'Incredibly rare' plants burst into life on busy industrial estate

Volunteers monitoring field wormwood plants at at London Road Industrial Estate in Brandon

Volunteers monitoring rare field wormwood plants at at London Road Industrial Estate in Brandon - Credit: Jo Jones

One of the country's rarest and most threatened wild plants has astounded conservationists by thriving within a Breckland industrial estate.

Field wormwood grows at London Road Industrial Estate in Brandon, on a 1,000sqm patch of land described as "one of the tiniest nature reserves in England".

Populations of the rare plant have been monitored closely for years by the Breckland Flora Group, a band of enthusiastic volunteers co-ordinated by nature charity Plantlife.

Their most recent results have shown an "astounding" increase in numbers, with a count of 85 flowering plants compared to just two in 2019. Non-flowering plant numbers have trebled from 100 to 303.

Wormwood moonshiner beetle on field wormwood plant

The field wormwood plant is essential to the survival of the equally-rare wormwood moonshiner beetle - Credit: Brian Eversham

Tessa Greaves, a Breckland Flora Group recorder who has been visiting the estate for ten years, said her "heart skipped a beat" when she saw a group of bushy field wormwood plants.

"This is the first time in ten years that I have seen these plants flowering and the uplifting sight made all the volunteering feel so worthwhile," she said.

Conservationists from the Back from the Brink "Shifting Sands" project removed turf and vegetation at the site to create the bare, disturbed ground needed by the plants - which prefer infertile, sandy soils where competing plants like docks and nettles are unable to get a foothold.

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Meanwhile, the hustle and bustle of the estate keeps grazing deer and rabbits away.

The project team says field wormwood plants are also now flowering on the road verges around the estate, which are now being cut just once a year. As a result, 150 more plants were counted on verges this year.

The success of these plants is also critical for the survival prospects for the extremely rare wormwood moonshiner beetle, which feeds on field wormwood seeds at night.

Plantlife’s Johanna Jones, co-ordinator of the Breckland Flora Group, said London Road Industrial Estate is an "incredibly special place for plant life".

"I am so excited that in just a year there has been such an increase in the number of flowering plants both in the reserve and the verges and of the beetles that feed on them," she said.

"It is great to have the support of many of the unit owners and tenants.”

Field Wormwood Artemisia campestris ssp. campestris in native site, on Industrial site, Brandon; Suf

Rare field wormwood plants at London Road Industrial Estate in Brandon - Credit: Bob Gibbons