All of my work is ultimately aimed at conservation, from ecological assessment of development projects in which I am trying to achieve the best possible compromise between the needs of developers and those of biodiversity conservation to applied field conservation projects.
Below, I describe some of the work for which the focus is purely on conservation of species and through this, conservation of habitats and the biodiversity which depends upon them, including:
- Global conservation of water-starworts
- Re-creation of an extinct habitat in the Cotswolds
- Conservation of beautiful water-starwort (Callitriche pulchra)
- Conservation of Gloucestershire bryophytes
- Conservation of Damasonium alisma
- Conservation of Ranunculus ophioglossifolius

Data review and compilation

The first step in building a foundation on which to base conservation is the compilation of available information. All too often conservation work is undertaken without first establishing a baseline that will help explain why some actions may never succeed and why others (which may not necessarily seem obvious) will succeed.
Data compilation can also shed light on erroneous assumptions and concepts, particularly if the IUCN concept of a "low dispute tolerance" approach is employed. This means that the data are only accepted when supported by good evidence (such as voucher specimens, photographs or objective data).
It is striking that we have very little information on the ecological requirements of most wetland plants, even in the UK where they have been studied for decades and are used as indicators of a range of factors affecting water bodies. This is combined with a complete lack of systematic recording of wetland plants, such that we have no measure of trends in populations of these species. Generally, we only recognise that there is a problem either when the species has been the subject of a particular study or it has undergone a catastrophic decline. We have even less information on the distribution and status of freshwater algae for which we are only now beginnig to try to compile a list of those species which may be of conservation concern.
At an international level, while some countries have better information and a better recording system than there is in the UK, overall there is still a lack of reliable information aquatic and wetland plant ecology.
Ecological profiles
In the mid-1990s Tim Pankhurst and I developed the concept of Ecological Profiles in which the aim is to compile all available data on a species, as well as contacting people who may have unpublished knowledge of the species throughout its known range. The data are then reviewed employing a low dispute tolerance approach and the results compiled into an Ecological Profile which sets out the information using including the following sections:
  • Taxonomy and identification
  • Ecology
  • Distribution and status
  • Conservation
  • Recommendations

The last section should form the basis of a conservation strategy for the species.
To date, profiles have been prepared for: Alisma gramineum, Damasonium alisma and Luronium natans.
IUCN Species Survival Commission
The flaship project of the IUCN SSC is the Red List of Threatened Species. This is the foundation of global species conservation, the extinction threat categories enable people from global organisations, governments and conservationists to site managers to understand and respond to the needs of individual species, as well as species conservation as a whole.
IUCN Classes
Extinct (E)
Extinct in the Wild (Ew)
Critically Endangered (CR)
Endangered (EN)
Vulnerable (VU)
Least Concern (LC)
Data Deficient (DD)
Near Threatened (NT)
Threat classes in bold
To-date I have worked with IUCN to assess the extinction threat to aquatic and wetland plants in six regions:
- 400 species in Europe
- 100 species in New Zealand
- 200 species in the Indo-Burma Region
- 100 species in the Arabian Peninsula
- 200 species in the Tropical Andes
- 100 species in Canada
For more information on the IUCN Red List of Threatened species click
GlobalStrategy for Plant Conservation
The Convention on Biological Diversity included development of a a Global Strategy for Plant Conservation, available using the link below
Download the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation
Taking a species-based approach to conservation goes in and out of fashion, being replaced by ideas of site, habitat, natural area or catchment-based conservation, although in practice all of these approaches have merit and should be considered part of the whole approach to conservation. In many cases, although larger-scale action may be the ideal, without a good understanding of the requirements of the species potentially affected by conservation, we are largely unable to predict whether or not a particular approach will be effective. I have undertaken a number of studies into the ecology and/or conservation of particular species, including the following:
- Alisma gramineum NE Species Recovery Programme, ecological profile preparation
- Aquatic plant seed collection (for the Millennium Seed Bank)
- Coombe Hill Canal and Upper Lode, Gloucestershire Site Condition Monitoring
- Damasonium alisma NE Species Recovery Programme, ecological profile preparation
- Luronium natans LIFE project, also advice on management and conservation
- Lycopodiella inundata NE Species Recovery Programme
- “mud plants” in western continental Europe, a  status and ecology review and field survey
- Myriophyllum verticillatum survey of populations at Cherington Lake, Gloucestershire
- Pilularia globulifera "Back from the Brink Project"
- Potamogeton acutifolius NE Species Recovery Programme, development of a method to study natural population dynamics in a grazing marsh system
- Potamogeton compressus survey at South Walsham
- preparation of accounts for charophytes in the Gloucestershire Biodiversity Action Plan
- Ranunculus ophioglossifolius, Inglestone data review, preparation of a management plan, development of a reintroduction programme in collaboration with the Millennium Seed Bank and others
- Ranunculus subgenus Batrachium molecular and morphological study
- Ranunculus tripartitus Survey of Welsh populations and "Back from the Brink Project"
- Schoenoplectus triqueter NE Species Recovery Programme, review of conservation possibilities
- Senecio paludosus NE Species Recovery Programme
- SSSI feature wetland plants survey at Malltraeth Marsh, RSPB Reserve
- Tolypella intricata "Back from the Brink Project"
- Tolypella prolifera "Back from the Brink Project"
Three-lobed Water-crowfoot (Ranunculus tripartitus) Llyn Peninsular 2007
Pillwort (Pilularia globulifera) New Forest 2011
In the early 1990s, when I was beginning to learn to identify British aquatic and wetland plants, with the help of the late Nigel Holmes, one of the genera for which no-one could help was the water-starworts. So, I began to try to unravel the identification of the British members of the genus with the support of botanists such as Chris Preston and Nick Stewart. It soon became clear that to understand the British species, I would need to understand the European species and so I expanded my area of interest to include continental Europe.
With a grant from the BSBI, I was able to travel to a number of areas in continental Europe, collecting and studying Callitriche and in 2008 this led to publication of the BSBI handbook.
During my work on the European taxa, I had briefly investigated the global literature on the genus, particularly when C.brevistyla turned up. C. brevistyla was a terrestrial member of the genus found as a weed in greenhouses in Sweden and probably arriving there as a contaminant of plants from the Netherlands or Belgium. Comparison with the information available on other terrestrial Callitriche species showed that this was new to science and until a herbarium specimen from Sri Lanka was found in 2017 we had no idea of where it occurred in the wild. It now seems likely that it is endemic to Sri Lanka but we still have virtually no ifnormation on it.
The global review also helped explain the identification of species which have been recorded as aliens in Europe: C. deflexa and C. terrestris and led to me being asked to contribute both to the Flora of China and Flora of North America projects.
Callitriche brevistyla, habit by Fred Rumsey, seeds by R.V. Lansdown
The work for the Flora of China project was based entirely on review of herbarium specimens. It was particularly interesting because it led to description of three new species; C. fuscicarpa, C. glareosa and C. raveniana and enabled me to demonstrate that C. wightiana which had generally been dismissed as a synonym of C. stagnalis is a distinct species occurring in woodland pools in Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu. It also showed that there is massive variation within C. palustris with major differences in the width of the wing of the fruit, as well as in the development and dimensions of the anthers, stigmas and bracts.
Work for the Flora of North America project was also mainly based on study of herbarium specimens, but included fieldwork in the western coastal United States, British Coumbia, Missouri and Texas. Even in such a well botanised country it led to description of a new species within the C. hermaphroditica complex, as well as clarification of some tricky identification issues such as the distinctions between the terrestrial taxa, as well as between C. longipedunculata and C. marginata. However it also showed that the variation in C. palustris found in Asia is echoed in North America but appears to overlap with elements of variation in C. heterophylla.
Callitriche heterophylla subsp. heterophylla showing typical rosette leaf shape
In 2015 I received a grant from the Mohammed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund to prepare a Global Conservation Strategy for the genus. To do this, I needed to clarify the taxonomy and status of species throughout the Southern Hemisphere. With support from the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, I borrowed specimens from herbaria throughout the world and have spent the last six months reviewing these, identifying them where necessary. In this process, I have discovered approximately ten new species to science, three records new to different continents and have been able to compile information on the identification of all 75 species known throughout the world.

As part of this project, I also travelled to South Africa where I travelled with Rene Glen and her family to visit all the locations in Kwa-Zulu Natal and Eastern Cape Provinces from which Callitriche specimens had been collected. During this process, it became clear that there is only one native  species - C. compressa but that the South American species C. deflexa is established both in garden centres and botanic gardens and is spreading into the wild.
Callitriche peploides subsp. peploides, a typical terrestrial Callitriche
Callitriche compressa on sandy alluvium, Somerset East, Eastern Cape Province
There is still  much work to be done on the genus:
  • We need to clarify the true identity of taxa such as C. anceps and C. subanceps, as well as the full range of variation in C. palustris, using a combination of morphological and molecular methods.
  • We also need to clarify the taxonomy and identification of members of the genus in South America, Africa and Australasia. 
  • The terrestrial members of the genus are very poorly described, mainly because they have few features on which to base taxonomy, we need to use molecular and morphological methods to clarify relationships in this area of the genus.
  • The recent discovery of C. pulchra on Cyprus has extended its known range and reduced concern about its long-term survival but the need now is to obtain funds to implement the conservation action plan
  • C. mouterdei has only ever been recorded from two sites, one in southern Turkey and the other in Syria; it has not been seen since the early part of the 20th century and may well be extinct.
  • C. mathezii is classed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List and is another species for which we need to formalise a conservation action plan.
During compilation of data toward the basis for a bryophyte flora of Gloucestershire, it became obvious that one of the most significant losses to the bryophyte flora of the county was that of mud-capped walls.

Mud-capped walls were a by-product of road maintenance before the advent of cars and metalled roads but our understanding of exactly how they were created and maintained is limited because there is no-one alive who remembers the process. It is understood that over time, a certain amount of combined silt and dung would develop on tracks and at times someone would shovel this onto the walls running alongside the road. This served both to remove accumulated silt and dung and to strengthen the wall by applying weight from above to the “cocks and hens”, as the vertical stones along the tops of walls are known. We have no information on the frequency with which this was done and whether it was simply done by local individuals or a specific responsibility of those who maintained the roads.
Mud-capping of the walls apparently occurred throughout Britain and Ireland (and possibly further afield). That species such as Ceratodon conicus and Pterygoneurum lamellatum were restricted to walls overlying the oolite suggests that there was a chemical relationship, probably to the calcium in the oolite. A number of bryophytes which were specialists of this habitat are now either believed extinct in the UK or are considered declining, threatened or rare, including the Nationally Scarce Aloina ambigua, A. rigida, and Pterygoneurum ovatum and the Regionally Extinct P. lamellatum.
Conversation with Ellie Phillips, Conservation Officer for Cleeve Common raised the possibility of a project to establish experimental mud-capped walls on the common, capping existing walls. Funded entirely by the Cleeve Common Board of Conservators, in 2012, six walls (three on Cleeve Common and three on the nearby Longwood Farm with the kind permission of the owner) were capped. Capping involved covering a length of 5m of the top of the walls with a layer approximately 2 cm deep of a mixture of Cotswold oolitic limestone silt and horse dung (two sections also received a section with cow-dung).
In 2014, Cleeve Common Board of Conservators obtained funding from both Natural England’s Species Recovery Programme and the Cotswold Conservation Board’s Sustainable Development Fund towards the cost of continuing the pilot project on Cleeve Common.  Further stretches of wall were capped, testing combinations of sheep, cattle and horse dung mixed with oolite silt in order to determine the most effective mix to provide suitable conditions for target bryophytes. In tandem, material was collected from the Bristol population of C. conicus and brought into cryopreservation and in-vitro cultivation by Dr Margaret Ramsey at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.  The in-vitro material was amplified and planted out onto the mud-capped wall on Cleeve Common, trialling various introduction techniques from ‘plugs’ of protonema (see left) to ‘false seeds’ (alginate beads containing protonema). The preliminary results of this work are extremely encouraging; translocated material is surviving on the walls, and in some cases gametophytes are developing. As such Cleeve Common currently hosts the one of three UK populations of C. conicus, the others being the source population near Bristol and a new population found in Northamptonshire
By January 2016, the Ceratodon conicus had spread out from the points where we planted it to form a broad, dense sward over much of the wall (see right). Many other bryophyte species had also colonised, including scarce species such as Didymodon acutus and Microbryum floerkianum.  Most of the acrocarpous bryophytes appear to have colonised from wind-borne spores as they represent species not found either in the immediate area around the wall or the areas from which the dung or silt were sourced. However it is also clear that many vascular plant seeds (particularly grasses but also species such as Helianthemum nummularum) and some pleurocarpous mosses, such as Brachythecium glareosum, B. mileanum, B. rutabulum, Calliergonella cuspidata and Pseudoscleropodium purum, were able to survive transport through the animals from which the dung was sourced and thus colonised the wall.

It is of particular interest that there is no evidence that the different wall cap types (the different combinations of dung and silt) had any influence over the rate or extent of colonisation. The only major effect was that no bryophytes colonised the silt, probably because it was derived from ground rock and so contained no nutrients at all.
Many of the vascular plant had died back between February and July 2017, possibly because of extreme cold in February and March but more likely because of desiccation in the summer. By February 2017 the wall was almost fully covered by bryophytes and many of the acrocarpous moss species were fruiting (including Barbula convoluta, B. unguiculata and Funaria hygrometrica, see left and below right).Of particular interest was the fact that Ceratodon conicus was also fruiting abundantly. (below left).  This means that it is possible that if we can ensure that potentially suitable habitat is always available, either as mud-capped walls or quarries and other disturbed ground, the Gloucestershire population of Ceratodon conicus could now become self-sustaining.

With the succes of this stage of the project, we are now looking at the possibllity of further collaboration with Silvia Pressel and Jeff Duckett of the Natural History Museum  to try to bring on populations of other sarce mud-capped wall species - Aloina ambigua, A. rigida, Pterygonerum lamellatum and P. ovatum to introduce to the wall.  P. lamellatum is extinct in the UK and so, if we can obtain funding Silvia and Jeff's first step will be to try to grow plants from spores from UK herbarium specimens.
In 1969 H.D. Schotsman of the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris published her monographic account of Callitriche in Europe and in it described a new species; Callitriche pulchra within the C. hermaphroditica complex. Her description was based on a small number of specimens from the island of Gavdos, south of Crete and from the Cyrenaica region of Libya.  Schotsman visited Cyrenaica in 1969 and found populations of C. pulchra in three pools in karstic limestone.
In 1996 C. pulchra was found in six pools in karstic limestone on Gavdos in a study by Erwin Bergmeier. In 2007, a team from the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania (MAICH) surveyed more than 70 pools on Gavdos and found more populations of C. pulchra, documenting and publishing an account of the vegetation of the pools. Unaware of the MAICH work, I visited Gavdos in 2009 and despite extensive searching, found only one population of C. pulchra in a single pool, publishing a pessimistic account of the status of the species in the Greek Red Data Book.
for the PTES website click
Callitriche pulchra Agios Ioannis, Gavdos 2015
In 2014 I was awarded a grant from the People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) to assess the conservation status of C. pulchra of Gavdos. In March 2015, with the help of Evangelia Kallinikos, the mayor of Gavdos, Ioannis Bazos of the University of Athens and I were able to document more than 300 pools in the karstic limestone, including 101 populations of C. pulchra in nine main areas.
In April 2015, I received a specimen of C. pulchra from a pool in karstic limestone on Cyprus found by Kyriakos Kefalas, significantly extending the known range of the species. Kyriakos will survey other limestone outcrops in Cyprus in 2016 with the hope of finding more populations of C. pulchra.
So the current situation is that C. pulchra is relatively secure on Gavdos at least in the near future, as far as I can establish the Libyan populations have not been documented since 1969 and may have been lost, particularly given the political upheavals in the country. There is a small population on Cyprus but we do not yet know how secure it may be.

There is still work to be done, to ensure protection of the pool complexes on Gavdos without adversely affecting the livelihoods of the residents of the island, but the future of C. pulchra on Gavdos is reasonably secure. I have recently finished preparing a conservation strategy for C. pulchra detailing the action needed in Cyprus, on Gavdos and in Libya, we now need to seek funding to implement the actions recommended.

Pool in karstic limestone, Agios Panteleimonas, Gavdos looking toward the Lefka Ori (White Mountains) of western Crete
As far as we know, C. pulchra only occurs in pools on karstic limestone. These pools develop as rainfall which has become acid by acquiring CO2­ from the air, collects in hollows and over long periods, dissolves away the rock to increase the depth and retention capacity of the hollow. It appears very likely that the process of pool formation and subsequent succession follows the order outlined below:
1.   Shallow hollows which barely retain water during rainfall
 2. Shallow pools which retain water for a few days following rain
3.  Pools which are deeper and support some wetland plant species
4.  Deep pools supporting only obligate aquatic plants
5.  Pools rendered shallow by build-up of sediment
6.  Hollows which have succeeded to terrestrial vegetation
7.  Hollows only containing terrestrial vegetation
Thus, at any time, any suitable area of limestone pavement may include hollows in all of these stages (and anything in-between). Any plant which is dependent upon one or more particular stage(s) in this process must also be able to move between pools as they become suitable or unsuitable. C. pulchra is dependent upon stages 3-5 of this process and over very long periods, potentially of hundreds of years, must be able to colonise new pools as they develop from stage 2 to stage 3.
karstic limestone dotted with pools in various stages of development, Agios Panteleimonas, Gavdos
On moving to Gloucestershire in the early 1990s I went on occasional excursions in the county with the Gloucestershire Bryophyte Group led by Peter Martin, the county recorder for the British Bryological Society (BBS) and the Gloucestershire Naturalists' Society (GNS). My aim was to try to learn to identify bryophytes, mainly for the purposes of river surveys. Gradually I started to compile information on bryophytes in the county so that I could target the bryophyte "hotspots" whenever I had a free moment. I was helped in this by people such as Mark and Clare Kitchen and Sam Bosanquet who sent me copies of publications relating to the bryophytes of the county.
Over time this data compilation formed the basis of a working flora of the bryophytes of Gloucestershire. The first thing that became obvious was that recording in the county had focussed very strongly on a small number of sites which were known to be rich, particularly the Symonds Yat - Lady Park Wood area. The rest of the county was woefully under-recorded with the only other documentation being from Peter's excursions. I therefore started recording on a more systematic basis, spending a few hours in a tetrad (2 x 2 km Ordnance Survey grid square). The map to the right shows the distribution of records in June 2015, this includes all records and when only records collected since 1990 are shown, some of the gaps are more significant.
In general, a typical tetrad in the Cotswolds or the Forest of Dean will support a minimum of 50 species and most, more than a hundred. In contrast, tetrads in the Severn Vale may have as few as 40 species.
An annotated checklist of the bryophytes of Cleeve Common, Gloucestershire
For more information and to order click
In 2013, a grant from the GNS enabled me to pull together the data that I had compiled and collected to prepare a Red Data Book (RDB) of Gloucestershire Bryophytes, ultimately published as a special issue of The Gloucestershire Naturalist No. 25. In this, I set out the known occurrence of all the threatened bryophytes recorded in the county, together with information on their habitat and action proposed for their conservation. At the same time, my work with Ellie Phillips on Cleeve Common enabled us to publish An annotated checklist of the Byophytes of Cleeve Common.
Another element of the bryophtye conservation work in Gloucestershire is a programme of monitoring the re-establishment of Sphagnum species in an area of recent clearfell near Foxes Bridge Bog in the Forest of Dean. Apart from Sphagnum denticulatum, S. palustre and S. fimbriatum, Sphagnum species are fairly rare in Gloucestershire, with only two populations known in the county east of the River Severn. Foxes Bridge Bog supports nine species, including two peat forming species: S. capillifolium and S. papillosum.
The next stage in this work is to produce an Action Plan for the conservation of bryophytes in Gloucestershire. This will, at least initially, be a compilation of the actions propose in the RDB. However, ultimately the aim would be to hold a workshop involving land-owners, site managers and conservationists to draw up firm plans for conservation action.
A provisional Red Data Book of Gloucestershire bryophytes
For more information and to order click
Since 2013 I have been working on the conservation of starfruit (Damasonium alisma) for Natural England, including preparation of an Ecological Profile and a number of small research projects. I have also recently prepared a global Conservation Action Plan as the first in a series to be published by the FPSG.
D. alisma has two distribution centres; a western area from England south through France to Portugal and probably to Italy and an eastern area from the eastern Ukraine through southern Russia to western Kazakhstan and possibly south as far as Turkey. It has been recorded from eighteen vice counties in England from East Kent to South Hampshire north to Shropshire and Yorkshire.
D. alisma is currently classed as Near Threatened at a European and Mediterranean level and Vulnerable at a global level by IUCN. It is listed in the Red Data Books in England, France and the Ukraine and is protected by law in France and Britain. D. alisma has declined throughout its range, particularly in England where most populations in northern and western parts were lost before the beginning of the 20th century and by the 1990s plants grew only intermittently at a few sites in the home counties. The main factors contributing to the decline of D. alisma in Britain before the mid-20th Century were upgrading of roads, the decline in reliance on horses for transport and large-scale movement of stock on foot, combined with provision of drinking troughs, all of which reduced the need for stock-watering ponds as well as a decline in seasonally poached areas along roads. In the 20th Century, the most significant factors have been
  • the general “tidying up” and intensification of use of the countryside,
  • modification of seasonal ponds for recreational use,
  • the increase in semi-domesticated wildfowl using ponds,
  • the decline in cattle grazing of unimproved pasture and decline in poaching of ponds,
  • a general increase in tree cover around ponds
  • the occurrence of perennial vegetation within ponds,
  • the widespread increase in the nutrient status of ponds and other waterbodies.
D. alisma naturally occurs in complexes of wetlands supporting dynamic metapopulations, in which plants may not grow in every population each year but every year a similar number of populations will include plants. For a metapopulation to function something must enable dispersal of seed. D. alisma seed probably travel on the pelt of large herbivores, as well as being carried internally or externally by ducks. The decline in movement of animals between waterbodies, particularly in southern England, will also have contributed to the decline of this species. Unfortunately metapopulations have broken down in England and throughout much of France with healthy metapopulations only known in a few areas in western France.
Typical habitat for D. alisma involves small field ponds in heathland or cattle-grazed unimproved pasture or poached areas within the draw-down zones of large waterbodies, although in western France it occurs in poached gateways and tracks which are deeply inundated in winter. It has also been recorded from ponds in arable fields, a seasonally inundated pit created by sand extraction, inundated tractor ruts, ditches and streams, but all of these appear to be sub-optimal. As is the case with a number of mud-plant species, D. alisma shows no particularly strong relationship with soil types, soil chemistry, substrate type or the nutrient status of the water in which it occurs, although it is possible that it is adapted to naturally eutrophic water bodies on acid substrates. The most important stage in the life-cycle of D. alisma is the seed bank because it occurs in habitats which are constantly either undergoing seral succession toward closed vegetation or subject to a process such as poaching or ploughing which suppresses perennial vegetation and arrests seral succession. Little is known about the seed-bank behaviour of D. alisma, except that whilst it can certainly show extremely long seed dormancy it is also likely that many seed are lost from the seed bank each year. There is some evidence to suggest that predation, particularly grazing of the developing fruit, may influence the survival of this species, however the effects are likely to be insignificant compared to those of habitat loss and degradation.
There have been extensive efforts to restore and introduce populations of D. alisma to sites in England, including mechanical and manual digging out of substrate, hand-pulling vegetation, planting and introduction of seed. In most cases, at best, these have resulted in a short period of recovery or growth of plants but none have had any long-term success. There is an urgent need for a programme of research and action to attempt to halt and reverse the decline in D. alisma populations. This needs to include clarification of the species status in southern France, Portugal, Italy, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkey; research into the factors enabling persistence of self-sustaining populations in the core of its range, seed bank behaviour and the effects of different management practices, particularly more intensive poaching of ponds and opening up habitat than has been practised to-date as well as establishment of a practical and effective monitoring protocol throughout the range of the species.
Adder’s-tongue-leaved spearwort or Badgeworth buttercup (Ranunculus ophioglossifolius) has a predominantly Mediterranean distribution; it is abundant in the Iberian Peninsula and occurs from Mediterranean France, Corsica and Sardinia east through Italy, the Balkans and Turkey to parts of The Levant, including Israel, Lebanon, the occupied Palestinian Territory and Syrian Arab Republic. It also occurs in western North Africa, in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Western Sahara. In Europe it extends northwards through parts of France, mainly from the Aquitaine north to Brittany along the coast and inland along the Loire to the Jura, the northern limits of its range extend east from central France through Hungary and Romania to the Crimea. There is an isolated population on the Swedish Island of Gotland. It has been introduced to New Zealand, where it occurs on North Island in ditches and swamps in Te Kuiti and Kawhia. It is considered to be of Least Concern in North Africa and the Mediterranean, Endangered in Croatia and Critically Endangered in Sweden. When considered as a single taxon, its broad distribution and abundance throughout much of the Mediterranean mean that it would be considered to be of Least Concern by a global Red List Assessment.
In Britain it is currently known from two sites; a Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust nature reserve at Badgeworth, near Cheltenham and a single pond on Inglestone Common in South Gloucestershire. In the past it was also known from a second site on Inglestone, a site in Dorset and another site on the edge of the New Forest in Hampshire. It is protected in the UK under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). The population at Badgeworth has been intensively managed for decades with removal of competing grasses by hand and usually supports vast numbers of R. ophioglossifolius plants. At Inglestone it has never been known to be abundant and now only grows intermittently, mainly in response to management. Neither of the populations represents a dynamic metapopulation.
Typical R. ophioglossifolius can be distinguished from R. flammula by the papillose achenes, although it has been suggested that British material is typically less papillose than continental material. An additional feature is the size of the flowers and the fact that the achenes tend to show more green at the centre of flowers as they mature than is the case with R. flammula. R. sceleratus also shows this green at the centre but differs in the massively elongating head of achenes. R. lingua is a tall, upright species which does not resemble R. ophioglossifolius. The suggestion that the cordate leaf base of R. ophioglossifolius can be used to distinguish it from R. flammula is erroneous, although the production of flaccid elongate petioles on floating leaves by R. ophioglossifolius may be useful.
R. ophioglossifolius is a classic “mud plant” in that it germinates and starts to develop in water but typically fruits after the water has dried out. It is therefore typically found in ephemeral water bodies, although in areas where it is particularly abundant it may grow in permanent water bodies where there is some level of substrate disturbance. Throughout most of its range, R. ophioglossifolius grows in sites or habitats which are subject to extremely intensive poaching or similar substrate disturbance, even more so than other mud plants such as Damasonium alisma, Lythrum hyssopifolia, Limosella aquatica and Callitriche palustris. A small dew pond in the Parc Naturel Regional de la Brenne was poached by cattle in the summer to a point where the substrate was reduced to a liquid and the only vegetation was tiny R. ophioglossifolius plants, each of which was flowering and setting seed. In a low-lying marshy are near Puebla de Don Rodrigo in Estremadura Province, central Spain, most of the fields are ploughed at some stage and the vegetation is dominated by mud plants such as Baldellia ranunculoides subsp. ranunculoides, Callitriche brutia var. brutia, C. regis-jubae, C. stagnalis, Illicebrum verticillatum, Isolepis setacea, Juncus capitatus, J. pygmaeus and Ranunculus longipes, in this area Ranunculus ophioglossifolius is one of the most abundant species.
Before the installation of water troughs on the Inglestone Common,
cattle depended upon the ponds for water throughout the year. It is
likely that during the winter, access to the ponds by cattle would have
been relatively infrequent, but as the year progressed and the main part
of the common dried out, the ponds would have been increasingly
important. In dry summers, at least until 1999, the pond east of Lance
Coppice was poached to the point of being entirely liquid mud by
After many years of neglect by conservation organisations, South Gloucestershire Council has developed a long-term conservation plan for R. ophioglossifolius at Inglestone through the work of Ellie Phillips, based around restoration of historic habitats through scrub clearance and cattle poaching of small wet hollows on a loop around one of the forest blocks which make up Lower Woods NNR.
Between late 2015 and mid-2016, seed from the Millennium Seed Bank collection were germinated and potted on as "plugs" which could be planted as individuals or groups of plants. These were then grown on by Bristol Zoo Gardens until they were flowering, at which point a group of people gathered to plant them into the loop. The image on the left shows the planting team on the 24th May 2016, left to right: Richard Lansdown, Robert Moreton (South Gloucestershire Biodiversity Action Group), Dave Collingbourne (Natural England), Christina Reade (Bristol Zoo Gardens), Mike Adams (Bristol Zoo Gardens), Ann Harris (South Gloucestershire Council), Fran Dunn (Freshwater Habitats Trust), Neil Lodge (Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust) and Christopher Cockel (Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew; Millennium, Seed Bank).

A total of approximately 250 plants was introduced to a range of flushes and pools throughout the loop. Their progress was then monitored every month until October 2016. The image below left shows the team planting, below right is a recently planted individual.
For us, the most important question was not how many plants survived or whether a particular approach to planting was most effective, but how many seeds entered the seed-bank from the plants introduced in 2016, because these would be the resource from which a self-sustaining population might be estalbished.  Therefore, rather than count the plants, we counted the number of fruiting seed-heads developed over the whole loop as the summer progressed. With an average of 16 seeds produced per head, we would then be able to calculate the overall contribution of these plants to the seed-bank around the  loop.

Interestingly, following the initial scrub clearance work around the shop pond, the cattle started to move through the pond when crossing the common. As a consequence, twenty R. ophioglossifolius plants grew in the original site  - "the shop pond" in 2016 - the largest number recorded since 1999. However, these would still not be able to colonise the loop because of the deistance from the shop pond to the next patch of suitable habitat.
Monitoring showed that although quite a high proportion of the plants that we introduced died, most of them survived and continued to flower and set seed throughout the next four months, eventually dying off in September. Counts of seed heads enabled an estimate of 60,000 seeds set into the loop over the summer of 2016.

A site visit in November 2016 suggested that there had been flushes of germination from the seeds set during the summer, often with clumps of germinands growing where individual seed heads had collapsed and lain on the ground.

A visit in March 2017 then showed that there had been good germination, with clumps of plants in about 14 of the flushes and ponds where we planted them. The image on the left shows a clump of plants in March 2017, almost certainly germinating from a point where a seed head collapsed in the autumn of 2016.