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Endangered rare UK plants under threat from walkers

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Fen orchid. Picture; BillyOh.com
Fen orchid. Picture; BillyOh.com

Harming these species could lead to court action or fines

A visit to the countryside could end up in a court appearance if you accidentally step on an endangered species of plant.

These seven plants are very rare and it’s against the law to pick, cut, uproot or destroy them.

The plants are classed as European Protected Species (EPS) and are protected under both European Law and the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

Harming them could result in a six-month prison sentence plus a hefty £5,000 fine.

Seven protected plants

The garden experts at online shed retailer BillyOh.com have compiled a quick guide to seven protected plants.

A spokesperson said: “There’s nothing better than taking to the great British countryside for a brisk walk and some fresh air – but if you happen to stumble across the following plants, steer clear!

“It’s a criminal offence to tamper with these species – and that include the whole plant, dead plants, or indeed any part of the plant at all.

“If you do happen to see any of the following on your travels, try not to get too close and make a note of where you have found it. Chances are there are authorities somewhere that might like to know.”

Here are the plants:

Lady’s slipper orchid

Once widespread throughout Europe and Asia, but forest clearance and uprooting by orchid collecting Victorians wiped out most of the species.

It has been declared extinct and rediscovered but is still so rare that it is illegal to even touch the plant without a special licence.

Marsh saxifrage. Picture; BillyOh.com
Marsh saxifrage. Picture; BillyOh.com

Early gentian

This little plant has stunning blue-purple flowers and small pointed leaves and grows in isolated populations in England from Cornwall to Lincolnshire.

It favours open grassy places and light, warm soils and is protected under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Creeping marshwort

These perennials form rosettes of simple pinnate leaves and grow in wet grassland subject to winter flooding, typically by rivers.

The number has been monitored over several years and fluctuates annually but is listed as Critically Endangered in Britain.

Fen orchid

Found only in Norfolk, South Wales and North Devon, the plant has flowers and leaves that wrap around the bottom of the single stem which supports several flowers towards the top of the plant.

In East Anglia, there are reproduction programmes and habitat management, as this plant is listed as Critically Endangered.

Killarney fern

This is a medium-sized, long-lived fern with delicate, translucent fronds.

It grows on constantly shaded and humid rock faces and was always rare, but it has become extinct at a number of sites due to collecting and is now very rare in the UK.

Marsh saxifrage

This little plant has very specific habitat requirements and needs sufficient bare ground for seedlings to establish.

As a result, it grows only in 21 sites across Britain – 80-90 per cent of which are in the North Pennines.

Shore dock

A dock with greyish leaves and a tiny green or reddish-brown, this flower grows on the west coast of Wales and southern England, is classified as Endangered, and is protected under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

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Mandy Watson is a freelance journalist and an incurable plantaholic. MandyCanUDigIt grew from the tiny seed of a Twitter account into the rainforest of information you see before you. Gardening columnist for the Sunderland Echo, Shields Gazette and Hartlepool Mail and editor of the Teesdale Mercury Magazine. Attracted by anything rebellious, exotic and nerdy, even after all these years. Passionate about northern England and gardens everywhere. Falls over a lot.

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