The Vascular Plant Red Data List for Great Britain - Species Status No 7
A massive contribution to the conservation and assessment of Britain's flora - revealing that one in five of our native species are at risk of extinction. From the publisher:
For the first time, all native and archaeophyte taxa have been analysed, not just those that had already been identified as rare or scarce. This analysis has been made possible by the publication of the New Atlas of the British and Irish Flora (Preston et al., 2002), which has allowed comparisons to be made with the Atlas of the British Flora (Perring & Walters, 1962) for all taxa. This work satisfies the commitment made in Plant Diversity Challenge: The UK's response to the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (JNCC, 2004) to assess all vascular plants in the UK using IUCN criteria. It will also be used to inform future priority setting in the Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) process.
The bulk of the report is, of course, the Red List itself, but it contains much more than this. There are sections on data sources, the criteria used, endemics, international responsibility and difficult groups. Throughout the project the Working Group and others have identified individual taxa or groups of species where further distributional data or taxonomic research are required before proper threat assessments can be made. Many such taxa do not appear in the new Red List but, for now, are listed in the so-called 'Waiting List' in section 8. More generally, the Working Group recognised that much more population data are required in order to apply some of the IUCN criteria. Our discussions included wider aspects of Red List interpretation and how the list might be used (for example, when reviewing the list of taxa included in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan).
There have been three editions of the Red Data Book for vascular plants in Great Britain (Perring & Farrell, 1977, 1983; Wigginton, 1999). These were all based on the distributional data provided in the first plant atlas, with additional information from targeted surveys looking at rare and scarce taxa. The huge quantity of new distributional information provided by the New Atlas, meant that a thorough revision of the conservation status of all vascular plants was appropriate. The IUCN categories assigned in this report supersede those given in Wigginton (1999) or in Cheffings (2004).
In this report, the terms 'Red List' and 'Red Data List' have been used synonymously, to refer to the list of all taxa that have been analysed according to IUCN criteria. This includes threatened taxa as well as those that are 'Least Concern'. This is a change in usage compared to the past, when a taxon that was 'on the Red List' was considered to be threatened. In this report, a taxon that is 'on the Red List' is not necessarily threatened, but has been assigned an IUCN category.
"One in five of Britain's wild flower species is threatened with extinction, according to the most detailed analysis to date of the British flora.
The total is far higher than previously thought and has shocked the team of senior botanists who discovered it through a two-year intensive survey of all of Britain's 1,756 native plant species. The survey, published today, paints a completely new picture of the conservation status of Britain's wild flowers, listing no fewer than 345 of them - or 19.6 per cent - as "critically endangered", "endangered" or "vulnerable to extinction", according to internationally recognised criteria.
Britain has always had great rarities in its flora, such as the lady's slipper orchid. But the survey's most startling finding is that our threatened species now include nearly 80 that are familiar and widespread and have never been listed as being at risk, such as the corn buttercup, field gromwell, yellow bird's nest and English eyebright, pictured.
All of these flowers may still be found in at least 100 locations across Britain. Yet, in fact, they are in headlong decline, undocumented until now.
In the past 40 years, the survey shows, the corn buttercup has declined by more than 80 per cent, corn chamomile by more than 70 per cent, and field gromwell and yellow bird's nest by 65 per cent each.
It is this picture of massive decline in flowers which are not yet actually considered rare which has been highlighted by the survey, The Vascular Plant Red Data List for Great Britain, produced by a partnership of some of Britain's leading conservation bodies.
The pattern has been found in no fewer than 78 species which are now designated as threatened with extinction in Britain. The findings mean that priorities for conserving Britain's wild flowers in future will need to be reordered, with more concern for commonplace plants in the fields of the wider countryside outside protected areas - the ones that are really at risk. "We had no idea that some of these declines were as bad as they are and we were very shocked to discover them," said Dr Trevor Dines, of the wild flower conservation charity, Plantlife, and one of the authors of the survey.
The Red Data List project has been made possible by the interlinking of two great mapping surveys of Britain's wild flowers, made 40 years apart. The first was The Atlas of the British Flora, published in 1962, which displayed the distribution of our wild plants on a grid of 10km squares imposed on the map of Britain.
If a plant occurred in fewer than 15 squares, it was considered "rare"; in fewer than 100 squares, it was considered "scarce". In 2002 a successor volume, The New Atlas of the British Flora, was published which showed not only where plants occur but where they have disappeared from locations in the earlier atlas. So the corn buttercup, for example, was shown as occurring in 157 grid squares in 2002 - but it had occurred in 672 grid squares 40 years earlier.
As it was still in more than 100 grid squares it was considered neither "rare" nor "scarce" by the old criteria - but it was clearly undergoing a catastrophic decline, and needed to be flagged up as a species at great risk. Its rate of decline means it has now been listed as "critically endangered". - Michael McCarthy, The Independent 09 May 2005
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