Brown galingale is a small tufted sedge, with three-angled stems that bear narrow, dull grey-green leaves (2). The flowers are tiny and covered by bracts (known as glumes), which are brown, hence the name, brown galingale (7).
Brown galingale is an annual species, and germinates in early summer (3) when the seed-bank is exposed by retreating water levels (6). In Britain, flowers, which are wind-pollinated, are produced from July to September, and fruit is set soon after flowering (6). Whilst most seeds probably do not disperse far, dispersal by floodwater along river valleys is likely, and seeds have been found in mud attached to birds (6). The life-cycle can be completed within just 4 months (6), and it seems that the seeds are able to lie dormant in the soil for some time, as germination has been reported after disturbance of the ground several years after the species has disappeared from a site (3).
Brown galingale has always been rare in Britain, having only ever been recorded from 13 sites in England (6), including one introduced site in London (3). Most records are focused around the River Thames and the River Avon, with additional sites in Somerset, Dorset and the Weald (6). It has also been found in Jersey. This species has declined by around 50%; since 1990 it has been recorded from just 6 sites in England (6). It persists at sites in Somerset, south Hampshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Middlesex (6). Elsewhere, it occurs throughout most of Europe, as well as in Asia, North Africa, Madeira, Tenerife (3), Canada, and it is rare in the eastern USA (6).
Grows on open, damp peat or on gravel or sand at the edge of ponds and ditches (3), which are exposed during summer when the water level decreases (2). Typical habitats supporting this species have a long history of grazing by livestock, which maintains open conditions (3).
The brown galingale is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and is classified as Vulnerable in Great Britain and fully protected by Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 (3).
Five of the sites where this species is found receive a level of protection as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs); one site is a designated National Nature Reserve (NNR). Conservation management has been successful at some sites; at a site in Surrey, willows were cleared in 1993 and brown galingale plants reappeared the following year, after an absence of 5 years (6). Plantlife has incorporated this species into its Back from the Brink Programme; it is also included in English Nature's Species Recovery Programme (5).
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