The Species Recovery Trust: pushing the concept of mass extinction

Photo credit: Andrea Hallgass – Red Wood Ant (Formica pratensis) is extinct in England

It’s not an easy task trying to save the UK’s most endangered species, but that’s exactly what a newly established charity, The Species Recovery Trust, is setting out to do.

Massive extinctions have occurred five times during our planet’s history with the last extinction wiping out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Currently, we’re experiencing what is known as the sixth mass extinction, which is seeing the loss of hundreds of our rarest species.

The result of this mass extinction is thought to be down to human activity, pollution, the forestry industry and building on former pasture land. According to Dr Toni Bunnell, a leading zoologist from York, endangered species are a sign of an unhealthy environment. These species in their own direct, and indirect, ways play an important role to the stability of the environment, which is why charities such as The Species Recovery Trust is committed to reversing the decline of rare species classed as under threat.

“What I hope we can do is use methods of working and pushing the concept of mass extinction to the agenda,” says Dominic Price director of The Species Recovery Trust. “It’s humble beginnings at the moment, but as we grow we can get more people to help out.”

A report conducted by Natural England found that every year more than two plants and animals are becoming extinct in England. With over 1,900 native species in the UK classed as on the verge of extinction, the examination of hundreds of others is seeing that these are showing a significant decline in numbers. As a result, many locations across the country are noticing the loss.

Photo credit: Franck Mangin – Mushroom fungus (Cortinarius cumatilis) is extinct in England

Photo credit: Dominic Price – Deptford Pink (Dianthus armeria) is an endangered plant in England

The charity is aiming to remove 50 endangered species in the UK by the year 2050. Although Dominic Price does concede that it’s a tiny amount against the hundreds under threat the charity is interested in working with plants and insects.

“We will look at plants and animals, but it will probably end up as plants and insects, just due to the sheers numbers of these on the endangered list and lack of current resources to work on all of them,” says Price. “One of our unique things is to stick with these species. You tend to get funding for a couple of years, but we’ve said that we’re in this for the long haul; it takes years to get the numbers right.”

While the charity has yet to publish a list of the 50 species they want to try to save, a task which could take them to the end of the year, they have a few plants they want to work on: Deptford Pink (Dianthus armeria) (pic above) and Spiked Rampion (Phyteuma spicatum) (pic below).

Once considered a common plant Deptford Pink is reported to only inhabit 15 sites in the UK, mainly in the south where it can be found in open sites such as roadsides, field margins and pastures. It usually flowers around July-August.

For those of us who have read Rapunzel will know that Spiked Rampion or White Rapunzel on the continent was what caused Rapunzel to be locked in the enchantress’ tower. A native to East Sussex, Spiked Rampion, is a rare wildflower that grows on road verges and woodlands. Thought to be present in around ten to 13 sites, a recent recording has found it present at only eight. Those lucky enough can see it around May-June with seed heads present up to September.

Low numbers in production or plants that can’t self-pollinate such as Spiked Rampion mean that unless help is on hand to germinate the plants a decline in their numbers will mean less plant production when they are in season. This in turn means species end up making the endangered or extinct list.

Photo credit: Juergen Mangelsdorf – Yellow Weevil (Lixus paraplecticus) is extinct in England

Photo credit: Dominic Price – Spiked Rampion (Phyteuma spicatum) is an endangered plant in England

The main issue in tackling this mass extinction is a change in habitat. Habitat deterioration means that insects make their way to the low levels. Once here breeding between them takes place, or someone sits on where they are growing or the onset of the colder months makes them vulnerable.

Right now The Species Recovery Trust is in the early stages of establishing a network of experts to work with. With no office and a loose network team working together overhead costs are eradicated. This means that more money and time can be spent on conservation species and getting the message out to the public about the idea of mass extinction.

“We firmly believe that if people knew how many species we are still losing and how local these losses are to where they live then they would be genuinely concerned,” says Price. “Many of the rarest species are hanging on in the road verges and small pockets of countryside people pass everyday.”

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