The perks of being a wild flower

Wild flower habitats are as varied as they are beautiful. From European meadows populated with delicate and unassuming species such as melancholy thistle, yellow rattle and wood cranesbill to the astonishingly biodiverse Cape Floristic Region in South Africa with its bold and showy proteas and pincushions, these habitats are of immense cultural, ecological and economic value.

However, the beauty of these areas is not just skin-deep. Wild flower habitats are an integral part of our natural world, and vital havens of biodiversity that support a huge variety of species from butterflies, grasshoppers, bees and other insects to small mammals and birds right up to large grazing animals.

Interestingly, some of the world’s most biodiverse flower habitats are actually those that people have – sometimes inadvertently – helped to cultivate over centuries. In the Tarnava Mare area of north-west Romania, for example, traditional land management practices that rely on low-intensity farming and grazing has created a mosaic of habitat that contains some of the richest floral diversity in the world.

Where we work:
RomaniaSouth Africa

Careful land management such as low-impact farming can actually benefit wild flower diversity.

70%

of the estimated 9,000 vascular (sap-bearing) plants in South Africa’s Cape Floral Kingdom are found nowhere else in the world.

20%

of Africa’s flora is found in the Cape Floristic Region of South Africa, yet this area accounts for just 0.5% of the entire continent’s land area.

Threats to wild flower habitats

Although many wild flower habitats have benefited from careful custodianship in the past, today human intervention is making it increasingly difficult for wild flower habitats to cling on. For example, an alarming 97% of wild flower areas in the UK have disappeared in the last century – and this damage is continuing apace, putting the idyllic image of vibrant flower meadows bursting with life at risk of becoming a thing of the past.

Land-use change – particularly conversion of biodiverse habitats for agriculture and livestock – is one of the main drivers behind these declines, exacerbated by the shift from small-scale, low-intensity farming (which can actually foster floral diversity) towards large-scale, intensive methods that favour high-impact technologies, excessive use of herbicides and pesticides and inappropriate grazing patterns.

This widespread change in land use is also fragmenting the wild flower habitat that still remains, which in turn makes it harder for individual species to survive and reproduce – especially in the face of other threats such as climate change and disease outbreaks.

In the case of South Africa’s unique and irreplaceable wild flower landscapes, for example, the unrivalled floral diversity of the Cape region is threatened by a combination of conversion of land for agriculture and wine production, invasive alien species, uncontrolled burning, overharvesting and urbanisation.

How are we helping to protect wild flower habitats?

As our name suggests, Fauna & Flora International (FFI) is well aware of the importance of plant conservation, and this was an integral part of our activities even in the days when we were known as the Fauna Preservation Society. Our botanical remit was formally acknowledged in 1980, when the word ‘flora’ was added to our name.

Groundbreaking initiatives have included the community-led Indigenous Propagation Project to combat the unsustainable harvesting of snowdrops and other bulbs in Turkey, and subsequent publication of the Good Bulb Guide. Among other historical interventions, we helped to halt the decline in Malta’s native flora and shone the spotlight on the trade in wild orchids. More recent examples of FFI’s efforts to conserve wild flowers and their habitats include:

  • Promoting cost-effective land management and preserving local customs to encourage traditional farming practices in Romania’s Transylvania region, a landscape characterised by small, rounded hills (tumps) that boast remarkable floral diversity;

Rescuing a botanical paradise at the heart of South Africa’s Cape Floral Kingdom and supporting the sustainable harvesting of wild fynbos flowers to safeguard biodiversity and community livelihoods.

Learn more about our work in this environment