Wildflowers and insects under threat due to vanishing meadows in UK, experts warn
Much-loved wildflowers from wild strawberry to ragged robin are in decline as a result of widespread loss of meadows and grasslands in the UK, experts have warned.
The “steady, quiet and under-reported decline” of meadows, with 97pc eradicated since the 1930s, is one of the biggest tragedies in the history of UK nature conservation, wildlife charity Plantlife said.
As a result, a number of traditional meadow and other grassland flowers which were once widespread are now classed as “near threatened” in England, including harebell, common rockrose, quaking grass and ragged robin.
Steep and steady declines of wild strawberry, field scabious and devil’s-bit scabious are particularly concerning because of the number of insect species which feed off the plants, the charity said.
Wild strawberries are the food plant for 51 species of bugs and butterflies, field scabious provides food for 26, and devil’s-bit scabious sustains 25 species including the marsh fritillary, which relies almost exclusively on the plant.
A healthy wildflower meadow can be home to as many as 140 species of flowers from increasingly rare military, monkey and greater butterfly orchids to key species bird’s-foot trefoil, which provides food for 160 species of insect.
More than 1,370 species of insect eat the most common meadow plants, Plantlife said.
But species-rich grassland, which provides benefits from carbon storage to crop pollination, covers less than 1pc of UK land – unlike the bright green, intensively-farmed grassland which covers nearly half of the UK.