One of the UK’s rarest plants set to return to Dorset

Starved Wood-sedge may not be one of the most striking plants to look at, but it is famed for not only having been one of the UK’s rarest plants, but also having made one of the most impressive comebacks.

This shy plant of woodland glades was actually feared extinct in the early 1980s, when the entire British population fell to just one plant.  Another population reappeared in Surrey shortly after the great storm of 1986, and since then conservationists have worked tirelessly to get the population back over 100 plants.

The final piece of this work is set to happen this October, when plants reared at Kew Gardens are to be re-introduced to their former site in Dorset.  Starved Wood-sedge was last seen in Cranborne Chase in the 1920s, which only came to light when a specimen collected somewhere near Damerham was found in a University herbarium.  This find became somewhat of a holy grail to botanists who have combed the area over the last few decades looking for any live plants, but to no avail.

Director at the Species Recovery Trust, Dominic Price, said: “Despite our success with increasing the numbers of this plant in recent years it still remains at perilously low levels, and bringing it back to Dorset represents a key step in saving the species in the long-term. It will still take a lot or work to ensure this re-introduction works, but we are getting a lot better at looking after this species and are optimistic for success”

Starved Wood-sedge is so named due to the few seeds it produces, although conversely these are actually the largest seed of any native sedge.  Its decline is tied in with the fortune of our woodlands, which in the time of Thomas Hardy would have been hives of activity, with foresters, hurdle makers and various woodlanders making a living from working these landscapes, which in turn would have ensured woodlands remained full of glades and open rides, full of woodland plants, butterflies and birds. Over the last century these groups of organisms have suffered catastrophic decline, as woodlands now tend to either be neglected, or commercially forested.

Julia Smith, owner of the Edmondsham Estate where the plants are to be released, said “We are delighted to play a role in saving this remarkable plant and we hope to see it thriving once again in its new woodland home”

The site has been chosen due to the perfect combination of light and soil conditions. It is also one of Dorset Wildlife Trust’s (DWT’s) Sites of Nature Conservation Importance, which recognises areas in the county with high nature conservation value, and means DWT can offer extra resources to look after the plants once they are released.

Sharon Abbott from Dorset Wildlife Trust said, “We are very excited at the prospect of the return of this rare plant to Dorset, and particularly that its new home will be on one of our recognised SNCIs.  These sites are valuable areas of semi-natural habitats and often hold populations of important plants and the insects and other wildlife which those support.  The woodland SNCIs on the Edmondsham Estate have been sympathetically managed to produce some wonderfully species-rich wildlife havens, and we hope that the starved wood-sedge will thrive here.”

To find out more about the Species Recovery Trust, visit, www.speciesrecoverytrust.org.uk