Worcestershire Record No. 5 Nov 1998 p. 20
Shouting helps if you're searching for Dianthus armeria in Worcestershire.
One evening last September, I joined Phil Wilson by the side of the A449 north of Worcester to view the county's only colony of this beautiful plant...one of only three sites in the Midlands for a rapidly dwindling species. Phil is an ecologist under contract to the charity Plantlife, charged with surveying sites and recommending management plans for the pink. The traffic was thunderous and we had to holler above its din, but to our surprise so late in the season, Deptford pinks were in flower. They'd been mown earlier in the year and with a resilience you wouldn't expect of such a fragile rarity, had bloomed again.
Among the withered grass, the vivid magenta flowers were a real surprise....truly shocking pink. They look rather like a daintier version of Sweet William, beloved by cottage-gardeners. We found about 100 plants, some neat shiny rosettes ready for the winter, others desiccated stalks topped by seed-capsules. It had clearly been a good season, but with this plant, you can't afford to be complacent! Already the bank on which they are growing is being shaded by trees and scrub and some verge maintenance agency has dumped piles of earth onto the vegetation, smothering pinks in the process.
The Deptford Pink is a plant on the cusp. It's always relied on its transient habitat of well-drained grassy banks being available, but in today's neat, agricultural countryside, the sites it likes just aren't there. So, slowly but surely, it has retreated to a few suitable verges, quarries and railway sidings which give it the warmth and security it needs. In Worcestershire, it's always been rare and was believed extinct for many years until I found the colony at Hawford in 1991.
Nationally Dianthus armeria continues to decline. It's just been added to Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act in recognition of its precarious position and Plantlife is a "partner" in helping to boost its numbers. Hence Phil Wilson's journeyings around Britain, which should lead to an action plan to protect it nationally.
In the meantime, I'm waiting to become a "guardian". As soon as the adoption papers come through, it'll be up to me to keep an eye on the plants and maybe do a little judicious "gardening " . Over the next few years, the Highways Agency, who maintain trunk road verges, will be involved to avoid too much mowing and invasion by trees. And with luck, the pink may not be on red alert for long.
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