Dune gentian is an annual species which in the UK grows amongst short vegetation in dune slacks and other dune habitats. It is a small plant which flowers in late summer, with seeds germinating in the autumn or spring. Dune gentian is often found in association with autumn gentian (G. amarella), but the level of hybridisation between the two remains unclear.
The species is endemic to northern and north-western Europe, extending into eastern Russia, and is apparently rare and declining throughout its range. In Britain, material believed to represent dune gentian has been identified from a total of five sites in south Wales and three sites on the Scottish island of Colonsay. Of the four Welsh sites which still support the species, two are NNRs and support large numbers of plants, while the two other sites support much smaller populations. Extinction is thought to have occurred at two Scottish sites. Old records suggest that this species was also once present in Derbyshire and north Devon.
In GB dune gentian is classified as Vulnerable. It is specially protected under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Current factors causing loss or decline
The loss of vegetation of a suitable structure and successional stage as a result of undergrazing and dune system overstabilisation (a key factor in Wales).
Overgrazing. Continuous heavy grazing by sheep may have resulted in the loss of dune gentian from two sites on Colonsay. High levels of rabbit grazing may be an important factor in Scotland, although some rabbit grazing is beneficial for this species.
Hybridisation with autumn gentian may represent a threat to the long-term survival of dune gentian populations.
The afforestation of two of the Welsh sand dune sites may have resulted in the loss of some populations.
Landscape and drainage works associated with the construction of a golf course probably had an adverse effect on one of the Welsh populations.
In 1994, CCW commissioned research into the population genetics of dune gentian in Wales.
Beneficial grazing has been reinstated at one site in Wales and is continuing at another.
RBG Edinburgh and SNH have recently commissioned a report on the conservation of dune gentian as part of the Scottish Rare Plant Project.
During 1996, CCW commissioned a review of the causes and consequences of dune system overstabilisation in Wales.
All five of the extant and former Welsh sites and two of the three Scottish sites are notified as SSSIs.
Action plan objectives and targets
Develop and maintain viable populations at all extant sites.
Restore two new viable populations to former sites by 2003
Proposed actions with lead agencies
Policy and legislation
Following further survey and assessment, review the need for protection of this species under Annex II of the EU Habitats and Species Directive. (ACTION: CCW, DETR, NE, JNCC, SNH, SOAEFD)
Site safeguard and management
Seek to establish suitable grazing and allied management regimes at all former and extant sites. Where grazing is not possible, alternative management practices should be used if appropriate. (ACTION: CCW, SNH)
Ensure that further afforestation proposed in the vicinity of sites for dune gentian avoids any adverse effects to the populations. (ACTION: CCW, FA, FE, SNH)
Consider the management of forest areas adjacent to existing populations and mitigate possible adverse effects. This may include harvesting of some areas at the earliest opportunity. (ACTION: CCW, FA)
Species management and protection
Undertake trial management at sites in Wales and Scotland from which dune gentian has become extinct, with the aim of regenerating plants from the seed-bank. (ACTION: CCW, SNH)
Consider reintroducing dune gentian to historic sites in Wales and Scotland, should restoration of populations from the seed-bank fail. (ACTION: CCW, RBG Edinburgh, SNH)
Pending the outcome of current work commissioned by RBG Edinburgh, consider the introduction of plants at a suitable Scottish site following appropriate preparatory management. Cultivated material used for this purpose should be derived from plants close to the introduction site. The chosen site should be one at which autumn gentian does not occur and where a long-term management commitment is possible. (ACTION: RBG Edinburgh, SNH)
Ensure that all relevant landowners and managers are aware of the presence and importance of this threatened species. (ACTION: CCW, SNH)
Future Research and Monitoring
Collate information and undertake surveys where necessary in order to establish an accurate population size and distribution baseline. (ACTION: CCW, NE, JNCC, SNH)
Monitor extant, restored or (re)introduced populations on a regular basis for at least 10 years. (ACTION: CCW, RBG Edinburgh, SNH)
Undertake surveys of sites in Devon and Derbyshire from which dune gentian has been reported in the past. (ACTION: NE, JNCC)
Commission research into the threats posed to dune gentian by afforestation and overstabilisation of dune systems, and how to mitigate them. (ACTION: CCW, FA, JNCC, RBG Edinburgh, SNH)
Undertake research, in collaboration with European botanists, to examine the taxonomy, seed-bank and germination ecology, and European status of dune gentian. (ACTION: JNCC)
Communications and Publicity
Encourage exchange of information on the ecology of dune gentian and management techniques for its conservation between conservation managers in Wales and Scotland, and the relevant botanical experts. (ACTION: CCW, JNCC, RBG Edinburgh, SNH)
Use the conservation of dune gentian and other rare sand dune species covered by published action plans to illustrate the consequences of dune system overstabilisation for biodiversity. (ACTION: CCW, NE, JNCC, RBG Edinburgh, SNH)
Links with other action plans
Originally published in: UK Biodiversity Group Tranche 2 Action Plans - Volume I: Vertebrates and vascular plants (June 1998, Tranche 2, Vol I, p185)
Visit the ARKive website to view images and further information relating to this species