A loosely tufted but slender perennial herb that has only ever been known in Britain from Widdybank Fell, where it grows in open, gravelly flushes and eroding margins of sikes on metamorphic sugar limestone. The plant is not a strong competitor and is mainly associated with hummock-forming mosses and species such as Carex capillaris, Juncus triglumis, Minuartia verna and Primula farinosa. Upland, from 490 to 510 m on Widdybank Fell (Co. Durham).
There is no change in distribution from the 1962 Atlas.
Circumpolar Arctic-montane element.
Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 1
Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0
Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0
RDB Species Accounts
Minuartia stricta (Sw.) Hiern (Caryophyllaceae)
Alsine stricta (Swarz) Wahlenb.
Status in Britain: ENDANGERED.
Status in Europe: Not threatened.
One of our rarest, but least conspicuous, plants, M. stricta is famously confined to Widdybank Fell in Co. Durham. James Backhouse Jr. generously attributes its discovery to G.S.Gibson of Saffron Waldon, who was accompanying him on a survey of that area in 1844 (Graham 1988). A specimen of the puzzling plant was sent to J.D.Hooker, who identified it as Alsine stricta. It occurs sparingly in the open gravelly and stony flushes, and eroding margins of three sikes, which are associated with outcrops of sugar limestone at 490-510 metres. These wet, soft areas of oozy mud and rubbly limestone are only partially vegetated, and are characterised by scattered large hummocks of the mosses Catoscopium nigritum and Hymenostylium recurvirostrum. M. stricta is usually confined to a narrow zone around the base (less commonly the sides and tops) of the moss hummocks, and accompanying species may include sparse occurrences of Carex capillaris, C. viridula ssp. brachyrrhyncha, Juncus alpinoarticulatus, J. triglumis, Kobresia simpliciuscula, Minuartia verna, Primula farinosa, Saxifraga aizoides, Thalictrum alpinum and Tofieldia pusilla (Clapham 1978; F.J.Roberts, pers. comm.). It cannot withstand much competition.
M. stricta is sometimes perennial, though may often behave as an annual. Its frequency fluctuates from year to year, presumably depending on the success of germination and survival of seedlings. Seeds can remain viable for at least five years in the soil (Pigott 1956).
The populations on Widdybank Fell appear in recent years to have been relatively stable in numbers, though individual colonies have fluctuated quite markedly, even doubling in size over a three year period, but then returning to former numbers. Monitoring in 1985, 1988, 1992 and 1994 has revealed totals of 280, 311, 374 and 282 plants (S.Headley, pers. comm.). Because of the very fragile habitat, a census is not carried out every year.
The main potential threat to M. stricta is likely to be from visitors trampling the fragile community of the gravel sikes. This could rapidly lead to severe damage, and the current restriction of access to the site is essential. There is no evidence that sheep-grazing at its present levels is adversely affecting the population.
M. stricta occurs throughout arctic and sub-arctic Europe, primarily in Norway and the Urals south to 60°N. It also occurs in Sweden, Iceland, Svalbard, Greenland and arctic North America. Though formerly known in the mountains of south-west Germany and in the French and Swiss Jura, it is probably now extinct in those areas.
M. J. Wigginton
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.