The Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) encourages all county recorders to produce a County Rare Plant Register. Members of Somerset Rare Plants Group (SRPG) have been working towards a Rare Plant Register (RPR) for Somerset since the group was first formed. The list of taxa qualifying for inclusion has been updated many times, for example following publication of the most recent Red Data List for Great Britain (Cheffings & Farrell, 2005) and all subsequent published amendments; the issuing of Section 41 (England) of the NERC Act (2006); and the publication of A Vascular Plant Red List for England (Stroh et al., 2014). In addition, the local rarity of each taxon is constantly reassessed as recording progresses, and nomenclature has been updated following the publication of several BSBI Handbooks and new editions of the New Flora of the British Isles (Stace, 2009, 2019).
The regularly updated draft list of taxa qualifying for inclusion in the Somerset RPR can be seen here. The list is presented as a table summarising the reason(s) for inclusion of each taxon (see below), the date of the last record in each VC if believed “lost”, and the status of the taxon in Somerset.
A County Rare Plant Register (CRPR) is a statement of our knowledge of the “rare” plants of a county at the time of publication. At its most basic, it may simply be an inventory of qualifying species, but the more information is included, the more useful it will be as a tool for conservation. Nowadays it is generally considered that there is greater threat to the survival of our rare species from ignorance of their distribution, leading to lack of protection or unwitting destruction, than from willful damage. Rare species cannot be conserved and protected unless their locations are known precisely. It is essential that detailed information, in a standardised format, is provided for use by government agencies and conservation organisations, to inform planning decisions and for the development of appropriate management regimes. Note that inclusion of location details in a CRPR does not confer right of access and the BSBI Code of Conduct (available as a download from bsbi.org/field-meetings) should always be observed.
BSBI guidelines suggest that the geographical area for a CRPR should be a single Watsonian vice-county. In practice however, several counties which are split into two vice-counties, including Somerset (VC5 and VC6), are opting to produce a single publication to cover both vice-counties, but with the vice-counties treated separately within the one publication. This is more meaningful to those end-users not familiar with the concept of vice-counties. The Somerset Rare Plant Register (RPR) covers the whole of VC5 (South Somerset) and VC6 (North Somerset) together with a few small areas of VC3 (South Devon), VC9 (Dorset), VC7 (North Wiltshire) and VC8 (South Wiltshire) which are now within modern administrative Somerset or Bath & North East Somerset.
The criteria used for identifying which species to include in the Somerset RPR follow those recommended by the BSBI (available as a download from bsbi.org/rare-plant-registers). Any species in Somerset which falls into at least one of the following categories has been included:
Internationally Rare (Endemic, Near Endemic, EU Directive, species for which we have International Responsibility) *
GB Threatened Species (GB Red List)
England Threatened Species (England Red List)
Protected Species (Wildlife and Countryside Act: Schedule 8)
NERC Act: Section 41 species
Nationally Rare (found in 1-15 hectads in Britain)
Nationally Scarce (found in 16-100 hectads in Britain)
VC5 or VC6 Rare (present at 1-3 sites ** in either VC5 or VC6)
VC5 or VC6 Scarce (present at 4-10 sites ** in either VC5 or VC6)
Alien species of particular interest in Somerset
* To date, whilst all Endemic and most Near Endemic species are included, other species for which we have “international responsibility” and EU Directive species are only included if they fall into another category, since the list of these is understood to be under review.
** Here a “site” is a moveable 1km square, sometimes called a “Wells” square, such that if discreet populations of a species are found within 1km of each other, they count as only one site.
All taxa designated as Regionally Extinct, Extinct in the Wild, Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable or Near Threatened on the Red Data List for Great Britain or England (and found in Somerset, at present or historically) have been included in the Somerset RPR. Data Deficient species and some currently on the Waiting List are also included for consideration. The total number of species included for each category of selection is shown below; many taxa qualify for more than one reason.
(Note that a species may qualify under several different criteria)
|Qualifying criteria for inclusion in CRPR||Number of taxa in Somerset|
|GB: Regionally Extinct||4|
|GB: Extinct in the Wild||2|
|GB: Critically Endangered||19|
|GB: Near Threatened||52|
|GB: Data Deficient||6|
|England: (Regionally) Extinct||4|
|England: Extinct in the Wild||1|
|England: Critically Endangered||14|
|England: Near Threatened||91|
|England: Data Deficient||8|
|VC3 (in Somerset) Rare||2|
|Neophyte of Local Interest||9|
Hieracium and Sorbus are included in the Rare Plant Register. Taraxacum and Rubus have not yet been included, although a Taraxacum checklist is available on our Dandelions page. A list of Rubus species is in preparation. Charophytes (Stoneworts) are listed in a separate register.
Hybrids with a parent on the list have been included, adding a further 55 taxa. Many other hybrids are also locally rare or scarce, but these will be listed as an appendix. In some cases, their distributions are incompletely known, and they may only appear rare or scarce because they are under-recorded.
All taxa believed to be lost from Somerset (except Neophytes) are included in the Somerset RPR and will have a full species account; most of these are already written. Taxa have been branded as “Lost” if they have not been seen since 1987 or are believed to have been lost since then: it is hoped that their inclusion here will stimulate searches and that some at least will be re-found; this has already happened in several cases since the list was first compiled. Where taxa are considered “Lost”, the last date seen in VC5 or VC6 is included in the table.
Although most (over 500) taxa on the RPR List are considered native to Somerset, the list also includes 54 archaeophytes (species introduced before 1500AD) and nine neophytes of cultural interest in Somerset. In addition, there are a number of species for which the Somerset status is considered to be “Alien”. These are species which are/were native elsewhere in Britain but in Somerset are/were growing outside their known native range. For a few species, the status is unknown: these are variously listed as Native/Alien, Native?, Alien? or Introduction?. For those species for which the GB status itself is currently unknown, the GB status (Native/Alien or Alien/Arch.) is used in brackets and no attempt is made to decide on a Somerset status. Finally, six species are believed to have been recorded in error in Somerset, but as these are listed in floras, they are included in the table and will have accounts.
A CRPR is most effective if the records within it are as up-to-date and as detailed as possible. To this end, the existing records for each species on the extant list are being collated and checked and SRPG members and others are focusing their efforts on making new and updated records, often improving the precision of location details. Most species accounts will include a table of locations, usually showing the most recent record for a site unless an earlier record included more detail. Details of all post-2000 records will be included, with some 1987-1999 records included in the tables if there is no recent record and no reason to believe the sites have been lost. Grid references are presented at 6- or 8-figure resolution. In a few exceptional cases, the precision of the grid reference is downgraded out of respect for the landowner’s sensibilities or at the recorder’s request. Maps are included for many species; for species with a large number of sites, only a map is shown.
Writing of species accounts is in progress. Each will give reasons for inclusion, descriptions of distribution with historical details, names of locations, grid references, population counts, maps and photographs. As species accounts are written they are being made freely available online: those species highlighted in the table have accounts which can be viewed by clicking on the species name. Most accounts have been written by Helena Crouch – please email her with feedback, corrections, updated records or enquiries at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A list of references used within accounts is available here and will be updated regularly.
The production of a Rare Plant Register relies on the recording efforts of a large number of botanists. Their contribution is acknowledged with grateful thanks. A list of abbreviations of recorders’ names used within accounts is available here.
A list of herbarium codes used within accounts is available here.