Once-extinct rosy saxifrage plant reintroduced to wild in secret UK location

Sprig of saxiframes with flowers close up, soft selective focus, beautiful floral background.

A once-extinct plant known as the rosy saxifrage has been secretly reintroduced to its native habitat in the UK, marking a significant milestone in botanical conservation. The exact location remains undisclosed to protect the plant from potential threats, including illegal collection and environmental pressures.

This initiative was led by Robbie Blackhall-Miles, a horticulturist specializing in endangered plants, who has cultivated the rosy saxifrage for the past ten years. The plant’s reintroduction was carried out with the collaboration of the National Trust and Natural Resources Wales, aiming to restore a piece of Britain’s rapidly depleting biodiversity.

Robbie, who previously pursued a career in botany after a stint in modeling and a childhood interest in animal conservation, manages a nursery in North Wales. This facility houses a collection of threatened plants so rare and valuable that insurance is unattainable. Robbie’s efforts are supported by Plantlife, a conservation charity, emphasizing the critical role each species plays in the broader ecological puzzle.

The story of the rosy saxifrage’s disappearance dates back to 1962 when habitat loss and intensive grazing practices in Eryri, also known as Snowdonia, led to its decline. The plant was thought to be extinct until a teacher, Dick Roberts, inadvertently saved a cutting from the wild, which he then nurtured in his garden. This small act of preservation became the foundation for all current specimens of the species in the UK.

The reintroduction process was not just a simple planting; it involved meticulous planning and preparation to ensure the species could thrive in its historical environment. Robbie, along with National Trust ranger Rhys Weldon-Roberts and a team of conservationists, transported the plants to a carefully selected site in Eryri. There, Robbie planted the saxifrage in its native soil, a moment he described as the pinnacle of his career.

The significance of this event extends beyond the survival of a single species. It serves as a flagship project highlighting the importance of plant conservation and challenges the prevailing ‘plant blindness’—a phenomenon where the ecological and cultural values of plants are overlooked compared to more charismatic fauna like beavers or white-tailed sea eagles.

The reintroduction of the rosy saxifrage is a poignant reminder of the natural heritage lost over the decades and a hopeful symbol of possible restoration. As conservation efforts continue, the hope is that this small plant will once again flourish in the wild, supported by ongoing monitoring and protection efforts.

Source: BBC

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