Conservation – how you can help

The lower plants, along with ‘difficult’ groups of invertebrate animals, have long been the ‘Cinderellas’ of the conservation industry and this is unlikely to change in the near future.  Fortunately, many of the conservation measures aimed at more favoured organisms also benefit mosses and liverworts.  So, schemes to increase the amount of broadleaf woodland or to re-establish active mires are generally good news for bryophytes.

What more can be done?  Education has an important role to play, in terms of helping land managers to take account of the bryophyte interest on their ground.  In more general terms it also encourages the wider public to appreciate both the diversity and the beauty of the mosses and liverworts around them. It is disappointing that the most frequently asked question about ‘mosses’ is how to get rid of them from lawns and walls!

Specific things that you can do to help are:

Land managers

- control rhododendron,

- allow some grazing in woodland – complete exclusion of grazing may improve regeneration but allows the growth of coarse grasses and bramble which smother bryophytes,

- think carefully about the use of muirburn in areas where oceanic heath might occur.

General public

- stop buying Sphagnum peat for your garden,

- enquire of the florist where the mosses in your floral display come from,

-pull up rhododendron seedlings in the wild, hang them up to dry and die.

We are lucky that most of our rarest species have reasonably large and stable populations, albeit on a very small number of sites.  Once baseline data on population size and distribution have been gathered, most will only require regular monitoring.  A few species do give some concern where the single site could be threatened either by habitat change (Violet crystalworth Riccia Huebeneriana on Bute) or a change in management (Lindenberg’s featherwort Adelanthus lindenbergianus on Islay).  Others are precarious because of the small size of the population.  The rare oceanic liverwort Atlantic pouncewort Lejeunea mandonii now seems to be restricted to just three trees in three different ravines in the west.

Schleicher’s thread-moss Bryum schleicheri var. latifolium is now reduced to a single population in one small spring in the hills near Stirling.  Here direct action is being taken by SNH and an attempt is being made to re-establish the plant in another flush nearby, from which it disappeared a few years ago.  

There is a problem of priorities.  The plants which make up our most important communities, ones for which we have international responsibility, are the oceanic species, and most of these are not rare in Scottish terms.  Most of them have many sites and often have large populations.

In European terms, most of our conservation effort should be directed towards these important oceanic communities, even though there is little direct threat to individual species.  The bulk of our rarest species are montane plants which have their main populations in the Alps or Scandinavia, so the conservation concern here is a national one.  This priority needs to be balanced against our international responsibilities for species which may not be rare in Scotland.