost every two years’ level. And even the lucky inhabitants of Wiltshire, the ‘best’ county in the list, lose a plant species every 12 years. Have a look at where you live and see where you fit in.
I can’t help but compare this way of looking at the data with the way that the bird data are usually publicised. Because the bird data are better – there is no other way to describe them despite botanists wrinkling their noses when they read it – we tend to give UK-wide or country-wide (eg England or Northern Ireland figures) figures. And we have bird data every year so we can draw national graphs of trends. So there is stuff that bird conservationists can do with the data that plant conservationists cannot do. But that is probably one reason why the local relevance of the patterns and local changes are missed out of the bird data. How would a nap of avian county extinctions look, I wonder?
I would like to see a league table of loss of farmland birds from counties and I think it would be very interesting. Which counties lead the way in losing farmland species? And are they similar to the plant lists?
Northants probably wouldn’t look too bad in that list as turtle dove (I guess) and grey partridge, lapwing and tree sparrow hang on as breeding species despite massive losses of numbers. Does corn bunting still nest in Northants – maybe, but not, I think, near me?
But I cannot but be sad that Northants has lost its snakeshead fritillaries (as have another 16 other counties or vice-counties). Here there are inadequate fragments of ‘natural’ habitats (what is natural?) left, like the heathland remnant on a firebreak between a rail line and a plantation. What type of future do heathland plants have in Northants when they have been thoughtlessly and carelessly confined to a tiny plant-rich ghetto?
And that is the message of this excellent report. The reign of Queen Elisabeth II has seen many aspects of our lives improve but throughout that time we have pushed more and more plants to local extinction and towards national extinction. We know this is happening to birds but just the same is happening to plants and our wildlife as a whole. And we should rage against this. It is simply uncultured of us to have done this and not repair the damage. Which political party will commit to stopping this rot or replacing this damage – they would get my vote?
Prince Charles, in the report’s foreword, writes that it is not too late to do something about it: ‘…next year [now this year!] sees the 60th anniversary of The Queen’s coronation. What better excuse for a concerted effort to begin the creation of at least one meadow in each county.‘. That sounds like a good idea to me. If Plantlife takes that idea further then it will deserve our support.
In fact, reports like this remind me of the fact that I am proud to be a member of Plantlife – are you too?