A CONSERVATION charity is attempting the largest transplant of one of England’s rarest and oldest lichens in a bid to protect its future.

The National Trust working with others is removing the lichen from a fallen veteran oak tree, thought to be between 200-300 years old, in the Lake District's Borrowdale Valley, and transferring it to dozens of nearby trees.

The lungwort lichen, Lobaria pulmonaria, a characteristic of the wildwoods that started establishing after the last ice age, has become increasingly rare in England since the 18th century as a result of air pollution and habitat loss. It is currently surviving at only a handful of sites in the Lakes.

The process, known as translocation, involves carefully removing it from the host tree, before reattaching to new trees by a range of means including wire mesh to hold it in place, staples or even glue. Without doing this, the lichen would die.

The trust is carrying out the work in partnership with the British Lichen Society, Cumbria Lichen & Bryophyte Group and Plantlife, and involved almost three square metres being removed and transplanted, resulting in over 100 translocations.

Maurice Pankhurst, Woodland Ranger at the National Trust says: “The communities of lichens and bryophytes in Borrowdale is one of the finest in northern Europe. Just as an art gallery would protect their collection of fine and rare paintings, it’s essential for us to protect these rare species.”

A previous attempt of a transplant of Lobaria in the Lakes back in the 1980s was only one per cent successful.