Did the stinking hawk’s-beard become extinct in the UK in 1980?

7th July 2010, Wednesday

I had a fascinating e-mail this morning from a resident at Dungeness reporting a number of stinking hawk’s-beards on their lawn.  This plant is reported to have become extinct in the UK in 1980 when the last Dungeness population died out, and has been subject to various reintroduction programmes since the early 1990’s, resulting in limited success at Dungeness, and a burgeoning population at Rye Harbour.  So it was surprising to find a new population of 2000+ plants, with their obvious white seed-heads today.

Stinking hawk’s-beard in seed

What was interesting was that whilst 1800 plants were on a patch of “lawn” developed on an old area of shingle beach, and is scarified each autumn to remove the vegetation, only 13 plants were found on the undisturbed shingle ridges nearby.  Clearly what this plant requires is abuse, regularly, to maintain a viable population, and shuns undisturbed shingle vegetation.

Stinking hawk’s-beard plot 

The other fascinating point is where did this population originate from? They are approximately 1.4 km from the various reintroduction plots, but only 0.4 km from a former old site.  Could these plants be survivors of the original Dungeness population clinging on, discretely, and could there be more in gardens around the shingle beach?  If you live there, watch out for the distinctive white seed-heads at the moment on garden lawns and patches of disturbed ground.

Many thanks to the people who drew my attention to this site today, and Dave Walker who recognised the plants over a garden wall.