In 2017 we collected sightings of 8 easily-recognised species and compared what we found with records from the 1990s and the general description of the frequency and habitats in a local Flora published in 1920. All 8 were common 100 years ago, but none is common now. Five had held their own since the 1990s, but there was reasonably clear evidence that 3 had decreased since then. You can see the full results here.
Since this pointed to a long-term and continuing decline in the diversity of our local flora, the PGP wants to follow up with a parish-wide search for missing species. In round terms, there were about 500 species in the two parishes in 1920, but slightly less than 300 have been seen in the last 25 years. A few new discoveries have been made, and some introduced species have gone wild (think Japanese Knotweed), but broadly we may have lost 40% of our wild species in the last century. Which is surprising, since we still have much the same landscape as we had in 1920.
In 2018 we want to check whether this apparent decline could possibly be real by searching for the missing species. We hope to treat this as a challenge. The object is to try to disprove the apparent alarming scale of losses. If, after searching diligently, we still have a long list of missing species, then we can be reasonably sure that there has indeed been a decline. It will then be worth asking why, does it matter, and, if it does, whether we can do anything about it.
As a basis for the challenge, we listed all the species that grew here 100 years ago, but which I could not remember seeing in recent years in a spreadsheet downloadable here. There is also a shorter list of more recognisable species available here.
At the end (the yellow group) are some species that we know still grow in the parish, but about which we hope to gather more information. For each species the spreadsheet gives the English name (Col.F), the scientific name (C) and the habitats it was said to grow in 100 years ago (G). The habitat information has been repeated and supplemented in columns H-L so that the species listed can be sorted by habitats (see below). We have already found some of the 'missing' species in 2018, which are indicated in column D (which will give a running total of new finds as the year progresses).
Column G. Transcribes the frequency and habitat information given in the Flora of Chepstow. The abbreviations indicate abundant, common, frequent, occasional and rare species, some with 'very' or local as a qualifier. This is a good indication of where to look.
Columns H-L. These columns allow sorting by habitat. E.g., to group all the species likely to be found in woods, sort on column F. To place all the species likely to be found in wet woods, sort on columns F and I. This is a rough and ready characterisation, based mainly on the Flora of Chepstow, and it should not be taken too literally. The habitats are:
- Woods. Mainly near or under the trees, but also in recently felled areas. Not the open parts of the rides.
- Hedges. Hedge bottoms, scrub land, and long-neglected fields.
- Grassland, Heath. What it says, but excluding the boundaries.
- Wet. Plants that associate with ponds, rivers, the banks of either, and the wetter parts of woods, and grassland.
- Cultivated, Built, Disturbed. Ploughed fields, waste ground, vegetable gardens and flower beds, building sites, heavily disturbed road verges.
Identifying wild plants
Some are distinctive and thus easy, but many are not. For example, the yellow, daisy-like flowers and the various umbellifers - cow parsley and the like - require attention to detail. Committed botanists will have a Flora, and hand lens and patience enough to pore over hairs on stalks and other barely-visible features. For everyone else, two helpful possibilities come to mind:
- Keble Martin, The Concise British Flora in Colour, a hugely popular book of paintings illustrating most wild plants in Britain, published in 1965 by a retired Devon clergyman. Committed botanists use it too!
- The internet. If you want to know what a plant looks like, just google the latin name and look at the images. Most will be correct.