Rare Specis of Plant Found in Ely Layby

PUBLISHED: 11:08 01 February 2011

fen ragwort plant with lead advisor Tom Charman of Natural England

fen ragwort plant with lead advisor Tom Charman of Natural England

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The bright yellow plant, close relative of the more common ragwort, had been extinct for more than a century but burst back into life in the 1960s when the ditch was dug over, exposing dormant seeds buried deep in the peat.

A RARE species of plant has been discovered near an Ely roadside earning it a place amongst 10 important wildlife sites across the country, Natural England has revealed. Often described as the jewels in the crown of our nature conservation sites, it is more common to associate Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) with beautiful landscapes, stunning fenland vistas and rare birds like the bittern. But sometimes rare and wonderful things can be found in the most every day surroundings.

Driving out of Ely and feeling peckish you might pull in to a busy layby and stop for a break. As you sip your mug of tea you’d probably have no idea that the nearby ditch is protected by strict environmental law (Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, as amended by CROW) and is home to the last known natural population of fen ragwort.

The bright yellow plant, close relative of the more common ragwort, had been extinct for more than a century but burst back into life in the 1960s when the ditch was dug over, exposing dormant seeds buried deep in the peat.

The top 10 SSSI list features the best examples of wildlife and geology that the UK can offer. The list is published alongside a new report by Natural England which indicates that SSSIs are undergoing a dramatic turn-around in fortune thanks to the hard work of landowners, farmers and volunteers.

Peter Nottage, Natural England’s director for the East of England, said: “These SSSIs are all that stand between some of our most threatened species and total extinction. By providing essential habitat that may not be found elsewhere, they represent a life support system whose importance cannot be overstated. It’s vital that we celebrate these last refuges and the species they sustain, so that we can ensure they receive the attention and support they need.”

Picture shows; Tom Charman from Natural England carrying out some work in the ditch.

Fen Ragwort was declared extinct in 1857 as a result of drainage activities that destroyed its habitat, the ragwort made its comeback when the present drain was dug in 1968, exposing dormant seeds in the upper peat layer which then germinated. It thrives in the relatively rich fen and reed swamp.

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