Unlucky 13 - example new additions on the Red List

Ranunculus arvensis- Corn ButtercupRanunculus arvensis, Corn Buttercup © Bon Gibbons

Critically Endangered 

  • A very attractive annual buttercup with small yellow flowers.
  • Has undergone an astonishing decline, mostly in the last 30 years (lost from 81% of 10-km squares ("hectads") - 157 since 1987, gone from 672) - hence the highest possible threat category. Since it is still recorded from 157 hectads it was not included in the list of Scarce species.
  • It has declined dramatically since the 1962 Atlas, when a decline was only apparent at the northern edge of its range.
  • It is an archaeophyte - it was introduced into Britain in  Roman times (it came with Roman farmers as they introduced new crops like Opium Poppy, peas and beans) and it became a major pest for them in their fields.
  • The fruits are astonishing structures covered in large spines.
  • Characteristic of heavy lime-rich clay soils.


Papaver argemone-Prickly Poppy 


  • A small, brightly flowered poppy - flowers often have black marks at base of petals.
  • Lost from 61% of hectads (342 since 1987, gone from 538). Most decline since 1950s.
  • Also an archaeophyte, also introduced in the Bronze Age/Roman period.
  • Plantlife's Poppy Survey of 2004 shows that it is very much a species of traditional arable fields and has not yet made the jump to waysides and road verges as common poppy has. 
  • Characteristic of light, well drained lime-rich soils on chalk, limestone and sandy loams.


Silene noctiflora-Night-flowering Catchfly Silene noctiflora, Night-flowering Catchfly © Bob Gibbons


  • An annual that's densely covered in very sticky hairs (which often trap insects accidentally).
  • Lost from 65% of hectads (238 since 1987, gone from 449). Most decline since 1950s.
  • Also an archaeophyte, also introduced in the Bronze Age/Roman period.
  • The creamy-white flowers are semi-closed during the day, with the tips of their petals curled up (as if the flower has wilted). At night, the flower re-opens fully and emits a strong scent to attract nocturnal insects for pollination (e.g. moths).
  • Characteristic of lime-rich loams on limestone and sand.
  • Has declined due to herbicide use and preference for autumn-drilled crops - this species germinates in spring.


Astragalus danicus-Purple Milk-vetch


  •  A small perennial herb of short unimproved turf on well-drained calcareous soils, mostly on chalk and limestone, also on sand dunes. In Scotland, it also grows on sandstone sea-cliffs.
  • It is a species characteristic of "good" species-rich grassland, i.e. well grazed (but not or under-overgrazed) and not improved with fertilizer or herbicides. Lost from 51% Astragalus danicus, Purple Milk-vetch © Bob Gibbonsof hectads (129 since 1987, gone from 113).
  • Before 1930, this species showed modest losses, mainly in Gloucestershire and Yorkshire. Since then it has declined substantially on the chalk in S. England and limestone in N.E. England, largely due to agricultural improvement or lack of grazing.
  • Distribution is mostly eastern, from the E. coast of Scotland down to Lincoln and East Anglia, with smaller populations in Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Yorkshire.


Euphrasia anglica - Eyebright


  • Eyebrights are small annuals of unimproved grassy habitats.
  • They are semi-parasitic, i.e, they are green and produce their own food but their roots penetrate those of surrounding plants (esp grasses) and "steal" nutrients and water from them.
  • There are 23 species of Eyebright in Britain and many form hybrids. They are very similar and can be difficult to identify.
  • This particular species grows in tightly grazed acidic grassland, heathland and moors (other species are more common and the group will be familiar to many).
  • It has been lost from 62% of hectads (142 since 1987, gone from 233). Euphrasia anglica, Eyebright © Bob Gibbons
  • Losses are mostly due to the improvement of grassland and heathland, especially in lowland England. It is a southern species, found in S. Wales, S.W. England and S.E. England.
  • It is regarded as Endemic to Britain (it is not found elsewhere in the world).
  • The common names comes from their medicinal use (via Doctrine of Signatures - a plant will heal the organ it resembles) - their tiny white flowers in close-up are blotched with yellow striped with purple like a bruised eye - compresses and tinctures from them were used to treat many eye disorders.


Monotropa hypopitys-Yellow Bird's-nest


  • An odd looking saprophytic perennial herb - it produces no food of it's own (hence no leaves, no chlorophyll and its yellow colour) and lives on dead and decaying plant material in the soil (the thickened roots underground branch repeatedly to form a "bird's-nest"-like structure).
  • It is most frequent in woodland, especially under Beech and Hazel on lime-rich soils, and under Pines on more acidic soils. It also grows with Creeping Willow in damp dune-slacks.
  • This species has suffered a 64% decline. Although many sites were lost before 1930, it has suffered a further marked decline in S. England since the 1962 Atlas. Losses are probably due to changes in woodland management.


Polystichum lonchitis-Holly Fern


  • An attractive evergreen alpine fern that is small but long-lived. Polystichum lonchitis, Holly Fern © Bob Gibbons
  • It grows on well-drained, lime-rich rocks in cool, moist positions at the base of mountain cliffs, on scree-slopes and on rocky ledges. It also grows in deep grikes of limestone pavements.
  • Generally found above 600 m and reaching 1150 m in the Breadalbanes (Mid Perth). 
  • It has been lost from 39% of hectads (111 since 1987, gone from 70).
  • Colonies are often very small (just a few plants) and vulnerable to grazing and localised rock-falls.
  • Some sites were lost to collecting before 1930 (especially during the great Victorian fern craze) and it is possible that this practice continues, albeit at a much reduced frequency.
  • Small populations exist in Wales and the Lake District; it is more frequent in the Scottish uplands and western Scotland.


Cuscuta epithymum - Dodder


  • An annual, rootless, twining and scrambling herb which lacks chlorophyll and is reddish in colour.
  • It is a parasite, attaching itself to its host by small "suckers" that penetrate the host's stems and remove water and nutrients. Cuscuta epithymum, Dodder © Bob Gibbons
  • It parasitises a wide variety of small shrubs and herbs (most frequently Heather, Thyme and Gorse) on heathland, chalk downland and dunes.
  • It has been lost from 59% of hectads (208 since 1987, gone from 298). 
  • Most of this massive decline has taken place from the entire northern edge of its range (N. England, the Midlands, Wales and E. Anglia), and it is now largely confined to the south of a line from the R. Thames to the R. Severn
  • Decline is due to the agricultural improvement of lowland heath, ploughing of chalk downlands, and an increase in scrub.


Gentianella campestris - Field Gentian


  • Our "Cover Girl" for the New Red List.
  • A biennial or annual herb with very attractive purply-blue flowers. Gentianella campestris, Field Gentian © Bob Gibbons
  • Found on mildly acidic to neutral soils in pastures, hill grassland, grassy heaths, sand dunes, machair and road verges. 
  • It is locally common in north England and Scotland, but absent from most of south and central Britain.
  • It has been lost from 57% of hectads (394 since 1987, gone from 521).
  • It had already suffered a marked decline by 1930 and sites are still being lost through overgrazing in the uplands and the neglect of lowland pastures.
  • In its English stronghold, Cumbria, it has disappeared from half the hectads from which it has been recorded since 1930.
  • It is a species which most botanists would consider as being relatively common, but good to see - it tends to indicate slightly richer botanical areas and ones where it might be worth searching further other nice plants
  • This is one example of the many species that were previously not known to be under threat but are now shown to be disappearing over a wide area.


Hydrocharis morsus-ranae- Frog-bit


  • A floating perennial herb which produces rosettes of leaves on floating stems and lovely white flowers in summer.
  • In winter, small buds are produced which sink to the mud at the bottom of the pool - the rest of the plant dies. New plants grow from the buds in the spring and float to the surface. Hydrocharis morsus-ranae, Fog-bit © Bob Gibbons
  • It is found in pools, ponds, ditches and canals.
  • It has been lost from 54% of hectads (148 since 1987, gone from 177).
  • Most losses are from north-west England and eastern England (outside East Anglia).
  • It has suffered from pond-infilling, the conversion of grazing marshes to arable, and from eutrophication.
  • It is still frequent in East Anglia, the Somerset Levels and the coastal levels of Kent and Sussex


Hyoscyamus niger- Henbane


  • A "sinister, malodorous" biennial herb that's covered in sticky hairs and produces flesh-like dusky-yellow, purple-veined flowers.
  • It grows on dry, calcareous soils, particularly on chalk, and on coastal sandhills, sandy open areas and waste ground. It prefers disturbed ground, including rabbit warrens and building sites. Hyoscyamus niger, Henbane © Bob Gibbons
  • It is an Archaeophyte, having been introduced to Britain in the Bronze Age. It was once widely cultivated for its medicinal properties; the whole plant is extremely poisonous and rich in alkaloids (hyoscyamine, atropine & scopolamine) and has been used as a cure for toothache and as a poison. Dr Crippen famously used it to murder his wife in 1910 (See Flora Britannica pg 301 for more details). 
  • It has been lost from 64% of hectads (282 since 1987, lost from 519). It has declined throughout its range, but especially in N. England and the Midlands.
  • Declines were evident in the 1962 Atlas but have increased since then. They have been put down to the more intensive use of farmland, the increased use of herbicides, the "tidying-up" of the waste places and losses of habitat to coastal development.


Platanthera bifolia - Lesser Butterfly-orchid


  • A well-loved orchid that grows in a wide range of usually nutrient-poor habitats, including heathy pastures, grassland, open scrub, woodland edges and rides, and on moorland (often amongst Bracken). It also sometimes grows in acidic bogs and calcareous fens.
  • It is a widespread species, being found throughout Britain but especially in the west and north.
  • It has, however, declined considerably from throughout its range, with most losses in England (largely before 1930).
  • It has been lost from 64% of hectads (342 since 1987, lost from 608).
  • In the lowlands it has been lost through the conversion of heathland to agriculture, increased use of herbicide and fertilizer, and woodland disturbance; upland populations have also been lost to increased grazing.
  • An excellent example of a widespread species that has declined considerably but can still be seen in "good" habitats.


Saxifraga hypnoides- Mossy SaxifrageSaxifraga hypnoides, Mossy Saxifrage © Bob Gibbons


  • A perennial alpine herb forming mats of fine moss-like leaves, studded with large white flowers in summer.
  • It grows on moist rocks, screes, cliffs and by mountain streams. Substrates are frequently base-rich, although it can grow on acidic rocks. Rarely it occurs on sand dunes.
  • It has been lost from 33% of hectads (272 since 1987, lost from 143).
  • It is found in upland areas of north and south Wales, the Peak District, the Lake District and is widespread in upland Scotland.
  • Losses have been seen from throughout its range, but more so in Scotland. It has probably declined through overgrazing.