A small yet striking gentian, showing one of the fastest declines of any native wildflower.
Rarity: Despite being recorded at just under 100 sites across England and Wales, many of these sites no longer support plants, or support populations with sporadic appearances
Cause of decline: Their decline can roughly be associated with the decline of semi-natural grasslands, due to changes in agriculture. It cannot survive in ungrazed grassland.
More recently it appears to suffering heavily due to climate change and the severity of summer droughts on already dry grasslands.
Field Gentian is one of a select group of Gentians occurring as native species in the UK. It is typically a perennial herbaceous plant that can grows to a height of 30 cm (but can be under 5cm) and has simple, opposite leaves, lanceolate to elliptic in shape, dark green in color, and often with prominent veins. The flowers areare bell-shaped, typically blue to violet in color, although pink or white varieties can also occur. The flowers are usually solitary and borne on erect stems, and they bloom from late summer to early autumn,
If ever the term ‘small is beautiful’ was coined for a flowering plant, this would probably be it. Field Gentian is the jewel in the crown of unimproved grazed pastures, whether it be in the hilly limestone of the Lake District, the windswept expanses of the welsh coastal dune systems or the lowland acid grasslands lawns of the New Forest.
Ecology and Conservation
Field Gentian is a member of a group of flowering plants with an often complex ecology and taxonomy. It has proven incredibly difficult to grow and maintain plants ex situ, and in the wild there is uncertainty about when plants first germinate, and what factors trigger this process.
In the heatwaves of 2018, 2020 and 2022 virtually every population in the south of England failed, which gave a chilling preview of that may befall this and other species of dry skeletal grasslands in a post climate-change world.
When conditions (and in particular grazing levels) are optimal, then huge populations can emerge, in turn producing millions of seeds, so with the right management across its range of sites we hope to keep this species thriving across most of its range.
We are becoming increasingly concerned about the outlook of rthis species in the south of England, with recent county level extcintions in Norforld, Devon and Cornwall now on the brink of disappearance, and are working ahrd to reverse these disappearances.
Since 2012 we have been operating a monitoring network to carry out species counts across the majority of sites in England and Wales. These counts have revealed a complex picture across the country, with some sites fluctuating dramatically between thousands of plants in one year and none in the next, while other sites recording constant numbers year after year
Many of its sites are not in optimum condition for the species, and we continue to work with landowners to bring this sites into more favourable conservation management. In the North of England this work has focussed into attempting to reduce sheep grazing on key upland sites.
As we move into the 20s we are hoping to start trialling the creation of new populations on previously lost sites.