Nine hundred ways to save Scotland’s native plants

Climbing ropes, loose rocks and steep slippery slopes are all in a day’s work for conservation teams at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), as they head for the hills to translocate some 900 plants of the rare alpine blue-sow-thistle.

Wednesday, 27th October 2021, 8:21 am
Reintroducing the thistle can be a physically demanding.

While it is easy to think Scotland’s wild places are in good health, the reality is that many species – including the native Cicerbita alpina – are struggling for survival.

Now, as part of the organisation’s project to rescue genetic diversity, hundreds of plants are about to be carefully transported from RBGE’s Nursery and translocated into five carefully chosen secret sites, deep in the Cairngorm National Park.

Scottish conservation horticulturist Martine Borge explained: “This October and November, the team will transplant hundreds of Cicerbita plants to sites within the Mar Lodge Estate, Glen Feshie and Glen Lochay.

"The fieldwork can be physically demanding as some of the planting sites are in steep mountainous areas. However, despite the challenges to the team, ensuring that these new plants are translocated to new, inaccessible mountain spots will give this beautiful and tenacious species its best chance of long-term survival.”

Now classed as Vulnerable and Near Threatened, Cicerbita alpina once grew more widely across the high woodlands and river courses of Scotland, but factors such as grazing and man-made changes to its habitat have pushed the species to the margins.

The mountain plant now survives in only a few scattered, high and largely difficult to access populations in the Cairngorms. This has resulted in a loss of genetic diversity and increased inbreeding and the plant now has a lowered ability to reproduce and expand.

Conservation geneticist Dr Aline Finger added: “Our Scottish conservation work helps us to better understand the causes of decline in species such as the Cicerbita alpina.

“The translocation of plants is an incredibly important part of our conservation work as it helps to secure the survival of this species in Scotland by creating completely new, genetically healthy populations.”