British Wildlife 32.1 October 2020

Alpine Blue-sowthistle and the challenge of upland management

The extremely rare Alpine Blue-sowthistle is clinging on at only four sites in the mountains of Scotland. Michael Scott recalls his search for this rarity and stresses how there is little hope for the spread of the species as long as intense grazing pressures persist in the uplands. Aline Finger describes the implications of such a small population on the genetic diversity of the Alpine Blue-sowthistle and the important work carried out by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

I can still vividly remember my first visit to see Alpine Blue-sowthistle Cicerbita alpina (referred to henceforth as just Sowthistle), a near-mythical plant among mountain botanists partly owing to its extreme rarity, but also because of the ‘strange episode of the Major’s spectacles’ (for which see Raven & Walters 1956). My visit, back in July 1981, was to Caenlochan Glen, in the mountains of Angus and Aberdeenshire – home to one of only four inaccessible lairs for this species.

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