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
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
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
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
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 Fauna and Flora Preservation Society,
the World Wide Fund for Nature-UK and of course the National
Trust and the National Trust for Scotland.