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Wednesday, 16 February, 2000, 00:17 GMT
Bid to save England's plants

cornflowers in field Cornflowers, common a generation or two ago, are now endangered


By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

English Nature, which advises the UK Government on wildlife conservation in England, is launching a programme to find out how many plant species are in danger of extinction.

The company commissioned by English Nature to do the research, Wessex Environmental Associates, believes modern agriculture is the key to the future of many species.

Phil Wilson of WEA said: "We are certain that farmland is home to some of the UK's most rapidly declining plants, some of which have already become extinct."

"We have already lost the little-known interrupted brome, and the cornflower is officially classified as endangered.

"I hope to be able to establish what can be done to rescue it and other species before they disappear for ever."

Diverting resources

English Nature wants to redirect money available under the government's agri-environment budget to support farmers in using methods that lead to the recovery of the threatened plants, and animals and birds associated with them, while also helping to save rural jobs.

It says money will be available through the funding announced by the Agriculture Minister, Nick Brown, last December. This included:
  • 580m for the countryside stewardship scheme to protect wildlife and landscapes
  • 139m for payments to convert to organic farming
  • 125m for new farm woodlands and energy crops to save fossil fuels
  • 220m for rural businesses, training and for marketing countryside products.
Many of the 15 arable plants on the UK biodiversity action plan priority list are hardly household names. They include the red-tipped cudweed, the western ramping fumitory, and the broad-fruited corn-salad.

dormouse on twig The dormouse is one of English Nature's successes
But Sue Ellis of English Nature told BBC News Online: "They're all important, and the feature they have in common is that they are all in decline because of modern farming.

"Every one of them used to be much more common. Our grandparents would have been used to seeing cornflowers, and it's very sad if plants which were often seen 80 or 90 years ago are hardly seen at all today.

"And they're also important as indicators. If you link what is happening to the plants to what's going on with farmland birds, you get a very sad picture."

English Nature's species recovery programme, which started in 1991, has so far saved 45 species from extinction, including red kites, red squirrels, and dormice.

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See also:
19 Jan 00 |  Sci/Tech
Cereal sowing clue to skylark slump
14 Oct 99 |  Sci/Tech
Rescue plan for sleepy dormouse
19 Sep 99 |  Sci/Tech
Red squirrels find safe refuge
19 Sep 99 |  Sci/Tech
Plant losses threaten world's food supplies
12 Aug 99 |  Sci/Tech
Farmland birds in crisis

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