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Plants from our industrial past

Plantlife reveal how abandoned mines play a vital role for some of Wales most weird and wonderful plants

March 26 2013

The coral lichen Stereocaulon glareosum lives on bare toxic ground that is low in nutrients. Image © Ray Woods.

The coral lichen Stereocaulon glareosum lives on bare toxic ground that is low in nutrients.

Image © Ray Woods.

They no longer produce lead, copper and iron but former mining sites scattered across Wales provide a haven for some of the most fascinating wild plants in the UK.

Plantlife want you to meet the ‘heavy metal’ or metallophyte lichens that thrive on rocks and soil that are rich in heavy metals, an environment where most other life couldn’t survive. From the metal mines in Ceredigion and lead mines in Powys to the slag tips of the Swansea valley these incredible plants cloak the ground, abandoned mine shafts and decaying buildings in a rich tapestry of colour. They are also incredibly clever…

Plantlife expert, Tim Wilkins says “Ever since the Bronze Age we have exploited outcrops naturally rich in heavy metals. Today, there are very few natural outcrops left and old metal-mines have become a refuge for a fantastic array of specialist plants, lichens and fungi. Some species have become so closely adapted to this environment that they grow nowhere else. However, many are on the verge of extinction through lack of site protection and sympathetic management of land and buildings. The lichens in particular are endangered, despite being recognised in law as a key priority for conservation in Wales.

These are just a few examples of the species under threat. In Plantlife’s new guide -‘Heavy-metal lichens in Wales’ – we reveal how to conserve these precious gems and call for greater protection at key sites. Copies in both English and Welsh are now available to download for free via the links below.