Which plants are protected?
All wild plants on the Island are protected by law, in that it is illegal for an unauthorised person to intentionally uproot wild plants, for example by going onto someone’s land without their agreement and digging up wild flowers. In addition to this, some particularly rare or vulnerable species are further protected from being intentionally picked, uprooted or destroyed. It is these which are generally referred to as 'protected species', and listed on Schedule 7 of the Wildlife Act 1990.
This pyramidal orchid was photographed at the Ayres National Nature Reserve. All orchid species are protected in the Isle of Man.
Why are some plants given extra protection?
In general, a plant will be included on Schedule 7 if it is locally and/or internationally rare, or is known to be in sharp decline on the Island, or is particularly vulnerable and at risk of decline (for example, it is associated with disappearing habitats which can’t recover well from damage). As with the Schedules for protected birds and animals, the protected plants list is periodically updated in order to reflect the dynamic status of the Island’s biodiversity. This is carried out by DEFA in conjunction with a scientific advisory committee.
See downloadable documents for the current list.
Legal activities on land with protected plants
If you have, or think you might have, protected plants on a development site, it is important to contact the Department for advice as early as possible before carrying out any works. It can alarm landowners to learn that there are legally protected species on their land, due to the fear that planned activities might be held up, or that accidental damage might lead to prosecution under the Wildlife Act. However, as with protected birds and animals, the presence of protected plants does not necessarily mean that you can’t do anything with the site in question. Damage to plants can often be avoided by careful planning, and DEFA operates a Wildlife Act licensing system to permit appropriate activities, and can advise whether this is applicable.
Many of the Island’s rarest wild plants are beautiful in close-up but very inconspicuous to the casual observer. One such plant is the tiny least willow, which lives up to its name; able to survive in harsh, arctic-alpine habitats such as the very top of Snaefell, the smallest 'sallie' on the Island has bright red and yellow catkins and is about the same height as a patch of moss. Least willow leaves rarely grow much bigger than a penny (pictured).
Some Manx wild flowers are unexpectedly exotic-looking; wood vetch (Vicia sylvatica) resembles a nondescript hedgerow plant until it flowers, revealing that it is a member of the pea family, with beautifully striped petals. It is very rare on the Island.
The presence of heavy metals in soils and mine spoil makes it tough for wild plants and animals to survive. Despite this, some of the most delicate-looking species can manage to grow on metal-rich soils, safe from more aggressive competitors. Spring sandwort (Minuartia verna) is well-known amongst botanists for growing on lead mine spoil, and produces an abundance of delicate white flowers every spring – a seasonal reminder of the Island’s historic lead-mining industry.
Manx by name…
Only one of the Island’s hundreds of wild plants is actually named after it – with both its English name and its Latin name. Isle of Man cabbage (Coincya monensis monensis, 'from Mona') is an attractive, yellow-flowered plant of the cabbage family. It favours well-drained, sandy ground, and is usually found next to the coast. Isle of Man cabbage is very rare on the Island, and has the distinction of being endemic to the British Isles, that is, this is the only part of the world where it occurs as a native species.
All of the above species are listed on Schedule 7 of the Wildlife Act 1990 because of their rarity and vulnerability to disturbance. If you find these plants please do not pick, uproot or damage them; if in doubt about the identification of rare plants, please contact the Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture for advice.
(Photographs: Linda Moore)