Progress and protection
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Plants and progress

To a large degree, plants are incompatible with progress. That is to say, wildflowers react badly to chemicals, bulldozers and concrete. True progress, of course, would see wild plants as an integral part of our lives, bringing the delights of colour and form into our lives, as well as epitomising the rural culture of our ancestors. 
Wildflowers have suffered, like many other parts of our natural heritage, during the laissez-faire 1980's. Developments - industrial, agricultural, recreational - have destroyed habitat for many of our most valued species. Between the early 1960's and the late 1980's 13% of English wildflowers lost significant amounts of territory (4% in Scotland). Widespread losses of grassland plants, particularly unimproved grassland, are due to drainage, fertilisers and herbicides: 60 species have decreased ranges. Run-off from fertilised land has led to enriched water in rivers and lakes: 24 wetland species show declines. Many arable weeds have been lost due to improved husbandry, seed screening and herbicides: 31 species have decreased. 
Against these decreases, many plants have widened their coverage - but these are the plants associated with human activities. 'Introductions are no replacement for our native species'. In 1995 13% of our seed plants and ferns were 'Threatened/near threatened'; another 11% were 'Nationally scarce'. 


It would be wrong to say that Government has done nothing to protect wildlife, including flowers. It is just that it has not done enough. The early twentieth century saw the establishment of a number of non-governmental wildlife reserves but it was not until 1949 that government recognised the need for statutory protection. 
The 1949 Act introduced National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National and Local Nature Reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest. National Parks are a planning device (there are none in Scotland); AONB's conserve the landscape rather than its wildlife. Unlike SSSI's, National Nature Reserves are strictly protected, managed by the national conservation authorities to retain their special conservation interest. Local Nature Reserves, declared by local authorities, are normally established by agreement with landowners. 
In 1997 England alone had 3,912 SSSI's;  there are over 6,500 throughout Britain. They may cover any area of natural conservation interest. The conservation authority notifies the owner and the local planning authority of the SSSI and the reason for notifying it but this does not confer protection. Planning permission for development may be given and the owner may damage the wildlife interest four months after failing to agree with the conservation authority. The maximum fine for damage without notifying the authority is just £1000. 
In view of their number and extent  SSSI's are by far the most important type of 'protected area' but protection relies on the goodwill of the landowner, an increasingly scarce commodity in these days of multiplying pressures on rural land. Introduced in 1986, Environmentally Sensitive Areas are designated to provide aid for farming practices which enhance the natural or built environment in an area. They have proved very successful, depending on individual management agreements with farmers in return for cash payments. 

The Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981

This Act now enshrines statutory protection for wild animals and plants. 

In spite of all this legislation paying lip service to the ideal of conservation, successive governments have failed to confront entrenched established interests. The European Common Agricultural Policy is another complicating factor, which pays farmers to destroy wildlife. Rural development is now so intense that we can no longer afford a nineteenth century laissez-faire approach. Effective statutory control is essential. The new Countryside Bill may provide it but we shall see whether

government is prepared to provide, not only a legislative framewwork, but also the resources necessary for it to function.

Support your local plants

Nothing stays the same, least of all an organic environment. In a highly organised democratic urban society such as our own, we can only achieve our aims by organising. We have to accept that if we are not prepared to lobby our leaders on behalf of our natural heritage, we deserve to lose it. And we will - for there are many other minority groups (developers, industrialists, anyone out to make a buck at the expense of others) ready to take advantage of our silence. We can only make our voice heard by joining together. It can work - the national campaign to prevent English Nature removing statutory protection from Thorne and Hatfield Moors is just one example. 
To play your part in caring for wildflowers, and the rest of our natural heritage, join one or two of these organisations: 
Your local Wildlife Trust. 56 Trusts form a nationwide network, working to protect wildlife in town and country. They manage 2,000 reserves and support a junior organisation, Watch, and urban wildlife groups. Together they form the Royal Society for Nature Conservation and have more than 260,000 members who receive the Trusts' colour magazine, Natural World, three times a year, together with local publications. 
Plantlife. The only organisation solely devoted to saving British wild plants and their habitats. Growing fast, Plantlife has been instrumental in rescuing 30 of our rarest flowers in its 'Back from the Brink' programme. With other British conservation bodies it published Biodiversity Challenge, setting targets to save threatened habitats; it publicises destructive activities such as peat exploitation; carries out survey and education work; and manages a number of wildflower reserves. Meadowland has been a priority since so little remains but reserves include Winskill Stones in the Yorkshire Dales, Creddacott Meadows in Cornwall, Moaney and Crawyn's Meadows in Man and Queendown Warren in Kent. Members receive the award-winning, colour Plantlife magazine three times a year. 
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Europe's largest conservation organisation has 142 nature reserves throughout Britain, acquired for birds but managed with wider conservation interests in mind. RSPB reserves protect the largest populations of at least three of our rarest plants and the widespread and varied nature of reserves ensures much of interest to any wildflower enthusiast. Birds magazine is a model of what a members magazine should be, appearing four times a year, and the Young Ornithologists Club publishes Bird Life six times a year. 
The Woodland Trust. The Trust preserves and creates woodlands. Members receive a directory of the Trust's reserves but many are open to the public anyway. Obviously of interest to enthusiasts for woodland plants. 
Botanical Society of the British Isles. Founded in 1836, the Society is flourishing and welcomes beginners and professionals interested in gaining a better understanding of British and Irish botany and using that knowledge to help their conservation. The Society maintains a nationwide system of 'recorders' to maintain records of the flora in each 'vice-county'. It is currently busy with the Atlas 2000 project and publishes the often entertaining and always informative BSBI News, and Watsonia.
Botanical Society of Scotland. Again founded in 1836, the Society exists to promote the study of both flowering and non-flowering plants and to exchange botanical knowledge between members. Lectures, field meetings, surveys and an annual exhibition meeting are held and the Society publishes the The Botanical Journal of Scotland, twice a year and The Botanical Society of Scotland News twice yearly. 
Other organisations which may be of interest are: 
the Wild Flower Society
the Fauna and Flora Preservation Society
the World Wide Fund for Nature-UK and of course the National Trust and the National Trust for Scotland.