Plea to save rare plants like fen ragwort – which only grows in one roadside ditch near Ely
- Credit: Archant
It’s a vulnerable rarity which can only be found clinging to life in a roadside ditch near a burger van in Ely.
And fen ragwort is one of many UK plants at risk of extinction unless action is taken to look after the road verges that have become their final refuge, it has been warned.
Conservation charity Plantlife said species such as fen ragwort and wood calamint are now only found on road verges, while other plants such as sulphur clover, crested cow-wheat and wood bitter-vetch have lost much of their habitats in meadows, pastures or woodlands and are now most frequently found on the side of roads.
In total, Britain’s verges are home to more than 700 species of wild plants, one in eight of which (12pc) are threatened with extinction or heading in that direction, Plantlife said.
Some verges are effectively fragments of wildflower-rich ancient hay meadows and grasslands, most of which have been lost through the countryside since the 1930s, while coastal plants have exploited motorways and A-roads which are salted in winter.
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Plantlife has revealed the top 10 threatened species growing on Britain’s road verges, as it calls for better road verge management to help protect wild flowers and plants.
Trevor Dines, Plantlife’s botanical specialist, said: “For too long road verges have been thought of as dull, inconsequential places that flash by in the wing mirror.
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“But these findings underline just how fundamental verges are to the health of wildflowers and the wildlife they support. Only genuine management for nature will safeguard these and other plants from extinction.”
Mr Dines said the plight of the critically endangered fen ragwort was “particularly striking”.
“Only one native site remains but, unlike lady’s-slipper orchid which also grows in a single native site and receives round-the-clock protection when in flower, this poor plant flounders in an unprepossessing roadside drainage ditch beside the A142 near Ely where it is at risk from discarded debris.”
Mr Dines warned many councils were mowing road verges earlier in the year, which only gives early flowers a chance to set seed before they are mown, and later plants struggle to survive under the cuttings left behind.
Simple changes to management such as mowing later can have a major difference.
Almost 20,000 people have signed Plantlife’s petition calling for council management to better benefit wild flowers, the charity said.