Little did the heroic plant hunters of 200 years ago realise how much trouble one of their trophies would cause.

On the Gower Peninsula in South Wales, a desperate-and, possibly, losing-battle is being fought to save the UK’s only population of yellow whitlowgrass. The charity Plantlife says the dainty wildflower is being smothered by the invasive, non-native cotoneaster, which originates from China and the Himalayas and is also devouring juniper and basil thyme in the area.

Plantlife Cymru is also pressing the Welsh Assembly to review its agri-environment scheme, Glastir, which it describes as ‘badly flawed’; it says that Glastir should, as a publicly funded scheme, be delivering ‘a more diverse and resilient landscape’ with better advice for farmers.

The UK’s only population of yellow whitlowgrass, on the Gower Peninsula in South Wales, is being smothered by the invasive, non-native cotoneaster

The charity’s new Welsh wildflower survey says ‘colour is being wiped from the countryside’: 302 of 1,467 species are at risk of extinction, including prickly poppy, rough poppy, shepherd’s needle, corn buttercup and catchfly, there are only small pockets of meadow grassland andcoastal areas are losing their botanical richness.

Pembrokeshire farmers David and Holly Harris, who have a small grassland holding, were in the earlier Tir Gofal scheme for 13 years, but report that they were only offered entry into the Glastir advanced programme after persistent lobbying and say they were ‘falling off an effective scheme into a black hole of uncertainty’.

‘Many farmers [in the same situation] have no option but to fertilise their pastures and increase stocking levels or they may abandon farming to allow more commercially minded farmers to take over the land,’ they point out. ‘Wildlife conservation requires commitment.’ Plantlife Cymru’s Trevor Dines comments: ‘What’s important is not how widely programme money is distributed or how many farmers are involved; it’s how effective the scheme is at achieving its purpose.

We hope the Assembly will focus the scheme on the wild plants that underpin all our ecosystem services, such as pollination and flood control.’

* This article first appeared in Country Life Magazine on June 25 2014

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