Copyright: Jon Hickling
Purple ramping-fumitory was first recognised as a species separate from other fumitories in 1902. So far, it has not been found outside the British Isles. Its main strongholds in the UK are Cornwall and western Lancashire.
This plant is one of a suite of so-called ‘arable weeds’ whose declining fortunes have been linked with changes in farming practices over the last half century.
Purple ramping-fumitory is a branched, scrambling annual growing up to 1 metre in height. It has finely cut leaves and produces spikes of 15-25 pinkish-purple dark-tipped flowers.
Fumitory seeds appear to remain viable in the soil seed bank for many years and new plants can quickly become abundant in an area following disturbance of the soil. However, without continued disturbance (e.g. regular ploughing), or the habitat remaining open as a result of other factors, populations of plants rarely persist above ground for more than a few years.
Main Habitat(s): Arable Fields; arable field margins; other types of recently disturbed farm land (without spring/summer grazing); earthy sea-cliffs; earth works; waste ground; areas open to summer drought.
Purple ramping-fumitory is a UK BAP Priority Species (1). It is classified as Nationally Scarce (2) but the plant only receives general protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
It is difficult to tell purple ramping-fumitory apart from some other fumitories and this makes it problematic to assess population trends. However, according to maps in the current British Red Data Book (3) the species has been recorded from a total of 119 10 km squares in Britain and Northern Ireland but in 75 of these squares no records have been submitted since 1970.
Western Lancashire is the main area for this plant in the region although, since 1995, "small, transient populations" have been recorded from a number of localities in north Merseyside (4).
In Lancashire, most of the recent records for purple ramping-fumitory are from coastal areas between the River Wyre and the River Keer in the Districts of Lancaster and Wyre. In addition there are three scattered records from West Lancashire and South Ribble.
Data for Lancaster District (5, 6, 7 & 8) between 1976 and 1991 reported the species as occurring "in cultivated fields and on waste ground" in at least twenty-two 2 km squares. If this is taken into account, the Lancaster population must be considered to be of national significance.
Given that western Lancashire represents one of only two UK strongholds, western Lancashire should be the focus for particular conservation effort for the species.
Map(s): Records by 2x2 km Tetrad of Purple Ramping-fumitory
Current factors affecting the Species
According to the UK BAP (9), the factors causing the decline of this species are "poorly understood" but it is believed that the following have had a negative effect:
Additional factors identified in Lancashire include:
Current Action / Mechanisms
There is a national Species Action Plan for Purple ramping-fumitory. The lead organisation with responsibility to ensure the plan is implemented in England is English Nature. The conservation requirements of this species and a number of other 'arable weeds' will be investigated over the next few years. Purple ramping-fumitory along with some other plants will be the subject of surveys co-ordinated nationally by English Nature with some work being undertaken in Lancashire.
Measures to improve landholdings in ways that benefit threatened arable plant species may be eligible for funding through MAFF’s Countryside Stewardship scheme.
Guideline Ff2 in the Biological Heritage Sites (BHS) Guidelines (10) makes it possible that non-statutory wildlife sites can be designated in the county where non-introduced populations of this fumitory are found. BHSs are recognised within the statutory land-use planning system and are used by MAFF to target Countryside Stewardship.
Objectives, targets and proposed actions for purple ramping-fumitory in Lancashire
Links to other Action Plans: Arable & Horticultural Farmland HAP.
References & additional reading:
1. HMSO (1995) Biodiversity the UK Steering Group Report. Volume 2 Action Plans.
2. Stewart, A., Pearman, D.A. & Preston, C.D. (1994). Scarce Plants in Britain. JNCC
3. Wigginton M.J. (1999). British Red Data Books 1 Vascular Plants 3rd Edition, Joint Nature Conservation Committee
4. Environment Advisory Service (2000) Species Action Plan for Purple Ramping-fumitory in Consultation Draft of North Merseyside Biodiversity Action Plan.
5. Livermore L.A & Livermore P.D (1987). The flowering Plants and Ferns of North Lancashire. L. A. & P.D. Livermore.
6. Livermore L.A & Livermore P.D (1990a). Coastal Plants and Ferns of North Lancashire. L. A. & P.D. Livermore.
7. Livermore L.A & Livermore P.D. (1990b). Plants & Rust Fungi of the Dismantled Railway Lines in the Lancaster District. L. A. & P.D. Livermore.
8. Livermore L.A & Livermore P.D (1991). Lancaster’s Plantlife- Botanical Survey. L. A. & P.D. Livermore.
9. DETR (1998) National Species Action Plan for Purple Ramping-fumitory in UK Biodiversity Group Tranche 2 Action Plans. Volume 1 (pp 173 – 175).
10. Morries G., Jepson P. & Bruce N. (1998) Biological Heritage Sites Guidelines for Site Selection. Lancashire County Council.
Date: April 2001.