Higher plant species


1654 Early gentian    Gentianella anglica   
   Follow link for UK biodiversity information on this species.

Background to selection

Distribution of SACs with species 1654 Gentianella anglica.  Click image for enlarged map.
Distribution of SACs with species 1654 Gentianella anglica. Click image for enlarged map.

Description and ecological characteristics

 

Early gentian Gentianella anglica is an annual plant, occurring in calcareous grassland, mainly on steep, south-facing slopes. It grows on bare ground or in thin turf that is kept open by a combination of rabbit or sheep-grazing and trampling by livestock on thin droughted soils. In dense turf it becomes shaded out and unable to compete with other more vigorous species. It is found on a variety of substrates and in different habitats, but is particularly frequent in coastal grasslands. At most of its localities the vegetation is referable to 6210 Semi-natural dry grasslands and scrubland facies on calcareous substrates (Festuco-Brometalia).

 

Gentianella anglica shows considerable phenotypic plasticity, influenced by such factors as management and germination time. The occurrence of what was believed to be probably the hybrid between G. anglica and autumn gentian Gentianella amarella, G. x davidiana, prompted a taxonomic reassessment of G. anglica throughout its British range. Ecological monitoring and genetic investigation of G. anglica populations began in 1998. Initial results of this research appear to question the validity of maintaining G. anglica as a separate species from the more widespread G. amarella (Winfield & Parker 2000). However, the Habitats Directive continues to recognise G. anglica as a separate taxon.

European status and distribution

 

Gentianella anglica is endemic to the UK.

UK status and distribution Click to view UK distribution of this species

 

Gentianella anglica occurs mainly on chalk escarpments in southern central England, but its range extends westwards to Cornwall and south-west Wales, and northwards to Lincolnshire. Some populations are large, particularly on the Isle of Wight, in Wiltshire and in Dorset, on some sites numbering many hundreds of thousands of plants.

 

There has been a marked decline in G. anglica since 1970, largely because of the ploughing of old chalk grassland and the abandonment of grazing on some of the remaining grasslands.

Site selection rationale

 

The sites selected are mainly those supporting the largest naturally-occurring populations that are known to have persisted for many years. These sites are relatively large areas of calcareous grassland that are generally botanically diverse and of high conservation value. They provide representation over the range of G. anglica in southern England and Wales. The number of sites selected reflects the fact that G. anglica is endemic to the UK.


Site accounts

Fontmell and Melbury Downs Dorset and Somerset
This inland site supports consistently large populations of early gentian Gentianella anglica, numbering many thousands of plants. The site includes large areas of species-rich chalk grassland and is one of three sites selected in the centre of the main range of the species.
Godrevy Head to St Agnes Cornwall and Isles of Scilly
Species occurrence account not yet available.
Grimsthorpe Lincolnshire
Grimsthorpe is the most northerly outpost for early gentian Gentianella anglica, with 23 colonies totalling several hundred plants in old oolitic limestone quarries.
Hackpen Hill Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire
Hackpen Hill is an extensive area of unimproved chalk grassland in the Downs. The site has a variety of aspect and gradients, with the grassland dominated by red fescue Festuca rubra and upright brome Bromus erectus. The herb flora includes a significant population of early gentian Gentianella anglica, as well as autumn gentian Gentianella amarella, fragrant orchid Gymnadenia conopsea, frog orchid Coeloglossum viride, horseshoe vetch Hippocrepis comosa, common rock-rose Helianthemum nummularium and dwarf thistle Cirsium acaule.
Isle of Portland to Studland Cliffs Dorset and Somerset
This site on the Dorset coast, together with St Albans Head to Durlston Head, supports important long-standing populations of early gentian Gentianella anglica numbering several thousands of plants in floristically-rich calcareous grassland.
Isle of Wight Downs Hampshire and Isle of Wight
Chalk grasslands on the southern coast of the Isle of Wight support very large populations of early gentian Gentianella anglica, numbering hundreds of thousands of plants, although these populations have varied in size from year to year. Compton Down supports the largest populations.
Limestone Coast of South West Wales/ Arfordir Calchfaen de Orllewin Cymru East Wales, West Wales and The Valleys
The dunes and coastal grassland at Stackpole support the only known population of early gentian Gentianella anglica in Wales numbering, in good years, several hundred plants and many ‘hybrids’ with G. amarella (G. x davidiana). This is an exceptionally isolated range-outlier from the southern English centres of distribution and there are taxonomic questions over the identity of this species and other Gentianella segregates in the district.
Penhale Dunes Cornwall and Isles of Scilly
This site supports strong populations of Gentianella anglica. Populations of G. anglica in Cornwall are now viewed as mixed populations of G. anglica ssp. anglica and its ‘hybrid’ with autumn gentian Gentianella amarella, G. x davidiana (Rich et al. 1997). They were formerly regarded as a subspecies, G. anglica ssp. cornubiensis (Pritchard 1959). Plants at Penhale Dunes have been found to range from pure G. anglica through a range of intermediate forms to pure G. amarella (Wilson 1999).
Pewsey Downs Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Bristol/Bath area
Pewsey Downs is one of three sites selected in the central part of the range for early gentian Gentianella anglica. It holds a very significant population of hundreds of thousands of plants growing in high-quality chalk grassland.
Prescombe Down Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Bristol/Bath area
Prescombe Down is one of three sites selected in the central part of the range for early gentian Gentianella anglica. It holds very significant populations of hundreds of thousands of plants in high-quality chalk grassland that has been sympathetically managed for many years.
St Albans Head to Durlston Head Dorset and Somerset
This site on the Dorset coast, together with Isle of Portland to Studland Cliffs, supports important long-standing populations of early gentian Gentianella anglica numbering several thousands of plants in floristically-rich calcareous grassland.

SACs where this Annex II species is a qualifying feature, but not a primary reason for site selection

Castle Hill Surrey, East and West Sussex
East Hampshire Hangers Hampshire and Isle of Wight
 

Many designated sites are on private land: the listing of a site in these pages does not imply any right of public access.