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Stark Warning for Threatened Plants

UK
25 April 2006
 Neotinea ustulata
 Noone knows why the burnt orchid,
Neotinea ustulata, is slipping away

Image © CEFE 

Leading figures in the UK conservation community are meeting on Wednesday 26 April at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew to discuss progress made towards the targets laid out in Plant Diversity Challenge.  Plant Diversity Challenge is the UK Government's response to the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation and sets out 16 challenging targets to be met by 2010.  While much progress has been made towards the targets, a stark warning has come from the conservation community that although we are fast approaching the key date of 2010, we are not even one third of the way to meeting some priority targets for conserving the UK's diversity of plants.

Among the main concerns to be addressed at the conference is the fact that only 20% of threatened flowering plant species are currently recognised as priorities for conservation.  The aim for 2010 is 60% of threatened plants actually conserved, rather than just recognised as priorities for conservation.  Similar figures apply to lichens, which are especially at risk because so little is known about them.

There have been successes, among them the Lady's slipper orchid, Cypripedium calceolus, one of the rarest species of flowering plants in the UK.  The Lady's slipper orchid was once close to extinction due to over-collection - it was reduced to a single clump in the wild - but a programme of propagation has now led to successful reintroductions.  Some of the reintroduced plants have now reached flowering size and it is hoped that the resulting
populations will be self-sustaining in the future.   

Among key challenges is the generation of improved knowledge to inform conservation activity.  The burnt orchid, Neotinea ustulata, has been identified as one of the fastest declining species in the New Atlas of the British and Irish Flora.  Previously relatively widespread in England, it grows in chalk grassland, often in apparently stable environments, and yet we have no real idea what the reason for the decline is.  Without this knowledge it is impossible to put in place effective conservation mechanisms.

Professor Sir Peter Crane FRS, Director, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew,
commented: 'We are finding it a challenge to meet these ambitious targets even here in the UK with a relatively small and well-documented flora.  This makes us all the more aware of the greater challenge faced by our counterparts in tropical countries with far greater plant diversity and much more limited resources'.  

Chris Cheffings, Plants Adviser, Joint Nature Conservation Committee, said:
'It is vital that we use this opportunity to be very clear about what has still to be done.  We are really falling behind on targets for ensuring that plants are used sustainably, and for conserving threatened plants.  We will need a wide-ranging commitment, across the board, if we are going to have things back on track by 2010, and that will mean more than just botanists working together to achieve the targets.  We need to step up our efforts to communicate the plight of plants and fungi to all sectors of society.'

Victoria Chester, Chief Executive, Plantlife International, said: 'The significant progress towards achieving the Plant Diversity Challenge targets for plant conservation is due almost entirely to the dedication and expertise of more than 50 voluntary societies, charities and local people.

Our plant and fungal kingdoms are central to UK biodiversity and are true indicators of the health of our environment.  The fact that the future of such a fundamental building block of British wildlife rests on the continued goodwill and limited resources of these groups is something that policy-makers and funders need to recognise above all else.'

 

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