The word ‘flora’ is often used to describe the wild plants found in a particular place, habitat, or time period, for example, in a book title like ‘The Flora of Co Donegal’.
The government’s ‘Flora (Protection) Order’ is a piece of legislation that seeks to give legal protection to our rarest and most threatened wild plants by making it an offence under the Wildlife Acts to wilfully damage them or to alter, destroy or interfere with the places they grow in.
The first flora protection order became law in 1980, listing 52 species of flowering plants that were afforded protection throughout the State. A revised and updated order followed shortly afterwards in 1987. Fifteen species from the 1980 order lost their protected status and 31 were added bringing the total to 68. In addition to the flowering plants, five ferns joined the select group.
A further update became law in 1999. Eight existing plants were removed from the list and 29 new ones were added bringing the total to 89.
The fourth and current amended and updated Flora (Protection) Order was made on 21 May 2015 by ministerial order as statutory instrument No 356 of 2015 and is available online. The most recent update details 136 species of wild plant afforded protection throughout the State; 60 flowering plants, eight ferns, 25 hornworts and liverworts, 40 mosses, two stoneworts (algae), and one lichen.
It is illegal to cut, uproot or damage the listed species in any way, or to offer them or their seed for sale. In addition, it is illegal to alter, damage or interfere in any way with their habitats. This protection applies wherever the plants are found and is not confined to sites designated for nature conservation.
Developments in or near protected areas are subject to stricter assessment of potential impacts on the environment. No doubt, many rare and threatened wild plants throughout the wider countryside have been lost over the years because people were not aware of their existence.
If people are aware of the presence of protected plants and have a special requirement to interfere with them or to alter their habitat, the National Parks and Wildlife Service should be consulted to see if a licence is required for the proposed works.