2016-11-21   facebooktwitterrss

Conservation Project to save Wildflowers from Extinction

A new project at the University of Leicester hopes to save rare and threatened local wildflowers from across Leicestershire and Rutland from extinction.

With support from the Friends of the Garden, the University of Leicester Botanic Garden has set up Genebank55, which focuses on plants throughout Leicestershire and Rutland, vice-county number 55.

Rumex maritimus seed

Rumex maritimus seed

A vice-county is a geographical division of the British Isles used for the purposes of biological recording.

The project aims to store seeds from the rarest species of local wildflower from the surviving populations in a deep freeze, helping to conserve them for future repopulation.

Data assembled by the plant conservation charity Plantlife suggests that on average, two plant species are lost from Leicestershire’s countryside every three years.

Some species appear to have only a single remaining population in the two counties and, in some cases, are even down to their last few individuals.

Changes in land use and modern farming methods are largely to blame for such declines in Leicestershire and Rutland.

Habitat fragmentation has also harmed rare plants by confining populations to separate areas and making it difficult for them to interbreed.

The project hopes to mitigate the damage to local plant species by conserving them in a genebank.

Anna Farrell, Research Curator from the University of Leicester Botanic Garden, said: “A local genebank can make concerted and highly targeted efforts to conserve locally rare and scarce species. Every population varies from another in its genetic make-up, and it is important to conserve seed from these genetically different, locally adapted populations.

“Preserving local genetic diversity may be needed for future research and, of course, for the purpose of any reintroduction that may be planned for the future. There are also educational, social and aesthetic aspects that add to the value that comes from having a locally biodiverse countryside.”

Altogether there are over 300 species of wildflower identified as being rare in Leicestershire and Rutland.

Of these, many have no record of their presence in recent decades and are probably extinct.

However, over 100 may still be present in the countryside but in low numbers, having ten or fewer records.

The project is a small scale version of the Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) at Wakehurst, the Royal Botanic Garden Kew’s facility in Sussex. Kew’s Millennium Seedbank aims to store 25% of the world’s plant species by 2020.
It is hoped that Genebank55 will be fully operational by summer 2017.

The project will run with the cooperation and partnership of Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust.

Leicester University

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