Site Floras are a promising product of modern biological recording. In the 1960s and 70s there was a lot of interest in creating comprehensive lists of plants and animals for nature reserves, especially by the new Wildlife Trusts. But this interest has not been maintained and the effort has largely fizzled out. Part of the reason for that may be that long lists were perceived as tedious and of little practical use. Indeed, one botanical author a century ago wrote, “surely there can be nothing in literature less attractive and satisfactory than a bare list of plant-names and localities with scarcely a line to enliven its dreariness from beginning to end.”
Now, however, there is a resurgence of interest in such works. Computer databases make light work of long lists and an increasing emphasis on evidence-based processes of management and conservation create a demand for empirical data. In ecology, the best unit of measurement is the biological record.
What is a Site Flora?
The key elements of a site flora are:-
1) A clear description of the site, with a defined boundary and a coherent structure (usually based on ownership and management).
2) A comprehensive catalogue of species present in a given time period, giving sufficient raw data that independent workers can utilise and assess the results.
3) A repeatable survey technique that will allow comparison with similar lists generated at future (or past) dates.
4) A published format, to give a reasonable chance that the data will survive intact to reach other surveyors in future.
Very few publications meet these criteria in full and a clear definition of a Site Flora is yet to emerge. A combination of utility and practicality is required. What we need most is people who have experience of repeating a Site Flora and looking for changes.
What do they do?
By analysing the species lists in a series of Site Floras, it is possible to detect and describe the changes that are occurring on that site as a consequence of management, the changing climate, and other environmental factors. Once described, these changes can be quantified and understood and then either resisted by conservation action, or responded to in other ways.
Another use of Site Floras is for evaluating the relative importance of each site, and thereby allowing conservation resources to be utilized in the most efficient way.
For example, many sites are managed primarily for one species but, without comprehensive lists, how can one be sure that other species are not also important? And many really first class sites are neglected in preference to less valuable areas that demand attention for other reasons such as high levels of public involvement. Having a scientific evaluation of the importance of each site can therefore enhance nature conservation.
Some Site Floras
>> Moor Copse. 2012. A. Baker & G. Southon.
>> Islands of West Loch Roag. 2012. Paul Smith and Jim McIntosh, in the Glasgow Naturalist.
>> New! Whiteknights Park, Reading. 2011. David Le Grice & Stephen L. Jury.
>> Shrewsbury. 2011. S.J. Whild, M.F. Godfrey & A.J. Lockton.
>> Chopwell Wood. 2010. J.L. Durkin.
>> Nethy Bridge. 2010. A. Amphlett.
>> The Stiperstones. 2009. S.J. Whild & A.J. Lockton.
>> Gibside Estate. 2009. J.L. Durkin.
>> Glenlivet Estate. 2008. A. Amphlett.
>> Haughmond Hill. 2006. S.J. Whild, A.J. Lockton & M.F. Godfrey.
>> Attingham Park. 2005. S.J. Whild & A.J. Lockton.
>> Ashdown Forest. 1996. T.C.G. Rich et al.
>> Selsdon Wood. 1978. J. Penry-Jones.
>> Attingham Park. 1975. F.H. Perring.
>> Groby. 1973. E. Hesselgreaves.
>> Inishbofin & Inishark. 1968. D.A. Webb & J. Hodgson.
>> Moor House NNR. 1967. Eddy, A. & Welch, D.
>> Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. 1965. D.E. Allen.
>> Handa Island. 1964. B.S. Brookes.
>> Caldey Island, Pembrokeshire. 1954. F.N. Hepper. Proc. BSBI 1, 21-36.
The BSBI Project
A Site Flora is relatively easy to produce, compared with, say, a County Flora. Ideally, they should be done within one year but can be based upon an entire date class (decade) if necessary. The most important point is to find as many species as is humanly possible within the site, and to identify them all positively.
There are many thousands of potential sites in the British Isles that would be suitable for a Site Flora. The longer the time-series of the data, the more valuable any analyses will be, so the sooner they are done the better. Astonishingly, hardly any SSSI or National Nature Reserve has a Site Flora or comprehensive species list that meets the standards needed for long-term monitoring of this sort. The aim of the current project is to start to redress that balance.
We would be pleased to hear from anyone who has written or is producing a Site Flora.
Suggestions and contributions welcome.