Saving Field Gentian by Dominic Price, The Species Recovery Trust.
Field Gentian is one of our most striking native plants, with its intense deep-hued purple colour and startling upright trumpet-like flowers. Superficially similar to some of the other more common Gentians, this species is readily recognised by its unusually arranged sepals, it is now mostly confined to unimproved species-rich grasslands, both acidic and calcareous.
The Species Recovery Trust has been working on this plant since 2014, with work focussed on re-surveying the New Forest stronghold, monitoring and carrying out management work in Cornwall, and gathering records from the rest of the country.
We have some understanding of the habitats it grows in, but less detailed knowledge of why at some sites it is doing incredibly well, whereas elsewhere populations are diminishing and still dying out. In late 2015 we realised we needed to carry out some more intensive autecological work at some of its sites to start to unravel the picture of its exact needs, and how this could be replicated at failing sites.
At this point we were approached by Biodiversity Solutions, a not-for-profit social enterprise company who support some groundbreaking research work that benefits some of the UK’s most endangered species. This was a perfect match as it can be virtually impossible to get funding for this sort of work – most funders prefer to see instant results from habitat management, or high levels of community involvement, both of which are laudable aims, but were not what would save Field Gentian.
The geographical remit of the funding pointed us towards Pembrokeshire, where there are 5 known populations of Field Gentian, some of which are very extensive, including a stronghold on the Castlemartin MOD ranges. This provided the perfect setting for the sort of work we wanted to do, allowing us to look at large populations, with a good historical dataset to enable us to examine the population dynamics over a longer period of time.
One of the joys of Field Gentian is that it doesn’t flower until late August and September, just outside the summer crunch where all our other work takes place, which means the work can be done at a slightly more leisurely place (plus September strangely can often be a lot drier than July!)
The work will include a survey of a sample of the localities at which field gentian were found in the 2000s, recording plant numbers, associated species and other environmental factors. A selection of sites will be revisited over the next three years to see to what extent populations fluctuate from year to year in relation to weather and other environmental conditions.