We depend on plants, without them we wouldn’t have oxygen to breathe. The food we survive on is either plant based or produced through plants. It is the derivatives of plants that create medicines to return us to health when we are sick. They enrich our lives as we take walks in woodlands or meadows, the bright and character filled faces of the wildflowers bring us joy that we can’t quite describe. Yet recent findings of the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland (BSBI) show many of our native species are experiencing substantial decline in their numbers and range. If we want to protect the native plants we love and stop these trends, we must take action now before it is simply too late.
The BSBI plant survey collected huge amounts of data, in Ireland, 2.85 million plant records of 1,939 species were collected. A total of 2,500 people collected data including botanists, scientists and trained volunteers. Its results show more non-native species have been recorded than native. More than 56% of native plant species have declined in range and abundance. Overall, non-native plants have increased in abundance by 80%.
The graphs and charts below show data for Prunella vulgaris – Selfheal from BSBI Plant Atlas 2020 Website
The data recorded by the Plant Atlas 2020 gives us a better understanding why our native plants are in decline. Habitat loss and agricultural intensification are playing a large part in reducing native plant species. Unsustainable land management and climate change are also putting pressure on populations. We must put into action scientific and sustainable practices to reduce the current losses of native plant life.
COP15 outlined a framework to conserve 30% of land by 2030. If we are to make use of this we need to take action on a national and individual level. Actions outlined by BSBI include improved legislation for our protected sites. Protecting our current Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) will give the native plant populations there a safe haven. We need to extend, connect and restore spaces in nature, giving plant life a chance to regenerate. Sustainable management of these habitats will reduce pressure on the ecosystems. Putting plants at the heart of land use decisions will give them the priority status that they need.
Seed Banking as Conservation
At the core of True Harvest Seeds is a seed bank of native Irish wildflowers. Made up from seed collections made in Ireland this seed bank is a precious asset in protecting our native plants. An ex-situ collection of seeds like this is the resource for regenerating and restoring habitats. Working under licence from DAERA and with assent from landowners, Debbie made collections of an endangered species named Hypochaeris glabra. The seed was grown out at Kilclief over the last 3 years and collected. We now hold a collection seed which is stored securely in our seed bank and can also be requested by bona fide individuals and organisations to repopulate known locations (work of this nature will need approval from NIEA.) It is these methods of conservation that will provide security for all native wildflowers and play a key part in reversing worrying recent downward trends in numbers of our native plant life.
You can read more in this Irish Times article, with comments from BSBI president Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington.