Discovery of two rare plant species leads to sympathetic conservation and observation.
Submitting InstitutionEdge Hill University
Unit of AssessmentGeography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology
Summary Impact TypeEnvironmental
Research Subject Area(s)
Environmental Sciences: Environmental Science and Management
Biological Sciences: Ecology, Genetics
Summary of the impact
Identification of rare plant species on nature reserves at Malham
(Yorks.) and Morvich (W.
Scotland) led to site managers developing sympathetic management
approaches to ensure the
species' conservation. These are detailed in management plans and include
reduction in grazing
and introduction of population census to assess management success. In
addition, incorporation of
the discoveries into plant guides has led to increased awareness of the
two species which in turn
has drawn naturalists to view and photograph them. Thus the research at
Edge Hill has led to the
conservation of and increased awareness of a rare component of the UK
The sedges (Cyperaceae) are a large, ecologically important plant family.
Carex is the largest
genus within the family. Certain groups within Carex present the
opportunity to investigate
taxonomic and evolutionary questions which includes the yellow sedges and
section of maritime species. Studies on these groups were undertaken by Dr
Paul Ashton who
joined EHU in 1994 as a Senior Lecturer, became Reader in 2009 and is
currently Head of
The complexity of the yellow sedges (Carex flava L. agg.) across
Europe and North America
has long attracted systematists, both to elucidate the number and location
of taxon boundaries and
to identify the position of taxa in the taxonomic hierarchy. Within the
UK, research has focussed
upon a problematic population at Malham Tarn (Yorks.) which has variously
been identified as a
hybrid, rare subspecies or true C. flava. This problem became a
key component of a PhD
undertaken by Nigel Blackstock and supervised by Ashton. Thus the work was
at Edge Hill with support from reserve managers at Malham Tarn National
Trust Nature Reserve
(NT) and at the site of the other UK population, Roudsea Wood NNR (Natural
England). The work
was undertaken between 1998 and 2002.
Taking the novel approach of considering the Malham population in the
context of the variation
within the species across the whole of its range and using a combination
of genetic and
morphometric approaches, Blackstock and Ashton demonstrated that the
population consisted of
C. flava sensu stricto (Outputs 1 and 2). Hence it is one of only
two such populations in the UK;
that at Malham with around 20 individuals being much smaller than the
Cumbrian population with
over 2000 individuals.
The initial findings, based upon morphometric analysis, were described in
Ashton (2001, Output 1) with results discussed with local botanists and
the wider academic
community. This was developed further in Blackstock and Ashton (2010,
Output2) which presented
additional morphometric work and genetic analysis.
A similar problem emerged with the discovery of an unknown sedge species
at Morvich, West
Highlands. This was recognised to be a member of Carex section Phacocystis
but the precise
identification was unknown, the initial view considering it to be possibly
C. recta, a rare Scottish
species but confined to the east coast. The taxonomy of these plants was
the subject of Dean's
part time PhD undertaken at Edge Hill (1999-2004). Due to the knowledge
amongst the botanical
community of this work the specimen was sent to EHU where it was
identified as C. salina
(Saltmarsh sedge). This is a previously unrecorded species in the UK,
being restricted to the
coasts of Scandinavia and the eastern seaboard of North America. It is
thus an extremely rare
example of a species spreading by long distance dispersal.
The initial confirmation was outlined in the newsletter of the Botanical
Society of the British
Isles (Dean et al., 2005, Output 3). This was followed by a full
justification of the finding plus a
description of the potential origins, the species' characteristics,
ecology and key allowing distinction
from closely related species in Dean et al (2008, Output 4).
References to the research
All outputs available on request. Outputs 2 and 4 are included in REF 2.
1) Journal Article: Blackstock, N. D. and Ashton, P. A. (2001) A
reassessment of the putative
hybrids of Carex flava at Malham Tarn (v. c. 64): A morphometric
analysis. Watsonia 23(4): 505-516
Watsonia was the peer reviewed journal of the Botanical Society of
Britain and Ireland (BSBI) from
1949 to 2010. It has since been replaced by the New Journal of Botany.
It is the journal to which
stakeholders are most likely to have access.
2) Journal Article: Blackstock, N., Ashton, P. A. (2010) Genetic
markers and morphometric
analysis reveal contrasting population identification in putative Carex
flava L. s.s (Cyperaceae)
hybrid populations. Plant Systematics and Evolution, 287: 37-47
Journal: Plant Systematics and Evolution is a peer reviewed
journal with a five year impact factor
of 1.506 and ten year article half-life, ranked 96/197 for plant sciences.
3) Journal Article: Dean, M., Hutcheon, K., Jermy A. C.,
Cayouette, J. and Ashton, P. A. (2005)
Carex salina — A New Species of Sedge for Britain. BSBI News
BSBI News is the members' newsletter of the BSBI. As such it is the
principal medium for
identifying new UK plant discoveries.
4) Journal Article: Dean, M., Ashton, P. A., Hutcheon, K., Jermy,
A. C. and Cayouette, J. (2008)
Description, ecology and establishment of Carex salina Wahlenb.
(Saltmarsh sedge) — A New
British Species. Watsonia 27 51-57 http://archive.bsbi.org.uk/Wats27p51.pdf
Watsonia was the peer reviewed journal of the BSBI from 1949 to
2010. It has since been replaced
by the New Journal of Botany. It is the journal to which
stakeholders are most likely to have
Details of the impact
The research underpinned the impact by detailing the addition of a new
species to the British flora
(C. salina) and the confirmation of a second population of a very
rare UK species (C. flava at
Malham). In addition to the peer reviewed journal output (listed above)
dissemination of the
findings were also achieved by conference presentations commencing in 2004
through to 2009. Some of this conference work was to non-academic
audiences (Dean et al, 2004,
Other Source 4; Blackstock, 2008, Other Source 3; Dean and Ashton, 2009,
Other Source 5). This
preliminary work, much ahead of the REF period has led to impact typically
across three areas in
the period 1 Jan 2008 to 31 July 2013.
Firstly the recognition of the significance of the species discovered and
hence their need for
suitable management to ensure sensitive conservation of the UK's rarest
plant species. Hence
impact is manifest in management plans written by the site
managers. Secondly the incorporation
of the findings into published floras. Finally a combination of
the above two impacts is that it has
contributed to the `green tourism' within the area of the two
species as naturalists seek to see and
photograph the species. Beneficiaries are the statutory national bodies
conservation (Natural England, NE, and Scottish Natural Heritage, SNH)
conservation bodies the National Trust (NT) and the National Trust for
Scotland (NTS). Additional
beneficiaries include individuals with an interest in biodiversity and
areas surrounding the locations
as individuals visit.
Prior to the Blackstock and Ashton work, the Malham population was viewed
as little more than
a curiosity (Jermy et al, 1983, Other Source 6). However, the significance
of finding true C. flava at
Malham Tarn National Nature Reserve was recognised by the NT, the owners
of the site, who
introduced sympathetic management accordingly, detailed in the most recent
(2010, Other Source 8) and written in agreement with NE. This included `a
change of management
to carefully control grazing' (Factual Statement 1) and introduced an
annual count of the population
to identify long term changes in abundance and hence assess the
appropriateness of the
The C. salina work took a similar route to impact. The finding of
these sedge raised the
question of whether this was the only site where the species was found in
the UK. This was partly
addressed by a `Citizen Science' appeal via the Edge Hill website. This in
turn was picked up by
the BBC and featured on the front page on its news website in February
2007. The discovery of the
new species was then featured in other news sources. While many of the
routes to dissemination
predate the impact of the census return they raise awareness of the
finding and prepare the
ground for the impact within the census period, in the wider acceptance
and dissemination of the
Two bodies were beneficiaries of the discovery: SNH, the government body
conservation in Scotland and the NTS who own and manage the Kintail estate
on which the
species is found. The presence of the species informed management plans
developed by NTS in
2008 in agreement with SNH and reduced grazing on the site (Other Source
The initial academic work (Journal Articles 1 and 4) and attendant
dissemination of findings has
led to the wider impact within the census period. For instance,
documentation of the Malham C.
flava population in Abbott (2005, Other Source 1) and Jermy et al,
(2007, Other Source 7) resulted
in the incorporation of the work into the third edition of the Flora
of GB (Stace, 2010, Other Source
11). This text has been the standard reference work for the British Flora
since its first edition in
An outcome of these publications raising the profile of both of the
species is that they have
become a botanical attraction for visitors to the area interested in
wildlife (see Other Source 12).
Carex flava features on Field Studies Council courses at Malham
Tarn field centre `continues to
attract interest from both locals and from individuals who visit the area
from further afield' (Factual
Statement 1) and is regularly photographed (e.g. Other Source 10). C.
salina has been similarly
featured on botanical excursions and has also been photographed as
individuals seek to become
familiar with it and then seek it at additional sites.
Without the sedge taxonomy work at Edge Hill it is likely that the
population at Malham would
have continued to be viewed as a hybrid population (as in the second
edition of the BSBI sedge
handbook). Without these changes, resulting from your work, this extremely
of plants could have been seriously threatened with potential loss of an
important part of UK
biodiversity and a distinctly remote population of the species as a whole
(see Factual Statement 1).
Likewise the C salina population may have been misidentified and
the opportunity to observe a
new addition to the UK flora lost.
Sources to corroborate the impact
1) Ecologist and Wildlife Engagement Officer, National Trust —
confirms that the c.flava
population at Malham would have been seriously threatened without proper
change in site management plans and practices as a result of the
visitor interest in the site as a result of proper identification of c.
1) Abbott, P. P. (2005) Plant Atlas of Mid-West Yorkshire. YNU Bradford.
2) BBC News website Feb 1, 2007 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/6317367.stm
3) Blackstock, N. (2009) Status of Carex flava in the British
Isles. Malham Research
Conference proceedings vol 6. FSC Shrewsbury.
4) Dean, M., Hutcheon, K., and Ashton P. A. (2004) November Scottish BSBI
Meeting. Poster display A new species of sedge related to Carex recta
Boott for Britain.
5) Dean, M. and Ashton, P. A. (2009) Hybrid evolution in Carex
section Phacocystis. Oral
presentation: 52nd Ecological Genetics Group Annual conference.
6) Jermy, A. C. et al (1983) Sedges of the British Isles 2nd
7) Jermy, A. C. et al (2007) Sedges of the British Isles 3rd
8) National Trust (2010) Malham Tarn NNR site management plan.
9) National Trust Scotland (2010), Kintail estate management plan.
10) Panoramio website http://www.panoramio.com/photo/91470595
accessed 23.10.13 at
11) Stace, C. A. (2010) Flora of Great Britain 3rd ed
Cambridge University Press.
12) Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland, Field Meetings Programme
pg 14 Accessed 18.11.2013.