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One of England’s rarest plants given ‘crucial’ lifeline status

PUBLISHED: 13:05 06 March 2020 | UPDATED: 13:20 06 March 2020

Breckland Floral Group member Tim Pankhurst looking at field wormwood at its native site in Brandon. Picture: Bob Gibbons

Breckland Floral Group member Tim Pankhurst looking at field wormwood at its native site in Brandon. Picture: Bob Gibbons

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One of the country’s rarest plants has found a safe home in the region.

Field wormwood in its native site in, Brandon; Suffolk. Breckland area. Picture: Bob GibbonsField wormwood in its native site in, Brandon; Suffolk. Breckland area. Picture: Bob Gibbons

Field wormwood is one of England's most threatened wild plants but it has been given a lifeline after an area of land on the Norfolk/Suffolk border was designated a County Wildlife Site, protecting the area from development.

An area near London Road Industrial Estate, in Brandon, Suffolk, has the largest wild population of field wormwood - giving conservationists hope that it will also boost the survival chances of the Wormwood Moonshiner beetle that feeds off it.

Plant numbers have been monitored for four years by the Breckland Flora Group, a band of volunteer botanists organised by Plantlife.

Breckland Floral Group said that many sites where the plants grow have been lost to building developments. It said it now only grows in three native areas.

A Wormwood Moonshiner beetle. Picture: Brian EvershamA Wormwood Moonshiner beetle. Picture: Brian Eversham

Jo Jones, co-ordinator of the group, said: "This designation of some crucial areas surrounding the main site better safeguards populations of field wormwood that have been bravely clinging on the verge despite excessive mowing regimes.

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"It is heartening to know that the seed-rich flower spikes beloved by the Moonshiner beetle will no longer be felled in their prime and left to rot on the verge."

Field wormwood has found flourished at the site because of the fertile soil that is low in nutrients, sandy and disturbed where more aggressive plants that thrive on rich soils are unable to grow.

Field wormwood at Brandon Nature Reserve. Picture: Jo JonesField wormwood at Brandon Nature Reserve. Picture: Jo Jones

Due to it being near a busy industrial estate animals such as rabbit and deer that would feed on the plant are scared off.

County Wildlife Sites are created if an area meets Natural England guidelines.

Alex Prendergast, lead advisor and field unit ecologist at Natural England, said: "County Wildlife Sites are considered through the planning process so this will make it more difficult for developers to ignore this special Breckland plant.

"The rich tapestry of associated tiny species make this a fantastic site to crawl about on with a hand lens on a sunny day."

A Wormwood Moonshiner beetle. Picture: Brian EvershamA Wormwood Moonshiner beetle. Picture: Brian Eversham

Breckland and the surrounding areas of Brandon are home to more than 120 rare and under-threat plant species.

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