Small fleabane in the New Forest

A close-up view of small fleabane in the New Forest, Hampshire

At the end of August, a rare and peculiar little plant emerges across the National Trust commons at Bramshaw: small fleabane. We are very lucky to have this protected plant residing on our New Forest commons.

Small fleabane pulicaria vulgaris is a small plant, with reddish stems and yellow flower heads. It is an annual, producing up to 10,000 seeds per average plant.

However, the seeds typically germinate in the presence of warm, moist, bare soil, which can be the result of seasonal poaching of land, stock feeding and disturbance by vehicles.

The fact that these soil conditions are necessary for the germination of this species can make the health of the small fleabane population symptomatic of New Forest management.

An endangered species

Prior to the nineteenth century, small fleabane was relatively common throughout Southern Britain, but today is one of Britain’s most threatened plant species, present on the IUCN Red Data List.

In 2009 there were an estimated 280,000 plants throughout Britain, with approximately 92% recorded on grazed New Forest commons. Every year the National Trust surveys its populations in the New Forest, which are some of the best in Britain. We also include other Schedule 8 plants such as Pennyroyal.

UK strongholds within the New Forest are National Trust-owned Cadnam and Penn commons. Present numbers here show a marked increase on last year, which is a positive for the New Forest's biodiversity and conservation value.