Bid to boost rare wildflower

| 4th June 2019
Wildlife charity Plantlife is reintroducing the red hemp-nettle.

Students are keen to be involved throughout this project.

A rare flower which has almost vanished from the countryside is being given a helping hand, with a study into the best conditions for reintroducing it.

Red hemp-nettle was once common in southern England and South Wales but the use of herbicides, fertilisers and the spread of highly productive crop varieties have led to it almost vanishing from fields.

The distinctive plant with a spike of two-lipped red flowers is now critically endangered and is only found in a few dozen places, according to wildlife charity Plantlife, which is pioneering a reintroduction experiment.


To help the scheme, some 27,000 seeds of the wildflower have been sent from Kew Gardens' Millennium Seed Bank to the Royal Agricultural University (RAU), where they have been sown in experimental plots to find the best conditions for reintroducing them.

The experiment at the university's Harnhill Farm, near Cirencester, will look at the germination and survival of the red hemp-nettle under three different conditions, in plots without crops and others sown at normal or reduced rates.

The seeds are being monitored for germination success, with further surveys in the summer and autumn, the university said.


Efforts to bring back red hemp-nettle are part of the "colour in the margins" project led by Plantlife to boost cornfield plants and other wildlife.

It is one of 19 "back from brink" initiatives led by Government agency Natural England that aim to revive a range of threatened species across England.

Dr Kelly Swallow, senior lecturer in ecology and agro-ecosystems at the RAU, said: "Although once classified as a weed, the reintroduction of this scarce plant is important, not only for its aesthetic contribution to the landscape, but because biodiversity is key to the health of our environment and ecosystem functions.

"Students are keen to be involved throughout this project."

This Author

Emily Beament is the Press Association environment correspondent.

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