Lesser bladderwort is thriving in a borough bog

A rare and fragile carnivorous plant is astounding conservationists by prospering beyond expectations on Wigan mossland.
Josh Styles returns to the mossJosh Styles returns to the moss
Josh Styles returns to the moss

Lesser bladderwort was planted in ponds at Astley Moss in 2018 after being extinct for more than 100 years. The planting is part of a reintroduction project which involved a number of plants and a rare butterfly.

Lesser bladderwort is one of the UK’s few carnivorous plants, feeding on aquatic insects in bogs.

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Josh Styles, project co-ordinator and ecologist on the North West Plants Initiative, planted around 20 strands of the spindly plant last year. He returned this week to find around 4,000 to 5,000 strands.

The moss is a former peat extraction site, owned by the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside. The Trust is attempting to reintroduce plants that will boost natural mosslands species like the Manchester Argus butterfly.

Working with the Trust, Josh has been planting another carnivorous plant, sundew, along with-white beaked sedge and hare’s tail cottongrass on the moss.

He said: “After a report that lesser bladderwort was doing exceptionally in a ditch at Astley Moss, I visited the site. To my absolute shock, I found the plant covering the full extent of the ditch, with an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 strands - there is probably a lot more as my visit was very brief. This is a substantial increase from the original 15 to 20 strands introduced last year.

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“It’s safe to say that this plant is well and truly re-established at Astley. Considering that the species was extinct in the area in 2017 and now there are an estimated 7,000 plants across Greater Manchester peatlands, I’d say that’s quite an improvement.

“I remain totally dumbfounded by such a population increase. I have been able to grow a large number of frail plants at my mum’s home, though for some reason I cannot seem to get plants anywhere near as healthy or numerous as those at Astley.”

This is great news for the Manchester Mosslands Reintroduction project, which takes in a number of sites. Officers are hoping that the bladderwort increases will be followed by successful reintroductions of other plants and the Manchester Argus in spring. The butterfly and many plants have been extinct on the mosses for 150 years.

The project is a collaboration between bodies including Lancashire Wildlife Trust, Natural England, North West Rare Plant Initiative, Wigan Council, Chester Zoo, RSPB, and Butterfly Conservation.