Minuartia smejkaliiis a postglacial flowering plant that is endemic to the Czech Republic. A type of sandwort, M. smejkalii is nowadays only found in two Natura 2000 network sites in the country. However, its population has undergone a 65% decline in the last five years and in some parts of the project sites it is already extinct. The main causes of this drop are forestry and associated natural processes, notably the increased formation of dense pine forests that create habitats not suitable for this plant, and human disturbance (unlicensed angling, fly tipping, vandalism and intensive collection of flowers).
The Life for Minuartia project aimed to rescue the priority endemic species, M. smejkalii, from the threat of extinction by enhancing its population at two Natura 2000 network sites. This would be achieved by addressing the main threats to the species and by establishing sustainable and practical management at the sites where it is found.
To achieve its main goal, the project would work towards the following objectives:
- Restoration of 17 ha of natural sites through various management best practices;
- Establishment of self-sustainable ex-situ conservation to be used for plant reintroduction;
- Direct enhancement of population size by sowing of M. Smejkalii seeds and reintroduction of plants on a site of recent extinction;
- Involvement of the local community in reducing vandalism and plant collection by applying a participatory approach that will be tested for the first time in the country context;
- Increased awareness of Natura 2000 and dissemination of results at local and EU level.
The project would contribute to the implementation of the EU Habitats Directive, by acting to improve the conservation status of a priority species of Community interest and by incorporating best practices in conservation. Preserving the endangered M. smejkalii would have a positive impact on the halting of biodiversity loss at both national and European level and thus will contribute to the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020.
The Life for Minuartia project achieved its objective and saved the priority endemic plant species Minuartia smejkalii from extinction in its two remaining Natura 2000 sites in Czechia.
The project team enhanced the plant’s in-situ population size by 134% (from 434 to 1 015 individuals) and secured viability of its several sub-populations. This was achieved through habitat management in two Natura 2000 sites (the SCIs “Hadce u Hrnčíř” and “Želivka”), based on an evaluation of the plant’s life cycle, identification of its critical phases, and a model of climate change. Specific habitat management actions included the introduction of regular mowing on 6.3 ha and a novel controlled forest grazing on a further 5 ha, the removal of plant overgrowth on 11.5 ha and the humus layer on 1.3 ha, thinning of the forest on 15.9 ha, the fencing of 4 small plots (under 100 m2) to reduce the pressure from game, and the installation of a road barrier. These actions to improve habitat were supported by the transplanting of over 3 300 seedlings of Minuartia smejkalii to reinforce the population.
The project team developed 21 private and public rock gardens, with approximately 5 000 flowering and reproducing Minuartia smejkalii individuals on 430 m2. These gardens provide seedlings for plant reintroductions, support the maintenance of the plant's genetic diversity in its native region, provide effective participatory public awareness-raising and education, and help prevent illegal plant collection in natural habitats. The project team also actively enhanced awareness about the unique serpentinite rock habitat in which the plant occurs, and the Natura 2000 network in general, through wide-ranging activities.
The project contributed to the implementation of the EU Habitats Directive. In addition, the project team developed the approved Management Plan for the Natura 2000 site “Hadce u Hrnčíř”, the Methodology of Care for Minuartia smejkalii, a general methodology on handling ex-situ species, and the specific Rescue Planting Plan for Minuartia smejkalii with a Czech legislative solution for this model threatened plant species. Both methodologies can inspire similar documents dealing with rare plant species at European level. The project team also conducted other maintenance work in existing habitats, and restored further areas of suitable rock substrate in the larger area.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).