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How a smartphone app is helping save rare plants

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Biodiversity, Farming, Protected sites and species

Forget Pokémon Go – there’s a new app on the scene that’s helping people hunt for some of our rarest plants. Emily Swan, Natural England’s Arable Plant Lead Adviser, writes about the new smartphone app that’s just been released to help protect plants on the brink of extinction.

Weasle's snout
The rare weasle's snout is just one of the plants people can spot with the app.

A field of ripening barley ripples gently in the late July evening sun. Around the edges and spangled throughout are patches of scarlet poppies. A quintessentially summer scene in the countryside, but did you know that amongst the poppies may lay such beauties as pheasant’s eye, weasle’s snout and Venus’s looking glass?

Some of our rarest arable plants, including several poppies, the cornflower and the shepherd’s needle, were considered prolific weed species as recently as the 1950’s. However, the gradual modernisation of agriculture has caused a serious decline and in some cases the presumed extinctions of several arable plant species. Scattered populations of species exist across the UK but now require active management to ensure their longevity.

Most are annual species, which means they are really under pressure to complete their life-cycle every year if populations are to remain stable. This presents challenges in recording and monitoring. Populations can show vast variations year on year, and in some instances, lie dormant in the seed bank until conditions are just right for germination.

We hope that a newly launched app, designed as a collaborative project between the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), Natural England, Plantlife and the Botanical Society of the British Isles, will help conservationists and land managers to protect these vulnerable species.

The smartphone app Arable Flowers helps people identify and record rare plant species, as well as offer advice to farmers and landowners on how to look after their land for these threatened species.

It incorporates a photographic ID guide and detailed identification tips as well as details on management for the scarcer species and the ability to accurately record species finds via a phone GPS. The app is British Records Centre (BRC)-approved, which means data submitted will be quality assured, and can be made available for conservation and research in the future. I hope that it leads to many new populations of rare species being found and conserved and that people enjoying discovering these beautiful plants - as well as the bees, butterflies and birds that areas managed for arable plants support.

The management advice and guidance in the app offers practical tips to help farmers with arable plants and how they can manage them in the best way for the species they have, which will hopefully result in more stable and expanding populations.

It's a fantastic example of how working with partner organisations to develop tools and share knowledge can contribute to the conservation and understanding of a beautiful suite of plants. Whether as a land manager, an adviser, a person involved in citizen science, or simply someone who doesn’t just want to just hunt for Pokemon, this app is for you!

You can download the app here.

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  1. Comment by sue posted on

    I like to gather seeds from wild flowed to grow them in my garden I have lots of wild flowers and I don't pull"weeds"up there's no such thing as a weed

  2. Comment by Alison posted on

    Shame this app is not available for android phones