UK: A comeback 60 years in the making


Plantlife tell us of new hope for a rare plant - lost since World War II.

starved wood-sedge by dominic price of plantlifeStarved Wood-sedge (Carex depauperata) – a delicate grass-like plant with tall flowering stems - is one of Britain’s rarest plants, currently found in only two locations in Surrey and Somerset. An unusual collaboration between conservation charity Plantlife and Charterhouse, an ancient English school, is set to dramatically improve the outlook for this endangered species by attempting to reintroduce it at one of its key historical sites in Surrey.

Starved Wood-sedge © Dominic Price / Plantlife

At the beginning of the 20th century, Starved Wood-sedge was a familiar feature in the woods below the Charterhouse school grounds. At this time, many estate workers were active in the woodland, coppicing trees and extracting timber for a range of uses. This work created open, sunlit glades – perfect habitat for Starved Wood-sedge.

Anecdotal evidence tells that much of this workforce joined the armed forces to fight in the Second World War and, with few returning or wanting to resume work on the land, the woodland closed over and became a dark, lifeless place.

Whether this is true or not, what is certain is that, by the mid 1940s, no Starved Wood-sedge plants could be found and, despite extensive searching by botanists over the last 60 years, not a single plant has been discovered since.

In 2007 Plantlife realised that for the survival of the species nationally, it was vital to establish a third population to add to the only two sites that remained in Britain – one elsewhere in Surrey and one in Somerset. Charterhouse was extremely supportive of the idea and a plan was hatched to introduce plants at the edge of the golf course and woodland, where grounds staff and pupils could keep an eye on the plants and monitor their success for the future.

Dominic Price, Plantlife’s Species Recovery Officer said: “It is a rare step for Plantlife to consider re-introducing a population of rare plants - but in this case, the national outlook for the plants was so critical that we needed to throw a lifeline to Starved Wood-sedge. The Charterhouse site not only gives us a link to the past as a true historical home of the species but it also now has the perfect habitat in which we hope the plants will thrive.”

Charterhouse Bursar David Williams says: "We are delighted to see a plant that was historically here being reintroduced into the banks of the School. I hope that, with careful management by our Grounds Team, it will once again flourish."

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