The latest survey of French wild flowers and update of the UICN Red List reveals 4982 species, of which 742 are threatened in some way. That's 15% of French native plants are at some risk of disappearing. The work to produce this latest list and report took three years and is a synthesis of 30 million individual records, overseen by 40 specialist botanists. The list will feed in to policy decisions about the preservation of biodiversity in France. In addition to the species known to be threatened, there are an additional 373 species (7%) about which too little is known to evaluate how endangered they might be. Almost certainly some of these species should be on the Red List, if only we knew more.
Brenne Marsh Orchid Dactylorhiza brennensis (Fr. Orchis de la Brenne),
at risk because of changes to habitat in its very restricted distribution range.
The three biggest pressures on the wild flora is the modification to natural habitats, urban growth and changing agricultural practices (both the intensification at one end of the spectrum and the abandonment of certain ways of farming at the other).
More specifically, the disappearance of wetlands, their drainage and drying out for agriculture or new urban construction directly threatens some species. The 'artificialisation' (that's a word in French -- not sure about English...) of the banks of watercourses and their canalisation puts other species in peril. The progressive abandonment of pastoralism and grazing, and the use of herbicides in intensive cropping threaten other sets of species.
Short-spurred Fragrant Orchid Gymnadenia odoratissima (Fr. Orchis très odorant),
at risk from low intensity grazing land being ploughed and converted to arable.
And then there's climate change, usually affecting plants with already reduced populations or limited distribution, often alpine. The effects of climate change are still poorly understood and tend to be localised. More studies are in progress so better predictions about outcomes can be made.
Pasqueflower Pulsatilla vulgaris (Fr. Anémone pulsatille),
at risk because of the encroachment of scrub on abandoned grazing land.
Seed banks are being established and rare plants being cultivated. The public is being educated and national action plans being put in place.
Why does the disappearance of a few plants that no one except the experts are interested in matter? Plants are at the heart of our ecosystems, and serve to feed us, clothe us, shelter us and provide medications. Their diversity is key to our economy, food, health and well-being. You never know when the disappearance of a little known plant will lead to the unexpected decline in other better known species, or if that plant might have provided some valuable medicinal ingredient, for example. And there is the intrinsic value of nature and species to be considered too. Beauty, landscapes, scientific endeavour and artistic responses all matter in the wider scheme of things and we are poorer beings without them.
Link to the joint French conservation organisations press release (in French).
By coincidence, an Australian report on the same subject has just been released. Except for the comments about invasive aliens in Australia, the two reports could be one and the same.
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