A shortly rhizomatous perennial of base-rich soils. In England it is a plant of the drier hummocks in basic flushes and runnels in damp upland pastures, and of steep, flushed, species-rich banks. In the Breadalbanes (Mid Perth) it grows on the periodically inundated ledges of mica-schist crags. Seed-set is poor. From 245 m at Orton (Westmorland) to 950 m on Beinn Heasgarnich (Mid Perth).
B. alpina sites have been lost from pastures through overgrazing, trampling by cattle and drainage, but ledge communities are largely unaffected. The overall distribution is unchanged from that shown in the 1962 Atlas.
European Arctic-montane element; also in N. America.
Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 18
Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0
Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0
Atlas Change Index: -0.1
RDB Species Accounts
Bartsia alpina L. (Scrophulariaceae)
Alpine bartsia, Bairtsia Ailpeach
Status in Britain: LOWER RISK - Near Threatened.
Status in Europe: Not threatened.
B. alpina has a long history in Britain, having been first noted by John Ray in 1668 "prope Orton in Westmorlandia", where it still occurs. It is a plant of moist basic soils in upland meadows and pastures, and of montane rock ledges, at altitudes ranging from 380 to 950 metres, most sites being between 600 and 800 metres. Most of its sites are in the Scottish Breadalbane mountains where nearly all its known colonies are in herb-rich swards on periodically-inundated ledges of calc-schist crags. A wide range of associated species may include Carex panicea, Dryas octopetala, Festuca vivipara, Geranium sylvaticum, Saussurea alpina, Saxifraga aizoides, Thalictrum alpinum and Trollius europaeus. In the largest Westmorland site, B. alpina grows in clumps on the drier hummocks within base-rich flushes and marshes, and in damp pasture, with such species as Festuca ovina, Molinia caerulea, Parnassia palustris, Potentilla erecta and Primula farinosa. Elsewhere, it occurs on species-rich flushed banks as, for instance, by the Tees.
It is a perennial hemi-parasite, with a wide range of hosts, including Andromeda polifolia, Astragalus alpinus, Betula pubescens, Pinguicula vulgaris and Vaccinium vitis-idaea. Flowers are produced between June and August, with pollination mainly by bumble-bees. Propagation seems generally to be by vegetative spread, and it is unclear how important seed is for maintaining populations. There can be substantial pre-dispersal loss of seed because of predation by the larvae of a species of micro-lepidoptera, and this predation also seems to reduce the germination of apparently undamaged seed (Lusby & Wright 1996). However, seedlings have been noted occasionally and, although their survival has not been monitored, their presence indicates that recruitment sometimes takes place by this means.
B. alpina has been recorded in about thirty localities in Yorkshire, Co. Durham, Westmorland, Perthshire and Argyll. Although there are only six sites for B. alpina in England, two of them hold large populations. At one site in Westmorland, in which the plant has shown an overall increase, more than 1,000 plants were counted in 1993. Further large populations occur in Co. Durham. However, two of the English sites are very vulnerable, and in the most southerly, near Malham, apparently only a few plants remain (10-12 noted in 1992 and 3-4 during an incomplete search in 1994). The two largest populations in Scotland comprise some 2,000-3,000 plants, but most number between 100 and 500 individuals. In the Ben Lawers area, searches in the 1980s and in 1992 of previously known or likely sites in flush-pasture failed to detect any plants, and it is possible that heavy sheep-grazing combined with drainage has caused the demise of most or all colonies in that area.
Light grazing and trampling by cattle or sheep are crucial for the maintenance of populations in hummocky flush-pasture, by keeping the lusher vegetation down and the habitat open (Pigott 1956), though stock should be removed during the flowering and fruiting period. Heavy poaching by cattle is, however, detrimental (Taylor 1987a). Probably the greatest threats to the English sites are an unsympathetic grazing regime, and excessive trampling of colonies by well-used paths. In Scotland, all Breadalbane sites are on ledges largely out of reach of grazing animals, and there seems little doubt that grazing restricts its occurrence on sites in Scotland.
B. alpina occurs in Greenland, around Hudson Bay (Canada), Iceland, the Faeroe Islands, Scandinavia, and eastwards to the Urals. It is present in almost all alpine areas of Europe, reaching 3,000 metres in the Alps. In Lapland, B. alpina occurs widely in forest mires with only very slight base enrichment.
M. J. Wigginton and G. P. Rothero
PLANTATT - Attributes of British and Irish plants. (.zip 1455KB) This dataset was compiled and published in 2004, and last updated in November 2008. Download includes an Excel spreadsheet of the attributes, and a PDF explaining the background and nomenclature. Note that the PDF version is the booklet as published, whereas the Excel spreadsheet incorporates subsequent corrections. A hardcopy can be purchased from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.
Atlas text references
Atlas of north European vascular plants north of the Tropic of Cancer. 3 vols,
, Königstein, (1986)
Vergleichende Chorologie der zentraleuropäischen Flora. Volume 2. 2 vols,
, Jena, (1978)
British Red Data Books. 1. Vascular plants, edn 3,
, Peterborough, (1999)