Rare plants dug up – and saved
2 March 2011
A colony of one of Britain's rarest plants living in imminent danger of being wiped out by quarrying has been saved by simply digging it up and moving it wholesale to a new location.
Translocation, as it is known, is a last-resort conservation measure, as it's not often successful. However the colony of Alchemilla micans (shining lady's mantle), which grows only in Northumberland, was in the path of pre-existing mineral extraction rights at Keepershield Quarry near Hexham, so moving it was the only option.
The quarry company worked with Natural England to strip the turf and topsoil from the original site and re-lay it on two hectares of protected area at the edge of the quarry site. Limestone rocks from the threatened area were also moved to the new location to shape different gradients and aspects, creating as close to ideal growing conditions as possible. Separately, a team of student volunteers dug up the alchemilla colony, potted them up temporarily and then replanted them in their new home.
The colony is now thriving, with at least 250 plants of A. micans counted at the site making it by far the largest of the four known sites where the plant grows. Other rare plants have also colonised the site including locally-rare Geranium columbinum, as well as a diverse colony of grassland wildflowers including Galium verum (lady's bedstraw), Primula veris (cowslips), and Orchis mascula (early purple orchid).
'Of course, it's always better to conserve important habitats and species in situ rather than try to move them to a new site,' said Tony Laws, area manager for Natural England North East. 'But in this case there was little alternative and we are relieved that the strategy has been successful so far and that these very rare plants are colonising the new site.'