An extinct-in-the-wild plant has found its way back onto the UK mainland, but its exact whereabouts remain shrouded in secrecy for its protection. While it may seem like just a lone plant, in a country where one in six species faces endangerment, every step towards conservation counts. The momentous occasion of its return to native soil was witnessed firsthand as pioneering horticulturist Robbie Blackhall-Miles orchestrated the event.

My introduction to Robbie occurred at his sanctuary for imperiled plants nestled in the serene corners of North Wales. The treasures he safeguards are so priceless that insurance won’t even cover them. He urges caution in divulging too much, wary of the thriving illegal market for rare botanical specimens fetching exorbitant sums.

Surrounded by the tender care of seedlings and the earthy aroma of soil, Robbie’s passion for botany is palpable. His journey into this world began with childhood aspirations of animal conservation and a detour through modeling. Now, he channels his fervor into his role with Plantlife, a conservation organization, aiming to piece together the intricate puzzle of British biodiversity by reintroducing the extinct rosy saxifrage, a gem of the mountains, to Eryri, or Snowdonia.

The last sighting of the rosy saxifrage in its natural habitat on UK soil dates back to 1962, nestled somewhere within the Cwm Idwal nature reserve in Eryri. Venturing to this sacred ground alongside Robbie and National Trust ranger Rhys Weldon-Roberts unveiled a landscape teeming with rare survivors. Reflecting on my past journey through these mountains, I realized how oblivious I had been to the delicate ecosystems thriving beneath my feet.

Though labeled as extinct, Robbie, armed with climbing expertise, persisted in his search. Six summers spent scaling sheer cliffs, searching tirelessly for a trace of the rosy saxifrage, just in case. As we perched on rocks overlooking the breathtaking vista, Robbie described the plant’s resilience, harking back to its Ice Age origins, and lamented its decline due to habitat loss and unchecked human activity.

The tale takes on a mythic quality with the discovery by Dick Roberts in 1962. A piece of the plant, salvaged from a path, found its way into his pocket, ultimately preserving the species through cultivation. Decades later, a cutting from this lineage found its way into Robbie’s care, a poignant connection to the legacy of conservation.

The reintroduction of a plant with direct genetic lineage to its native counterpart is a rarity, marking a significant milestone in conservation efforts. However, in the face of alarming biodiversity loss in the UK, the return of a single plant serves as a poignant symbol rather than a panacea. Professor Julia Jones, a leading voice in conservation, emphasizes the importance of this gesture as a stark reminder of the losses endured and the work ahead.

As the culmination of a decade-long endeavor unfolded in the rain-soaked landscapes of Eryri, emotions ran high. Amidst the secrecy and the cautious optimism, Robbie tenderly placed the precious plants into their native soil, a testament to resilience and restoration. For him, it was more than a career highlight; it was a deeply personal journey of restitution, celebrated with a Welsh word that encapsulates the essence of the moment: adferiad, or restoration.