Plants are the fundamental basis
of all life on Earth. Meet Josh Styles.
And here they are. A 24-year-old botanist and self-confessed
plant obsessive from Cheshire. Nutrient-poor, wet and acid. He took me to the great outdoors.
Mmm, slurry. To see how he is fighting back
against extinction in his back yard. I feel like I am really helping with biodiversity here. You’re welcome, Earth. But first, a word from Josh’s mum. When Josh was a little boy, he had this
desire to look at plants and caterpillars. We thought he was perhaps going a bit funny, because he would stand and look at grass for hours and we thought “Something has got to be…”. But what he was doing, he was identifying
all the species of grass. We didn’t know at the time
and it just grew from there really. Carnivorous plants are typically associated with
these boggy, terrestrial environments. These are the semi-parasites. In 2017, Josh founded the
North-West Rare Plant Initiative, a conservation project in his local region. What I aim to do is conserve a total of
44 plant species that are really, really rare and almost extinct in the region
or threatened with extinction. You don’t strike me as the archetypal
UK botanist. I think most botanists unfortunately
are quite elderly. Is part of your challenge to get people more
interested in this world? Well, I hope so. Each leaf is characterised by a coating of
tubular hairs, each tipped with a gland that produces sticky digestive mucus. Our first stop was to a sand-dune habitat
in nearby Merseyside. This is Crosby Coastal Park,
managed by Sefton Council. It’s a very rare habitat with a lot of specialist
plants and animals growing here. Oh yes, here it is. This is probably one of the rarest
plant species in Great Britain. The entire UK population of dune wormwood.
Yes. I have had to obtain a special licence to sample it
and bring it into cultivation. Okay, this is obviously died back from winter, right?
Yes. It doesn’t look like much, not now, in this
environment at the moment. What does it matter if this survives or not? Well, it matters an awful lot. As well as losing them and the species that rely on them, we are losing a lot of untapped
pharmacological potential. Plants don’t tend to get very much funding and, because of that, a lot of species
on the Sefton coast alone in the past 50 or so years have gone extinct. There is a big difference when you are
talking about conservation between what we have here and a panda. Yes, I suppose so. You could argue that a lot of the target
species that I have, plant species, are more important than pandas because they play a more important role
in the ecosystems that they inhabit. They are really fantastic little plants. We are just going a little bit further ahead. Next stop: Risley Moss, a peat bog outside Warrington. What are we looking at here?
That is white beak-sedge. This was reintroduced in 2018
following 150 years of extinction in the county. This plant should be very, very abundant and unfortunately, because they drained all these peatlands it went extinct. So we are gonna distribute them further
along this mossland to a dispersal and make the plants do a bit better. So that’s a little propagule, so in the spring/summer that will turn into its
own biggish plant of white beak-sedge. Fantastic. Yeah. Okay, and I think over here it would be quite good.
I think so too. What value does it have beyond simply the plant itself? Well, it interacts with a whole
host of different organisms. There’s a very rare butterfly called a Large Heath. One of its listed food plants is white beak-sedge. It feels good to finally have done something positive
for the world we live in. Oh my god, look at me. Driving around the area, the scale of what
Josh is up against became clear. This all used to be peat bog. Peat bogs are
permanent carbon stores so they are really, really important. About 100, 150 odd years ago it was all drained
to convert it to agriculture. So you can see how extensive that habitat loss is. This is replicated all across the area
that you work, right? Yeah, over kilometres and kilometres. These are releasing carbon into the atmosphere, yeah. Josh couldn’t do his conservation work
without the support and collaboration of a number of local environmental organisations one of which is Chester Zoo
who have been breeding the rare butterfly. You are presumably one of the few people who
goes to a zoo and doesn’t have much interest in the animals. Haha, yeah. What is it? It’s Coast Slender Tufted-Sedge. While people were looking at the Asiatic lion,
it’s actually a very rare plant down here. Do you think then that this should be in there and the lion should be out here? Potentially. Maybe the first part but not the second part. I mean, yeah, that pink thing is nice innit? It’s just non-native trash. Non-native trash? Tell that to the butterfly. Oh my God. Do you turn your nose up at this sort of thing though? No, no, it’s great, it’s great, but I tend not to prefer
non-native species over native ones despite aesthetic qualities. You’re quite a patriotic botanist, aren’t you?
Yeah, yeah. In this enclosure are a lot of caterpillars, the large heath uses white beak-sedge
as a food plant and so both species interact in that way. When you first heard about Josh, what made you think
he is someone who deserves our funding? His level of knowledge is exceptional,
particularly as a botanist, I have never seen it in somebody of his age. And his dedication, motivation, is really
something that we can learn from. And we need people that are going to stand up
and be counted and lead the way for conservation, particularly now with the
crisis that we are facing. How much of an impact can you possibly make
in this small region when the Amazon is burning? I mean, both are significant problems… I think extinction at a regional level is a precursor to a more wider-reaching extinction event. Ah, this is all new. Our final stop was to Astley Moss, outside Wigan. This is part of a raised bog, a peatland and there are some very special plants
that I have reintroduced here. Okay, there is a good patch here
and there it is. This is what you are looking for basically.
Yes. This is bladderwort. This had been extinct in South Lancashire for about 150 years. Well, thanks to the extensive restoration work
that has gone on it’s been really successfully reintroduced. And what we’ve actually got here is bladderwort
running all the way down this channel. Yes, population estimate this year exceeds 29,000,
so a real success story. What’s your feeling when you come back here? Happy. They play really important roles
in this peatland community. They’re vital for other organisms and this is
their place, they should be here. Though the real change must come from the big
polluters, the corporations and politicians at the top of the tree, we all need to play a part in conserving the environment around us. Someone like Josh should be held up as an example of how specialised, localised, collaborative
initiatives can have a real impact in restoring the natural world.