Endangered U.K. Plants Saved By Driving Tractor Over Them

An important but threatened habitat has been saved following decades of decline after conservationists in U.K. decided to run a five-tonne tractor over it.

This most unusual action was part of a wider effort to save the marsh clubmoss, an endangered plant that evolved 400 million years ago and forms an essential component of damp heathlands, The Independent reports. The plant has declined by 85 per cent in recent decades as its habitat has been largely wiped out, leaving only a few sites in Dorset and Hampshire.

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As the clubmoss thrives in ground that has been disturbed by animals, an environmental group working to bring back the heathland decided to deliberately drive a tractor over thousands of the remaining plants. The idea turned out to be successful, boosting the 3,000 plants that were growing at the Dorset site to an astonishing 12,000.

“We knew that many heathland plants benefit from significant disturbance but there was a sharp intake of breath when we took the decision to drive up and down over a beautiful colony of 3,000 plants in a five-tonne tractor brandishing a muck grab for maximum disturbance,” said Sophie Lake, one of the Dorset Heathlands Heart project’s managers. The low-growing clubmoss can be crowded out by other vegetation, but it also depends greatly on a number of species around it to grow.

Via: The Independent

As a result, the scraped tracks formed by the tractor seem to have created the perfect conditions for the plant’s recovery. It also produced a network of sandy patches and pools of water that have allowed wildflowers to thrive, helping in the overall restoration of the heathland. Caroline Kelly, another manager of the project, said it had emboldened the team to “mess up” the heaths in order to restore them to their former glory.

There are other wildlife also which have benefited by this most unusual scheme-- sand lizards, heath tiger beetles and the rare Purbeck mason wasp, found only on Dorset’s heathlands. The work is led by the group Plantlife and is part of the ambitious Back from the Brink plan to save 20 of England’s most threatened species from extinction. Other plants and animals targeted by the initiative include grey long-eared bats, pine martens and butterfly orchids.

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