WHEN housing developers build on every green space in Oxfordshire and the pollution from Botley Road turns the air into a smokey soup, who will be there to protect the county’s rarest and most precious endangered species?

The Floral Guardians, that’s who.

This band of unpaid defenders are the last bastion between some of Oxfordshire’s most beautiful and bizarre plants and extinction (in Oxfordshire at least).

Each guardian has their own species to defend – the startling crimson Pheasant’s Eye, whose Oxfordshire stronghold is a closely-guarded secret, the towering Greater Water Parsnip of North Oxford which grows up to six feet tall, or Port Meadow’s Creeping Marshwort.

But they are eagerly hunting for some new, younger members to help them in their fight.

The 12 guardians, who are all members of Oxfordshire Flora Group, must liaise with landowners who may or may not want an endangered species on their land, work out what the plant needs to survive, and see if the landowner will help provide that.

Chairwoman Susan Erskine said: “It sounds like a huge, weighty responsibility, and in a way it is.”

The group’s real “claim to fame” is the Creeping Marshwort – Apium repens.

In the whole of the British Isles, it is found only on Port Meadow and Binsey Green, and is disappearing from Binsey Green.

Almost unbelievably for a plant that only grows on a flood plain, it does not like flooding, at least not in the summer when the water is deoxygenated.

The group recently moved a small number of plants to a site in South Hinksey where it is still doing well, and working with Natural England they hope to eventually get it going in five sites across Oxfordshire. The small, green herb, related to carrots and parsnips, is thought to have survived in Port Meadow since the last Ice Age.

Mrs Erskine said: “Our members are all very dedicated but mostly retired – we need the younger generation in our group.”

Judy Webb, guardian of the Greater Water Parsnip, led a survey of populations in Old Marston on Saturday.

The Ashmolean Natural History Society of Oxfordshire was founded in the early 1900s and ran until the 1990s.

Out of that grew a group which was set up to look after rare plants.

In 2013 it changed its name to Oxfordshire Flora Group, which is still a branch of the Ashmolean group.

To find out more about becoming a member, email sallyabbey@btinternet.com