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Red Alert: Britain’s Iconic Poppy Under Threat.

Poppies are our symbol of remembrance but will the Government remember them as they consult on Common Agricultural Policy?

November 29 2013

Poppies and corn marigolds © Reginald Poad/Plantlife

Poppies and corn marigolds © Reginald Poad/Plantlife

As Britain prepares to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, the sad fact is that the much loved red poppy now belongs to our fastest declining group of plants...

England’s farmland is rapidly becoming the domain of a few species where once there was abundant diversity, with increased intensification resulting in wild flowers such as poppy being squeezed out of the landscape.  Of the 1,556 flowers in the British flora, 580 are considered threatened or rare in England; the majority (97%) are found on farmland. As they disappear, so the colour is wiped from our countryside.

Once so abundant they were the scourge of farmers, now some farmland flowers are on the verge of extinction. As Government debates the future of CAP a new farmland report from Plantlife reveals that

  • 80% of threatened lowland meadow flowers are not supported by ELS
  • 72% of threatened upland meadow flowers are not supported by ELS
  • ELS could help all threatened cornfield flowers but less than 1% of farmers take up these options.

Agri-environment is vital for helping to support our threatened flora yet, in its current state, is badly flawed in its results for wild plants. Negotiations within the EU have reached a tipping point and the next Common Agricultural Policy is being settled over the forthcoming months. It is imperative that environment measures within the Rural Development Programme for England protect this unrivalled natural and cultural heritage.

Despite its iconic status, our symbol of remembrance could face its own battle if action isn’t taken.  Plantlife’s report looks at the fragile future for other wild flowers:

  • Corn buttercups, purple milk vetch, red hemp nettle and Venus looking glass are vanishing; those left cling onto fragments of a countryside that is becoming nothing more than green concrete.
  • Plantlife’s Ranscombe Farm Reserve in Kent is probably the last remaining natural site for corncockle.
  • Upland farmland is home to wildflowers such as great burnet, pignut, Lady’s mantle and wood crane’s bill.  It is also one of the rarest habitats in England with less that 1,000 hectares remaining.

Report author, Nicola Hutchinson says “When the First World War broke out, farmland flowers like poppies, corn buttercups and purple milk vetch were abundant across Britain.  Today they are still amongst our most loved species but belong to our most threatened group of flowers. In small hidden fields corn marigolds can still put on a magnificent display but other rarities like red hemp-nettle, corn buttercup and corn chamomile are in a perilous state with many species having gone from prolific weed to ‘rarity’ within a few decades.   Across the country we are losing species that have been locally present for centuries.  On average one species is lost from each county every year."

"Lowland meadows, once part of every farm, are sliding towards extinction.  In our uplands, the impressive physical geography is still there but much of the botanical richness is gone. It is clear that we need to target the existing resources more effectively.  What’s important is not how widely programme money is distributed or how many farmers are involved, it’s how effective the scheme is at achieving its purpose – helping to safeguard wildlife and its environment. We hope the government will make the right decision on CAP and agri-environment funding.  Threatened species need more targeted action.  The good news is that if we put wild plants and fungi at the very heart of policy, they are the building blocks for the environment and, if we secure their future, nature as a whole can start to recover.”

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