Britain’s most endangered species identified for first time as Natural England launches ‘Back from the Brink’ campaign

Britain's most endangered species identified for first time as Natural England launches 'Back from the Brink' campaign

Conservationists found success by driving a heavy tractor over one of Britain’s most endangered plants, the marsh clubmoss.

Marsh clubmoss is an ancient but highly threatened species which resembles a tiny spruce tree and is found on damp heathlands.

It has seen declines of 85pc in the past 85 years as its heath habitat has vanished, and in lowland areas is now largely confined to a few strongholds in Dorset and Hampshire.

The team behind the project said marsh clubmoss thrives on bare wet ground created by disturbance such as grazing animals or tracks.

So a dramatic decision was made to deliberately drive over thousands of plants in a five-tonne tractor.

Sophie Lake, co-project manager, said: “We knew that many heathland plants benefit from significant disturbance but there was a sharp intake of breath when we took the decision to drive up and down over a beautiful colony of 3,000 plants in a five-tonne tractor brandishing a muck grab for maximum disturbance.

“Thankfully, the calculated risk has paid off handsomely: where there were once 3,000 plants there is now a thriving colony of 12,000 delighting in the heavily disturbed bare ground necklaced with damp pools created by tyre tracks.”

Wildlife including woodlark, sand lizard, heath tiger beetle and the incredibly rare Purbeck mason wasp, which is only found in Dorset heathlands in the UK, are also being helped through the scheme in the area.

Also targeted by the scheme is the Grey Long-Eared Bat, of which there are only 1,000 left.

The kind of grassland these bats need has been lost from most of our countryside in the last century, so the Back from the Brink team is working with landowners to discover how to retain and enhance the precious habitats that the bats need.

James Harding-Morris, Back from the Brink Communications Manager, told The Telegraph: “I wish I could tell you that the 20 species we are aiming to save from extinction were all now doing tremendously well, but conservation is a longer process than that.

The Chequered Skipper, for example, flew again in England in 2018, but this is only the first step on a journey to re-establishing it in the wild. Many of our species are so rare and obscure that we are still learning about them and developing techniques to save them.

“Conservation is not just about saving the individual members of a species, but also about changing the way that all of us relate to and manage our shared landscapes so that the future of our threatened species can be assured.”

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