One-Fifth Of Wildflower Species Are Under Threat Says New Research

For the first time ever, a red list has been compiled for wildflower species in England and it makes for worrying reading. The key findings of the Red List, presented on 17th September in London are that a fifth of Englands wildflower species are under threat.

An ancient wildflower meadow  – not something you see very often these days. 
This one is in Norfolk

The IUCN Red List, founded in 1964, is an internationally recognised inventory of species across the whole world. It looks at the number of different species of plants and animals and the population levels of each. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is the world’s main authority on the conservation status of species. Data is gathered and monitored in such a way as the IUCN can assess how likely a species is to become extinct. Species are then classified into 9 groups according to their rate of decline, their population size, geographic spread and distance between colonies.


  • EX Extinct – No known individuals remaining.
  • EW Extinct in the wild – Known only to survive in captivity, or as a naturalized population outside its historic range.
  • CR Critically endangered – Extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.
  • EN Endangered – High risk of extinction in the wild.
  • VU Vulnerable – High risk of endangerment in the wild.
  • NT Near-threatened – Likely to become endangered in the near future.
  • LC Least concern – Lowest risk. Does not qualify for a more at-risk category. Widespread and abundant taxa are included in this category.
  • DD Data deficient – Not enough data to make an assessment of its risk of extinction.
  • NE Not evaluated – Has not yet been evaluated against the criteria.

The term “threatened” refers to species in the Critically Endangered, Endangered, and Vulnerable categories.

Why Are Our Wildflowers Disappearing?

The Red List project shows that many of the plants that we think of as being relatively common are actually coming dangerously close to being threatened. So why is this?

BSBI’s Dr Pete Stroh who coordinated the Red List project said “The modification or loss of vast swathes of our countryside throughout the past 60 years and more, particularly in lowland England, has been well documented. With such rapid change it is troubling – but perhaps not particularly surprising – to find out that species we have long thought of as common in the ‘wider countryside’ and under no immediate threat have declined to such an extent that they are now assessed as ‘Near Threatened’. In many cases, this equates to a decline of more than 20 percent during what is, botanically speaking, the blink of an eye.”

In other words, the way we manage road verges, public spaces, farmland and yes, even gardens, has changed so much in the last 60 years that wildflowers are finding it increasingly difficult to find places to grow and thrive. Building homes, roads, retail parks, offices, hospitals and car parks may have improved life for human beings but it has put a strain on nature

Which Wildflower Species Are Being Threatened?

The threatened, endangered and vulnerable plants on the Red List are too numerous to mention in this blog post but you can find the whole report here

Some of the plants I was sad too see categorised as NT (near threatened) are:

  • Campanula rotundifolia The harebell – delicate blue flowers that nod in the wind.
  • Carlina vulgaris The carline thistle – a bee-friendly plant with attractive seed heads.
  • Cornus seucica A low growing member of the dogwood family with cheery red berries in autumn and winter. Also known as Bunchberry.
  • Erica cinereathe bell heather
  • Mentha arvensis wild mint – a plant I remember well from my childhood
  • Oxalis acetosellaWood sorrel – bright white flowers that would be sorely missed if they disappeared completely from our woodlands.

Why Should We Conserve Our Wildflowers?

Wildflowers are not simply a decoration for the countryside. They support a myriad of other creatures. On 30th September 2014, conservation organisation WWF released its Living Planet report. The report suggests that 50% of wildlife has been lost from the planet as a whole in the last 4 decades. WWF Director General March Lambertini commented on the report saying “Biodiversity is a crucial part of the systems that sustain life on Earth – and the barometer of what we are doing to this planet, our only home. We urgently need bold global action in all sectors of society to build a more sustainable future.”

How Can We Help Wildflowers?

As private citizens, it seems as though tackling the decline in biodiversity is not something we can do as individuals. But everyone can play a part. If you have a garden or an allotment, why not plant a mini wildflower meadow? It’s not difficult to do and it’s very rewarding. Particularly when you consider the fact that wildflower meadows are incredibly easy to maintain.

You can support one of the many organisations that try to encourage more biodiversity – the RSPB, for example, work hard to conserve wildflowers and wildlife on their reserves. An afternoon or a day spent visiting a nature reserve can be surprisingly relaxing and you’ll be amazed at how complex and interesting nature can be.

Just appreciate the nature around you – that overgrown building site may look unattractive at first glance, but look again and you’ll see a whole host of wonderful wildlife there. Protect it if you can.

When it comes to managing the land around us, little changes can make big differences. All you need to do is bear that in mind when you reach for the strimmer

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