The Red List

How special is the flora of Barnack Hills and Holes National Nature Reserve?

The Holy Grail for a botanist is a red listed plant. Finding one is very satisfying, and it doesn’t often happen. So what are Red Lists and what is their relevance to Barnack Hills and Holes?

Red Lists are lists of plants or animals that are in danger of extinction in a particular area or country. There is a standard scientific method for selecting these species, laid down by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Assessments are based on specified thresholds of population reduction, decreasing geographical range and small population size. A plant may be widespread, but if it is being lost from many of its sites it may qualify for red listing. There are three categories of threat: Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable, which are allotted to species according to the degree of danger that they face. The term Near Threatened is applied to species that are close to qualifying for a Red List. Species that cannot be classified because of insufficient information are Data Deficient. Least Concern is the term used for the rest of the species, which are regarded as currently safe from the threat of extinction.

DSC01798-1We have two national Red Lists of flowering plants and ferns that are applicable to the Barnack area. One is the British Red List, which was originally produced in 1977 and is revised regularly by the statutory conservation bodies, including Natural England. The other is the Red List for England, first published in September 2014 by the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. As might be expected, the two lists are not identical because they are based on different geographical perspectives. A plant that is common in Scotland is unlikely to qualify for the British Red List, but that same species may be included in the Red List for England because it is rarer and more threatened in southerly, lowland situations.

The following table gives the nationally red listed and Near Threatened flowering plants that currently occur at Barnack Hills and Holes. Seven species are on both British and English Red Lists and an eighth – Mountain Everlasting – is only on the Red List for England, being an example of a plant with a predominantly upland distribution. A further four species are Near Threatened in England, whereas in Britain as a whole they are classified as Least Concern.

Natural England and the Friends of Barnack Hills and Holes are very keen to gather further information about the plants growing on this ancient limestone quarry site. Records, including the date and details of the recorder, can be submitted to

The occurrence of eight nationally red listed plants in an area of only about 20 hectares is very unusual. This, and the presence of one of the strongest populations of Pasque Flower in the country, indicate that the flora of Barnack Hills and Holes is outstanding. Its status as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a National Nature Reserve is fully justified and it is vital that the site is managed for the benefit of its threatened grassland flora. To be able to find six red listed plants during a single visit in summer is extraordinary: there are very few places in Britain where this is possible.
Margaret Palmer
4th October 2014

red list

This table can be opened in a separate window or downloaded as a pdf file – click here