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Wild plants guide helps to conserve diversity.

Arable plants that used to be far more widespread among fields of crops represent one fifth of the wild plants now targeted for conservation in the UK.

A field guide to the rarer species has been launched by English Nature and WildGuides at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. It is aimed at helping people recognise them.

Common poppies, corn marigold and cornflower used to be common sights growing among the crops, hence their names.

But nowadays, although many people would readily identify these flowers, the chances of seeing them in the wild are slim as surveys show most have suffered decline.

Less well-known but curiously named plants like weasel's snout, pheasant's eye and shepherd's needle were part of the farmland biodiversity, although they were not always common, and some, like the corncockle, are even considered extinct.

Sir Martin Doughty, chair of English Nature, said: 'The changes in the way we have grown crops over the last 60 years has completely altered the picture of our countryside.

'Before, we would have seen a glorious variety of colours across our arable farmland but now what we are more likely to see is a flat monotone.

'But this is far more serious than just aesthetic beauty.

'We have seriously affected the whole diversity of our countryside, the plight of farmland birds has been well documented but arable plants may have fared just as badly, if not worse.

'We need to ensure that agrienvironment schemes take these species into account.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jul 8, 2003
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