Wales has extraordinary diversity of mosses, liverworts, lichens (together known as lower plants) and fungi.
In fact it is home to 75% of the mosses, liverworts and lichens and 80% of the rust fungi in Britain, despite occupying only 10% of the British Isles' land area.
'These organisms are at the heart of our life support systems,' says Ray Woods, Plantlife Wales' Lower Plants Officer and author of a new conservation strategy for lower plants and fungi.
'Without lower plants and fungi, the rest of the living world couldn't function. We have left their existence to chance in the past but we now have to take positive action to conserve this immense diversity.'
The first step in safeguarding this Welsh "˜green gold' is the publication of a new strategy and action plan by Plantlife Wales and Plant Link Cymru. This sets out targets and actions for conserving lower plants and fungi in Wales. 131 species of lower plants and fungi need priority action for conservation, according to the Welsh Assembly Government and implementing this strategy will help protect over a quarter of all priority species - those most under threat - in Wales.
What is included in the strategy?
Setting out 15 targets with 45 actions to be completed by 2015, the strategy assesses what needs doing and by when. Actions range from stimulating field surveys for mapping lower plant and fungi distributions across Wales, to setting up equipment pools for training workshops at field centres. The targets and actions are ambitious but achievable, and if they are all undertaken, will lead to significant progress in lower plant and fungi conservation .
Problems in conserving lower plants and fungi
Problems include a lack of expertise and poor knowledge of where these plants and fungi grow and why they survive or become extinct in different locations.
Most of the few paid experts in Wales are nearing retirement, and it is hoped that a new Lichen Apprenticeship Scheme currently being trialled will provide a model for more, leading to a rise in expertise.
Lower plants, particularly lichens, are very sensitive to atmospheric pollution, leading to populations declining as acid rain or ammonia from chicken farms takes effect.
Disinterest. Plantlife and Plant Link Cymru are keen to raise awareness of the variety, beauty and importance of mosses, lichens, fungi and other groups. Compared to birds, mammals, insects and other groups, plants receive less funding and less attention.
"˜Lichens of old woodlands' poster
The spectacular tree lungworts of Wales have been brought to the brink of extinction by atmospheric pollution and the loss of ancient trees. Find out more about them with our free downloadable poster and guide, available here (PDF 3.65MB, opens in new window).