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   Mar 13

Pollution is killing our wild flowers

More than a third of flowering plants are struggling in the nitrogen-rich soil

Experts say we are feeding the natural word a ‘diet of nutrient-rich junk food’

Studies say it could take decades for the soil to return to normal

The countryside is being overrun by nettles and hogweed because pollution is killing off wild flowers.

‘Thuggish’ plants which thrive on the nitrogen pumped out by diesel cars and industry are overpowering more delicate flowers such as harebells, a report warns.

More than a third of flowering plants struggle in nitrogen-rich soil, which can leave them more vulnerable to drought, frost and disease.

Plants like Giant Hogweed (pictured) are overrunning the country as pollution kills off wild flowers

The charity Plantlife says the delicate blue harebell, a bumblebees’ favourite recently classified as near-threatened in England, is one of those at risk.

So too is the bird’s-foot trefoil, a yellow member of the pea family named after its flowers’ resemblance to birds’ claws.

Orchids, dependent on fungi which is extremely sensitive to nitrogen, could also be in danger.

The research, conducted with support from Lancaster University and backed by the National Trust, says 37 per cent of Britain’s flowering plants prefer low-nutrient conditions, putting them at risk from nitrogen, which also leaches into the soil from agriculture.

The study from Lancaster University and the National Trust says 37 per cent of Britain’s flowers prefer low-nutrient environments, putting them at risk from nitrogen

Dr Trevor Dines of Plantlife, said: ‘Nettles, hogweed and hemlock – thuggish species that thrive in soil steeped in excess nitrogen – are drowning out rare and more vulnerable wild plants which can only survive in less nutrient-rich soil.’

Concern is building over diesel fumes, with the toxic nitrogen oxide particles they produce linked to the deaths of 23,500 people in Britain every year. But nitrogen also gets into the soil, deposited directly from the air or in rain.

Normally essential to plants, because it helps them to grow, excess nitrogen can be too much for many wild flowers.

Dr Dines said: ‘We are force-feeding the natural world a diet of nutrient-rich junk food and it is having a devastating impact. Once diverse habitats are becoming monotonous green badlands where only the thugs survive and other more delicate plants are being bullied out of existence.’

The bird’s-foot treefoil (pictured) is another flower at dangers because of excess nitrogen

Fragile harebells suffer as aggressive weeds such as nettles grow to several feet in height.

Fairy flax, a grassland plant with star-shaped white flowers, is also vulnerable as fast-growing species such as grasses gain a ‘competitive advantage’ through the added nitrogen. The Plantlife study says 90 per cent of nitrogen-sensitive habitats in England and Wales, including heathland and sand dunes, suffer from excess pollution. This means less diversity as the nettles and hogweed take over, with early evidence suggesting this could affect the birds and butterflies which feed on them.

While nitrogen emissions have been cut in the past 20 years, the study says it could take decades for soil to return to normal.

Source: Daily Mail

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