Thoughts, news and updates from members of the Plantlife team.

Response for Nature Scotland: what’s next?

54% of flowering plants in Scotland are in decline. What can we do about that?

October 15 2015 - 14:44

In 2013, the State of Nature partnership, part of LINK’s Wildlife Forum, published the State of Nature report for Scotland. Here in Scotland, 54% of flowering plants are in decline and 28% of these are in severe decline. Nature is in trouble.  As an conservation community, our response was of course to ask, "what can we do about that?"  Here, I’ll outline what we’ve concluded could and should be done, and how we have reached those conclusions. 

But first... let me outline why this is important.

We believe that we have a duty to look after our world, including its nature, for future generations.  Besides these intrinsic values – making sure that our children’s children can pick  wild flowers and hold snail races - nature has other ‘basic’ values. It is crucial to our quality of life and to the planet’s life support systems.

As a community, naturally, we care about nature. We, and our supporters, want to see it protected and restored. More than that, we and our supporters, want to see the global biodiversity targets for 2020, endorsed and agreed by the Scottish Government, met in full.

So, how do we go about answering the question: “what can we do about it?”

We adopted a scientifically based approach to build consensus amongst experts and identify robust predictions. We were thus able to identify eight core needs for nature: six ecological needs (e.g. special places) and two social needs (e.g. more support, more fans). What we didn’t do was sit in a closed room and generate a random list. Instead we were keen to use an inclusive and structured approach. 

The result is two reports: an online technical report detailing the approach and consultations from all four countries of the UK and four summary reports, launched simultaneously in Edinburgh, London, Cardiff and Belfast on 13 October.

So, what did we conclude?

There are 10 key issues where we’d like to see progress from Government.  You need to read the report for all ten. In summary however, nature needs:

  1. An inspiring vision – in Scotland, we have a route map to 2020, and that is only 5 years away. It’s good next step BUT we need a longer term and more ambitious vision, and one that truly inspires more than just the people in this room, and the people we work with to act now. 
  2. Full implementation and defence of current nature legislation – the Scottish Parliament has, over the last decade passed some excellent legislation – the Nature Conservation, Marine and Water Environment Acts to name a few – but none is implemented or enforced as vigorously as they might be and this is undermining efforts.  What’s more, we, in Scotland, must play our part in defending legislation such as the EU Nature Directives from attacks by those with a de-regulatory agenda.
  3. A network of well-managed special places: In Scotland, we have a network of designated sites. These need to be better understood and appreciated, better managed and more joined-up.  A good start is the acknowledgement of this in the National Planning Framework and the 2020 Route Map, but this acknowledgement must be turned into delivery.
  4. Species safeguarded and restored: Species are not just colourful characters, incidental to some wider ecosystem service. Instead they are the building blocks of our ecosystems. Without them, we have no services – no clean water, no food, no clean air. We need them and we need proper monitoring and targeted action for those that are of conservation concern. We have a list in the Scottish Biodiversity List– we need to act on that list.
  5. Improved access to justice for nature: nature can’t “speak for itself”. We need to enable citizens, communities and representative NGOs to seek reviews of decisions by Government and other state bodies whenever those decisions impact on the environment.  This isn’t just about compliance with Aarhus (although that would also be true), it’s about an empowered public, who are connected with and appreciating nature.
  6. Improved incentives for land managers: Sustainable and High Nature Value farming and forestry systems support biodiversity and people. We could have so much more in Scotland. With the right incentives, these systems could not only be more widespread but provide a genuine underpinning for the marketing of our “green, clean” produce. Without this approach, are we really as green and clean as we think we are? 

Finally, while this report focuses on the action we need from Government, we recognise that while Government is crucial as the representative of the state, able pass/enforce legislation and/or allocate taxpayers’ resources, it needs to be supported by civil society. We have included pledges that we – as NGOs – will make our contributions to the joint effort.

We pledge to:

  • Inspire
  • Work with land mangers to make space for nature
  • Work with government
  • Give regular, scientifically robust updates on the State of Nature (there will be another one along soon)
  • Support our citizen scientists
  • Speak up for nature. Nature can’t do it but we can and we will.

We pledge to do all we can to ensure that Scotland’s nature is not forgotten, taken for granted or exploited.

What can you do?

  • Have a look at the report. 
  • Talk to all of us behind it 
  • Work out what you can do
  • Work out what others can do
  • Remember: we are all in this together. Others have used that phrase and not really meant it. We really do mean it. We are all in this together.

Related information:

How to use a hand lens

October 05 2015 - 10:24

Using a hand lens © Beth Halski

Using a hand lens © Beth Halski

For botanical purposes, a hand lens works much better than a magnifying glass. It will not only make it easier to identify plants but you’ll also be able to see the beautiful, small structures on a plant which are not easily visible to the naked eye.

A hand lens is easily obtainable on the internet (try Summerfield Books). Start with one with x10 magnification, and expect to spend £10–£20.

Hand lenses are not used in the same way as a traditional magnifying glass but are held close to the eye. Here’s how to do it:

1. If you are right-handed, hold the lens in your right hand as close as you can to your right eye (and vice versa for left-handers). If you wear glasses, you can take them off or not – whatever is the most comfortable.

2. Hold your specimen between the thumb and forefinger of your other hand and bring it very close to the lens until it comes into sharp focus. Don’t move the lens.

3. Try at all times to have contact between the hand holding the lens and your cheek, and also between your left hand and your right hand. This gives you maximum control and allows you to keep specimen and lens steady. With practice this will become easier and easier and you’ll find you can do it without shutting your other eye.

4. Now wonder at the marvels of wild plants such as shimmering glands on hairs and pollen grains on an anther.

Dr Dines’ Meadow Making Adventure: pt 6

..and scatter the good seed on the land

October 01 2015 - 14:01

When we started out on the process of restoring a wildflower meadow, I had little idea how many different elements – the hay cut, the grazing and the groundwork – would have to be orchestrated in order to bring off the final flourish. After weeks of preparation, though, a magical day had arrived. It was finally time to seed the meadow.

The trick is to get as much seed as possible from the donor site (the Coronation Meadow) onto the prepared receptor site (our meadow). Do it too early in the year and most of the seed won’t be ripe, but leave it too late and the seed drops back into the donor meadow and is lost. All the different meadow species flower and set seed at different times, so it’s difficult to judge a single ‘best’ time, and then there's the weather. If the season is early or very dry, the work has to be done much earlier. And of course once everything's in place, you need a few days of dry weather to do the collecting. No wonder I was a nervous wreck!

Thankfully, the cool, wet summer we’ve had means that things are flowering late and the seed is hanging on, but was still getting a tad late in the season to be doing the restoration. Finally, with a break in the weather, we hatched a plan. There are three main ways to get seed the meadow and, in order to get as much seed as possible, we decided to do all three!

1. Green hay. With this method, a crop of hay is cut on the donor meadow and taken immediately (while it’s still green) to the receptor meadow, where it’s spread out thinly and allowed to dry. The crop contains lots of seed, some intact in the seed-heads and some that will already have fallen into the sward, so it’s a good way of getting as much seed as possible late in the year. A cut was arranged at the donor meadow and a trailer load of fresh hay arrived.

This was unloaded into a convential muck spreader which did a surprisingly good job of scattering the hay on the prepared field.

2. Brush harvesting. This involves using a special mini harvester towed on the back of a quad-bike that strips the standing seedheads and collects the seed in a hopper. By making repeated passes of the meadow a lot of seed can be collected.

Bags of this seed started arriving from Moss Hill, and I was like a kid at Christmas. Because it's so concentrated, the best way to spread this seed is by hand.

And it's not just seeds that come in these bags. There were numerous grasshoppers and beetles and even a frog!

3. Hand collecting. As the name implies, this involves collecting seed by hand! It's impossible to collect sufficient quantities for a whole meadow, but hand harvesting is very enjoyable and allows you to target particular species you want. I spent a very pleasant few hours collecting seed of things like bush vetch, an unusual rayed from of knapweed (below) and betony from the Coronation Meadow to ensure we had some in ours. These seeds were also scattered by hand in the new meadow.

Once all this seed was in place I must admit it was a tough few days, because the green hay had to be spread around by hand for the next few days as it dried. I never stopped smiling though, and was grateful for the help of friends and family (efforts rewarded with home-made Bara Brith). I also used a pitchfork inherited from my grandad, so I felt he was involved in some way too. By the end of it, an impressive amount of seed was visible in the field. 

The stage has now been set. With luck and fair weather we'll get some germination this autumn, and by spring next year a new wildflower meadow will begin to emerge.