Azara Blog: A study on plant species temporal variability in the UK

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Date published: 2006/04/24

The BBC says:

The UK's plant species have experienced dramatic changes over the past 18 years in the conditions under which they grow, according to a new report.

Climate change, agricultural practices and man-made habitats have produced challenging environments for Britain's flora, the study shows.

Some species (18%) are thriving under the new conditions; others (16%) are in decline; most (66%) remain unaffected.

The Lottery-funded report is called Making it Count for People and Plants.

It is a joint initiative by the Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI) and conservation charity Plantlife.

The project, set up in 2002 and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, aims to identify the state of British flora and encourage more people to get involved in botany and plant conservation. It involved over 5,550 participants.

The project incorporated four strands, including surveys of single and common species and a rare plant register.

The most striking results came out of the BSBI Local Change Survey - a study that compared today's British plants to the flora of 18 years ago.

Between 2003-2004, over 750 botanists set about recording plants found in 811 2km-by-2km plots across Britain, collecting about 200,000 records. They were then able to compare their findings with a near identical study that had been carried out in 1987-1988.

It's hard to know whether the results are significant or not, in particular who is to say whether or not these results would have been replicated if we had similar studies from the 1960s, and earlier. Is 16%/18% big? Small? Average? There can be variations in species numbers just from one year to the next. And the whole study involves sampling, which by itself is prone to produce variations from one study to the next. So are we supposed to be happy or sad with the results, or, more likely, just shrug our shoulders and move onto the next subject.

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