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Case Studies > Saving the Field Gentian

Rosebery Estates

Case Study Saving the Field Gentian Rosebery Estates
Case Study Saving the Field Gentian Field gentian is a lovely plant. Its stunning bluish-purple flowers brighten coastal grassland, pastures and sand dunes in summer, visited by bumblebees and butterflies in search of nectar. Generally found in the lowlands, Field gentian is widespread but localised throughout Scotland, north Wales and northern England, but is very rare south of the Pennines.

Substantial losses of these plants over the last 50 years have led to an assessment of Field gentian as Vulnerable in Great Britain with a high risk of extinction. Its severe decline is mainly due to habitat loss as a result of a decline in traditional grasslands mown for hay in the summer followed by autumn grazing. Over-grazing in the uplands and, ironically, under-grazing in the lowlands, allowing competition and shading from coarse grasses and scrub such as gorse and brambles, has contributed to the decline of Field gentian. Habitat loss also causes fragmentation of plant communities, leaving populations isolated and unable to recover.

There is only one known population of Field gentian within City of Edinburgh Council’s area; at the coast near South Queensferry. In the past, no special actions were being undertaken to protect or conserve the plants. An opportunity arose to highlight the vulnerability of Field gentian in the Edinburgh area with the writing of the Local Biodiversity Action Plan and creation of the Edinburgh Biodiversity Partnership in 2000. Wildlife and habitats that were especially under threat and locally important were given priority for action. So, alongside more familiar plants such as Juniper, awareness of the rarity of Field gentian was raised.

An annual count of the plants has been done by members of the Edinburgh Natural History Society since 2001. The populations are in an area that is popular with visitors and have suffered from trampling, campfires and encroachment from bracken and brambles.

In 2016 as part of a Rare Plants Project to conserve and enhance scarce plants in the Edinburgh Council area, the Biodiversity Officer contacted the landowners, Rosebery Estates, to tell them about Field gentian and what steps could be undertaken to help the plants. The Estate was extremely helpful and supportive of the proposed management and conservation efforts – light scrub clearance and ground scarifying to prepare areas for re-seeding, possible protective fencing to prevent ground damage and fires as well as information about the plant provided on site. This will be carried out in 2017 and seed collected for staff from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh to propagate and plant the resultant seedlings. Scottish Natural Heritage have been helpful in supporting the reinforcement of rare plant populations. Co-operation and advice has also been received from the Species Recovery Trust who are developing management advice for Field gentian in southern England as well as Barbara Sumner the Vice County Plant Recorder for Midlothian.

Hopefully the collaborative efforts of all these individuals will ensure that Field gentian can be brought back from the edge.

Photo credit to Anne Burgess, M J Richardson, and Teun Spaans.
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