Ireland has a relatively small number of native species of flowering plants (850). Over the recent past, many of these species have declined in numbers and have even disappeared in parts of the country. There are various reasons for this, including changing agricultural practices, mowing of roadside verges, drainage schemes, overgrazing, housing developments and the expanding numbers of golf courses. Under the Wildlife Act, 1976, our rarest species are protected under the 1999 Flora Protection Order (FPO), which also includes a number of mosses, liverworts, lichens, and algae. It is an offense to cut, uproot or damage these plants unless under license from the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. It is also an offense to willfully damage or interfere with the habitat in any way except under license. The FPO lists 68 species of plant for strict protection. At present rare plants listed within the FPO receive little or no protection as the law is not enforced. There is also a lack of understanding amongst the general public about FPO species and their importance. Most Local Authorities do not know where rare plants are located and so they do not know they are threatened under new planning applications. What’s more, the Red Data Book, which assesses how threatened these species are, is now over 20 years old!
We are working through WEB (Working and Education for Biodiversity) to promote policies that protect plants in their place. For instance, we lobby Local Authorities and national government to include solid measures to protect rare plants through the national, and local area, biodiversity action plans. We also use our magazine Irish Wildlife, children’s education programmes and other outreach activities to raise awareness of the importance of plant diversity – not just for being beautiful, but for underpinning the life support systems upon which we depend.