Extinct mountain plant reintroduced to secret location in north Wales

<span>‘The rosy saxifrage is about as native as you can get in the UK.’</span><span>Photograph: Wirestock, Inc/Alamy</span>
‘The rosy saxifrage is about as native as you can get in the UK.’Photograph: Wirestock, Inc/Alamy

A plant that has been extinct in the wild in Great Britain for more than 60 years has been reintroduced at a secret location.

The rosy saxifrage, a small mountain jewel plant, was last seen in the wild in 1962 in the Cwm Idwal nature reserve in Eryri. It is listed as extinct.

The horticulturist Robbie Blackhall-Miles, who helped to reintroduce the plant, said: “The rosy saxifrage is about as a native as you can get in the UK.”

His goal, working with the National Trust and Natural Resources Wales, is to restore some of the “missing” biodiversity to Britain by reintroducing the extinct rosy saxifrage to Eryri, or Snowdonia.

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It is part of a family of mountain plants that thrived when northern Britain was frozen over during the ice age. When the glaciers melted, the saxifrages flourished in the mountain environment.

The plant’s delicate appearance and beautiful flowers eventually made them popular among plant collectors, particularly Victorians, who picked them for private collections.

There is still a lucrative market for rare and special plants, often picked illegally and fetching thousands of pounds.

Habitat loss and poorly managed grazing in Eryri were the death knell for the plant.

In 1962, however, Dick Roberts, a teacher and conservationist, picked up a piece of a plant that had washed down a path on a school trip in Cwm Idwal. He took it home and planted it in his garden.

All the rosy saxifrage now in Great Britain stems back to that tiny plant, and about a decade ago Blackhall-Miles was given a cutting to care for.

“I feel quite humbled to be working with part of Dick Roberts’ legacy,” he said.

At a secret location in Eryri, people gathered in the rain, including the ranger Rhys Weldon-Roberts, to plant the rosy saxifrage in the wild. Weldon-Roberts will be monitoring the plant, wary of collectors.

“Hopefully the day comes when this is no longer rare and everyone who visits will be able to appreciate it,” he said.

Blackhall-Miles will also continue to monitor the saxifrage. “In Welsh, we have a wonderful word adferiad, which means restitution or restoration,” he continues. “I’m absolutely over the moon.”