CLM Spring issue 2018 - Page 13



A study in pink
Deptford Pink may be a colonist rather than a
native, although I prefer the term ‘adventurer’. I
don’t think that this detracts from its superlative
qualities. It is a scarce plant, yet can establish itself
in a wide range of soil types in different open
situations. It may pass unnoticed because these
places are usually of limited interest to botanists,
but sometimes it grows in semi-natural open grasslands, where it may reward a plant-hunter with an
exciting discovery. A population may fade as conditions become less suitable due to competition, but
this is a natural part of its behaviour. This lifestyle
may explain why the Deptford Pink is such a good
candidate for species recovery programmes. You
can work on sites with the expectation that it will
pop up, to universal applause, without having to
worry about the complexities of ecology and plant
communities. A scatter of seed works wonders.
Rosy pink in the garden
Last year, the SITA trust awarded £10,000 to the
Species Recovery Trust (SRT) to shrub-clear and
disturb a handful of old Deptford Pink sites. The
Trust has some well-respected botanists associated
with it, and the case for the grant was based on
the pink’s rapid decline, its possible extinction
in Dorset and Somerset, and the practicability of
taking action to save the species. SRT’s website
identifies the cause of decline as the lack of
management, which has led to the loss of the open
conditions which Deptford Pink needs, combined
with a decrease in animals likely to spread the
seed. ‘In 2014 we monitored a number of Deptford
Pink sites and were sad to find that the species had
disappeared from several of those.’ Funding has
therefore been procured to clear scrub and disturb
soil at seven sites in southern England where the
pink is considered in danger of local extinction,
and to create new sites for Deptford Pink at its
current stronghold of Buckfastleigh, in Devon.
Such activity may or may not benefit the
Deptford Pink, but I wonder whether it has any
lasting benefits for our flora. It is perhaps a consequence of the funding process, which prefers to
award sums of money for in situ ‘gardening’ of
wild plants, rather than to address the needs of
habitats and their plant communities. The importance attributed to Species Action Plans as part of
the Biodiversity Action Plan process has gener-
ated many local plans, management leaflets and
practical tasks to improve the condition of sites
and former sites for Deptford Pink. I applaud this
so long as the volunteer effort and funding which
charismatic plants like Deptford Pink generate help
declining, plant-rich habitats.
There is a narrative about this delightful ‘miniature Sweet William’ that wild-plant conservationists
have bought into, and will not let go without a fight.
In this story, the heroes are the plant conservationists who are struggling valiantly to reverse the
catastrophic decline of one of the gems of our native
flora. The subject of their efforts is a fragile, petite
little pink, a wild flower which has become rare and
is threatened with extinction. The audience includes
grant-giving bodies and the plant-loving public,
whose contributions allow the conservationists to
fulfil their mission.
Directing resources on to an individual species
rather than on to plant communities and their
associated invertebrates speaks more of gardening
than of ecology. By the same token, I regret the
amount of time spent listing and vilifying every
possible invasive plant, even though there is no
hope of doing anything about most of them. It is
the other side of the ‘good native, bad alien’ coin.
The Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem
Health in the USA describes Deptford Pink as an
ecological threat. Apparently, ‘this plant will take
over roadsides, ditches and fields’.
Nature conservation should not be about the
management, manipulation and control of wild
plants and animals to suit our likes and wishes
and sometimes our false assumptions. It should be
about places, about complex communities of plants
and animals and soils and hydrological systems
and geology and land forms, worth conserving for
all the things we do not know about them, all the
ways in which they can surprise us. Nature should
also be valued as an essential element in human
history, in our culture and our relationships with
the land. Humans have added layers of history and
hard work to the places which we value for nature,
and such places have their own authenticity built
from the rocks upwards.
Nature conservation seems to be, on the
one hand, drifting towards too controlling and
prescriptive an approach, seeking to turn fragments
of nature into botanical-cum-zoological gardens; in
reaction to which, we have, on the other, the equally
February 2016 British Wildlife 159
BWM27_3 02 deptford pink.indd 159
29/01/2016 11:44

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