Call for volunteers to help preserve rare plants growing in Bray

Volunteers will soon have the chance to help out on a site of ecological importance in Bray which is home to a series of rare wildflowers.

NatureBureau is managing the field, which adjoins the River Thames to the south-east of the village, on behalf of Eton College.

The plot is the sole Berkshire locality for the nationally rare pennyroyal Mentha pulegium plants (below), a species included under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and listed in the British Red Data Book of plants.

Pennyroyal is a perennial of pond or lake margins and damp depressions and was formerly a common plant in most counties in England and Wales.

But during the course of this century, it suffered a decline largely as a result of the cessation of grazing over lowland commons, and the overgrowth by tall vegetation and scrub.

Today, pennyroyal distribution is limited to just a handful of sites including Bray, as well as some in Cornwall, the New Forest and a single site in Wales.

The Bray site pennyroyal population was discovered in 1967 and Bray field was awarded its designation as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in 1991.

As an SSSI, management of the land is carefully regulated by an agreement between Eton College and Natural England and in 2012, NatureBureau was contracted by the college to take over management activities.

It conducts an annual survey which helps to determine changes in pennyroyal population sizes and distribution, and makes recommendations on management activities which should be implemented.

Due to the plant being found in heavily disturbed areas, NatureBureau implemented a cattle grazing regime, with cattle breeder Felicity Wise providing livestock to graze the land.

Alongside the grazing regime, scrub removal has also taken place, and a tractor has been used to create ruts within wet areas where pennyroyal was not present,

The survey conducted in late summer 2021 demonstrated an increased pennyroyal presence across the site when compared to previous years.

This spring, NatureBureau will be hosting a volunteer day where enthusiasts can help to remove the remaining ragwort plants from the site.

NatureBureau ecologist Kristina Wood said: “We hope that following the removal of ragwort we can implement a mixed-grazing regime of both cattle and horses, which has been long implemented on one of the most successful pennyroyal sites in the New Forest.”

Anybody interested in being part of the volunteer group, or any horse owners who may be interested in grazing their animals on the site, should contact kristina@naturebureau.co.uk

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