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97-year-old botanist calls attention to rare and overlooked cause of extinction: 'This is our heritage'

It's an inspiration for the rest of us to be more mindful of our surroundings.

It's an inspiration for the rest of us to be more mindful of our surroundings.

Photo Credit: iStock

England's dwarf milkwort may have no greater friend than nearly 100-year-old flower finder Margaret Bradshaw, who has been scouring the Teesdale countryside for blooms that are becoming rarer finds.  

Bradshaw's work in northern England was recently highlighted by the Guardian. The botanist, at 97, has spent decades trying to figure out why a list of unique flowers, some that only exist in the region being studied, are disappearing. 

The dwarf milkwort's numbers, for example, are down 98%, according to the story.

"This is our heritage, this unique assemblage of plant species, mine and yours," Bradshaw said in a book she penned on the subject, quoted by the newspaper. 

Her efforts during the years have been extensive. In addition to her 288-page book, she has a detailed 12-page report on her research method and findings. It includes in-depth maps, species descriptions, and other key details. Some of the plants she is studying have been a part of the Teesdale landscape for 12,000 years. 

Page eight of the document, titled "Evidence of Decline," is of particular note. A group of five species surveyed from 2002-2010 declined by 66%, on average, compared to a 1968-1977 study. Hoary whitlowgrass was noted as essentially wiped out, per the chart. There are 28 species facing a similar fate. 

The reasons for the decline are varied. Bradshaw told the Guardian that our overheating planet's impact needs to be researched more. Fewer sheep grazing the countryside has allowed taller grass to smother some of the flowers. Rabbits and artificial fertilizers may also play a role, per the Guardian. 

Bradshaw first learned about the Teesdale flowers as a college student around eight decades ago. 

"It stuck in my mind," she told the newspaper about the region. "I knew it had a special flora." 

She is pictured in the story riding horseback across the countryside (part of a 55-mile trip) raising money for a trust she established for the Teesdale flora. It's part of a mantra focusing on action over indifference. On the cover of her report, she is shown looking down on flowers held in her hands, smiling as if they were gold nuggets. In reality, the plants are likely more important to Bradshaw than precious metals. 

"Keep at it," she said in the story as a call to action. "Don't sit down and just watch the telly." 

It's an inspiration for the rest of us to be more mindful of our surroundings. From promoting flower health to sustainable shopping habits, there are simple ways to make an impact that can even save you money. 

Native flower health is important outside of England, too. That's because the blooms help local pollinators, creatures that are crucial to our food chain. Simply spreading a seed packet of certain species can help the ecosystem flourish. 

For Bradshaw's part, working with sheep farmers to better manage grazing habits has helped some of the Teesdale flowers rebound. The Guardian also credits the example she has set for other botanists, some of whom have learned from the work, and have taken an interest in the region's blooms. 

Bradshaw is relying on the next generation to reach the finish line, as noted in her book. 

"Now it is up to you," she wrote as an ending, per the Guardian.

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