Back to blog listings

Northamptonshire - a botanically luckless county

Posted: Friday 18th January 2013 by OliverBurke

Longhorn MothLonghorn Moth, Sandy Spinney Quarry, Northants, Brian Eversham

The county of Northamptonshire is famously known as ‘The Rose of the Shires’, yet how ironic now that it has been named as one of the most ‘botanically luckless counties’ in the UK in a report just published by the wild plant conservation charity Plantlife.

Our Vanishing flora- how wildflowers are disappearing across Britain’ portrays a startling picture of the decline of wild plants across the country. Of the 52 counties listed Northamptonshire has the third highest rate of plant species decline nationally. In fact this decline is happening at such a rate that the county is losing nearly one plant species every year (0.82 species lost per year) resulting in Northamptonshire losing more plant species than almost any other rural county in England.

This league table of species loss was created using county floras and rare plant registers, recent reports and experts’ personal knowledge of what has happened to our wild plants over the last 100 years. With intensive agriculture, rapidly expanding towns and cities and a changing climate the odds are increasingly stacked against many of the plant species that have defined our countryside for hundreds of years. Since botanical records began in the 17th century, 80 species (flowering plants, mosses, liverworts and lichens) have become extinct in Britain; on a country level the figures are even higher with England  losing 106 species, Wales 86 and Scotland 97.

Yet amongst this doom and gloom there is actually much to be positive about with signs that Northamptonshire’s botanical luck is changing. If you had looked at this league table ten years ago Northamptonshire would have been sitting at the top with the highest rate of decline in plant species nationally. In this same ten year period Northamptonshire has seen the amount of land protected for nature conservation increase to its highest ever level with the county now even having its own Special Protection Area (SPA) in the Nene Valley, protected under European law for the fabulous wildlife it supports. The future of the county's wildlife is indeed looking brighter but how has this change in fortunes come about?

The Trust continues to improve the condition of the nature reserves it directly manages, covering over 100 hectares of land and a diverse range of scarce habitats, which in some cases are some are the last strongholds of certain plant species. The Trust’s conservation grazing programme ensures the appropriate management techniques are used to restore a range of historical habitats and the Trust has continued to acquire new nature reserves both through land purchase and delivering land management on behalf of partners such as local authorities.

Our newest nature reserve is Irthlingborough Lakes and Meadows (117h) which has a fantastic plant diversity and sits right in the middle of the Upper Nene Valley Gravel Pits Special Protection Area. Through the Trust’s work in the wider countryside it supports local landowners, including farmers and parish council’s, to help them better manage their land for wildlife. A great example of this is our current Inspiring Meadows project which is working with land owners to restore wildflower meadows across the county. The Trust is also leading on the Nene Valley Nature Improvement Area, which is a multi-partner project covering over 40,000 hectares within the Nene Valley, stretching from the source of the Nene in the South of Northamptonshire to the Eastern fringes of Peterborough. This project will be working at the landscape scale to create new habitats, conserve existing ones and ensure local people have the opportunity to engage with the fabulous wildlife that the Nene Valley supports.

In addition to the Trust's work, Nature has a habit of bouncing back and if given a helping hand it is amazing how wildlife can recover. In 2013 the Wildlife Trust in Northamptonshire will have been providing this helping hand in protecting, conserving and restoring the county's wildlife for 50 years. From humble beginnings led by a handful of committed volunteers the Trust in Northamptonshire now manages 42 nature reserves covering over 1000 hectares of land, looks after a network of over 700 Local Wildlife Sites and is supported by over 9000 members and volunteers.

Although there are still challenges ahead it will be the Wildlife Trust's work over the next 50 years that will continue to secure the future of Northamptonshire’s natural environment and help it forget about its luckless past.

We can only do this with your support. Become a member of our Trust today and help us turn Northamptonshire's botanical luck around.

Read OliverBurke's latest blog entries.