From coast to summit - two Woodsia ferns
oblong Woodsia

There are two species of Woodsia ferns growing in the hills in Britain. These are small plants that would have been widespread as the ice was retreating over 10,000 years ago, but with a warmer climate have became much less common. Because of their rarity, Victorian collectors 'gathered' nearly every plant they could find. The Alpine Woodsia Woodsia alpina can be found in colonies of up to 20 plants and is comparatively not so rare. The Oblong Woodsia Woodsia ilvensis is now only found as a few clumps in Wales, the Lake District and Scotland, with fewer than 90 wild clumps in the whole of Britain. In some formerly well-known locations in the high hills the fern has long since gone. Both species are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and should not be collected. The Red Data list for 2005 classifies the Alpine Woodsia as near threatened, and the Oblong Woodsia as Endangered.

There is a conservation programme for the Oblong Woodsia at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. The wild plants are regularly monitored. A conservation collection is maintained grown from spores taken from the few remaining plants (under license). Some plants from this collection have been used for re-introductions into areas where the fern was once known. Research is underway into the conditions that this species needs to regenerate. Many of the surviving wild plants are probably very old and it might be that new plants are only produced after a series of exceptional seasons. Climate change could well be a threat to its continuing survival.

Measuring a re-introduced plant
Back of frond of Woodsia alpina
Sori of Alpine Woodsia