Three interviews broadcast after the launch of the complete set of Welsh Rare Plant Registers in March 2017
1. BBC Radio Wales - Good Evening Wales
2. BBC Radio Wales - Country Focus
3. S4C - Heno
BBC Radio Wales Good Evening Wales, 27th March 2017 – 17.54 (live)
Felicity Evans: Now, Wales has scored a world first, by becoming the only country to have a complete record of its rare flowering plants and ferns. It’s taken forty years to put the register together, and it’s a more detailed record than exists in any other country, and today the authors and contributors have been celebrating the achievement with an event at Aberystwyth University. Polly Spencer-Vellacott is Welsh Officer for the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. She joins us now. Hi Polly.
Polly Spencer-Vellacott: Hello.
FE: Well congratulations. This sounds like a very big deal.
PSV: Well, it is a big deal and we’re very proud to be the first country, in Wales. We were, back in the 1970s, it just happened, perhaps through a fluke conservation, that Glyn Jones of the Nature Conservancy said to Arthur Chater who was the county recorder for botany in Cardiganshire, he said “can you give me a list of the rare plants in Cardiganshire” and Arthur said “well, you know, what do you mean, the rare plants?” and they had a lot of conversations about which plants were rare, and in the next year Arthur produced a list of the rare plants and the sites they were found at, and a few years later one was produced in Carmarthenshire, and then one in Radnorshire, and after that the botanists in the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland got together in the Welsh Committee and they said well, this would be a great thing, to produce one of these registers for every county in Wales.
FE: Yeah. I mean, It’s a great achievement and I absolutely do not want to rain on the parade, but how sure can you be that you’ve got every rare species because do you know what, only today, earlier in the programme we were talking about a new species of millipede that’s been found down a mine in the Rhondda.
PSV: Well, we can’t, is the short answer. We can’t be sure that we’ve found everything, because botany is always ongoing. In terms of brand new species to science, Wales has been botanised pretty thoroughly for a long time You know, you go right back to Edward Llwyd, and you know the Victorian botanists, and we’re following in their footsteps, so we can be fairly confident that we won’t find any brand new species to science. However, the Rare Plant Registers are working documents and they need to be updated constantly. So it’s, we’ve managed to create a complete register for every county but we sincerely hope that this is not over and that the volunteers who have compiled this will keep updating them as they find more things.
Steffan Powell: Hi Polly, Can I just ask as well, what’s the importance of having a complete record then? How does it help you by knowing every single plant that’s out there in Wales?
PSV: Well in terms of the rare plants, those are the plants which are important for conservation and so it helps people working in conservation organisations like Natural Resources Wales. I know a colleague in Natural Resources Wales who is looking at a new site which he thinks ought to be a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and he said to me, well you know, I’m looking at these plants which are on it, can you tell me more about those plants in the North Wales region? And I said well have you looked at the Rare Plant Registers? And you know, we looked through them and we found he could look up all the details, so he could find out which was the largest population, and that gives him the information he needs to be able to conserve them
FE: Well, congratulations again Polly, and great achievement and great to have the volunteers contributing to this as well, I bet they’re delighted, thanks ever so much for taking the time to talk to us.
BBC Radio Wales Country Focus, 2nd April 2017, 07.07 (pre-recorded)
Rachel Garside: Now Wales has become the first country in the world to have a complete record of its rare flowering plants and ferns, through the endeavours of volunteers and people working in plant conservation, a county by county register has painstakingly been compiled of every single rare plant in the country. Dr Polly Spencer-Vellacott is the BSBI Welsh Officer. Polly, what qualifies as rare in this case?
PSV: Well, rare is a complicated question really. For quite a long time we’ve had national rarities, so the national definition of rarity is something which is found in fifteen or fewer ten kilometre squares. But the rare plant register project in Wales involves county rarities, so we use historical counties because they don’t change as much as modern ones and a rare species is one which is found in three or fewer sites in a county.
RG: That’s really rare then, isn’t it? And are there plants that are exclusive to Wales?
PSV: There are. You’ve been to the Great Orme and the Wild Cotoneaster which grows there and nowhere else. There are also plants which grow in Britain only in Wales, so the Snowdon Lily for example is found on Snowdon and in Cwm Idwal, so it’s got two sites, but nowhere else in Britain, although it is found elsewhere in Europe.
RG: How is it helpful now, to have a register? This is a unique project, isn’t it, we now have a register for the whole of Wales, but how useful is this information going to be for the future?
PSV: Well, what we’ve compiled here which is unique, is having the locations for all the rare species in all the counties of Wales so as far as I know that’s never been published in any way before, it’s not something that any other country has done, but it means that if you’re working in conservation, you can actually look up a list of species and say what is rare in this county and you can also look at where it is so you could actually look up the details for each site so you can keep an eye on things. We believe that more plants are lost or damaged because people don’t know about them than because people do know about them, so the more we know about them, the more we’re able to protect them.
RG: That’s really interesting, because I was going to ask if this is privileged information, because if the sites are so few, you don’t necessarily want too many people going to these sites to see these very rare plants.
PSV: Well, there are one or two species, like for example the Killarney Fern, which is a very special fern, and the sites of that are kept secret. Nobody will tell you those at all, because they are under threat. But that’s much more of an issue with one or two species, like a couple of ferns or orchids, which are certainly in the past were very desirable to collect, and obviously that’s not something which we want to happen. And all the rare plant registers come with a big warning saying a lot of these sites are on private land so some of them are on public access, some of them are on footpaths and so on, but if it’s private land then you absolutely shouldn’t go visiting it without checking that you’ve got permission.
RG: I love some of the names as well, so there’s Craig y Cilau Hawkweed for example that I saw on the list that we’re protecting the names as well as the plants themselves?
PSV: Yeah, when we come to species like hawkweeds and dandelions and so on there are lots of species which are completely unique to Wales and they’re named for the places they’re found.
RG: And finally, Polly, what can we see at this time of year that is particularly rare? Is there anything that’s flowering now?
PSV: Now, we’re seeing Wild Daffodils and obviously we see daffodils everywhere but the true wild ones are much more rare and they will be rare in some counties and they’re a beautiful sight to see. I suppose we’re looking for, oh, I was in a carpark the other day, looking at something called Smooth Whitlow-Grass, and the thing is that Whitlow-Grass, the main species, the common one, is quite common, but if you have a careful look, sometimes, you find the smooth one, or majuscula, or verna, and this is the only time of year you can see them. They’re annual plants, they come up in spring, and then they die away and if you don’t see them now you won’t see them at all.
RG: There’s a challenge then. Dr Polly Spencer-Vellacott, thank-you.
Introduction: Next, if you have an interest in plants you may be familiar with the BSBI, the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. One of the aims of the BSBI is to record and conserve rare plants, and they've just completed a huge project documenting rare Welsh plants. Gerallt has a remarkable story for Heno.
(Footage: Cwm Idwal, Snowdon Lily)
Gerallt Pennant: One of the rarest plants in the old Caernarfonshire is the Snowdon Lily. The Radnor Lily is just as rare in Mid Wales. (footage: Radnor Lily) And now after 40 years of painstaking work by volunteers, the BSBI has registers of the rare plants in each Welsh county.
(footage: Polly and Gerallt looking at registers).
Polly Spencer-Vellacott: We use the old historic counties. And this year we're delighted to celebrate the preparation of the registers for the last two counties, that is Glamorgan and Pembrokeshire. We're very happy to finish the work.
(footage: Goronwy's office, the Flintshire Rare Plant Register, Flora of Flintshire, herbarium sheets )
GP: One of the many volunteers who helped with the task is Dr Goronwy Wynne. He's an authority on the plants of Flintshire.
(footage: Goronwy and Gerallt walking on Halkyn mountain near Rhesycae)
Goronwy Wynne: How many people in Rhesycae know that one of the rarest plants in Flintshire is growing underneath our feet? It's only odd people like you and I who take an interest in thistles! There are four or five varieties of thistle growing here. Sitting amongst the common thistles is the dwarf thistle. The flower is on a very short stem and almost touching the ground. It's extremely rare. (footage: from dwarf thistle rosette to herbarium sheet).
GP: Why is it so important to have a register of these rare plants?
GW: It tells us something about the plant's environment and whether global warming has an effect on the plant. Secondly, we look at how man affects these habitats. When something becomes rare it might have nothing to do with the plant or the weather but simply because someone built a house and demolished the habitat!
(Footage: sign for Cors Bodeilio NNR, GP and Bethan Wyn Jones walking through the gate)
GP: A register of plants isn't a new concept. This is a copy of Welsh Botanology by Hugh Davies belonging to Bethan Wyn Jones who is looking for signs of the spring on Anglesey! (footage: Welsh Botanology) Who was Hugh Davies and why is he still important today?
Bethan Wyn Jones: It's important to note that he was from Anglesey. He was a church vicar who spent a lot of his time in Beaumaris. He was also an exceptional botanist who roamed the island and recorded plants that were near churches. Cors Bodeilio was one of the sites that he frequented. There is a whole world of plants here of course. But one of the plants that he mentions in his book is the willow (footage: willow catkins). In the spring, it's wonderful to see the catkins on the willow trees.
(footage: skies, and back to Rhesycae and Goronwy)
GP: The registers have been brought to the light of day, Goronwy so I can congratulate you and celebrate.
GW: I'm delighted that we now have registers for all the old counties in Wales. A small group of people from each county should be applauded for their perseverance in finishing the work. It's easy to start but there are always some finishing touches and they have completed the task for the whole of Wales.