Here BHOGG member and budding botanist Michelle Thomasson shares her passion for plants and their importance to us.
Wildflowers are so important for many of our native pollinators, and therefore one of the keys to keeping our food crops blooming. With climate change and biodiversity loss negatively affecting plant communities, any data which helps us to monitor ecological changes is a positive wildflower spotting bonus. And this is where the National Plant Monitoring Scheme (NPMS) comes in. NPMS survey data will allow botanists and other scientists to assess the abundance of our wild plants, as well as helping us to understand the health and trends of wild plants across the amazing range of habitats found in the UK.
Fascinated by wildflowers, I first started with a beginner’s wildflower survey for Plantlife, a conservation charity working to save vulnerable wildflowers, plants and fungi. This was about 12 years ago when I was simply armed with lots of amateur enthusiasm and an easy-to-use booklet which had the most common wildflowers, grasses and trees helpfully grouped by colour.
I was allocated a couple of small square plots and a log pathway to survey which were situated on beautiful grassland in the Cotswolds. After a couple of years, I began to quickly recognise chalk grassland plants such as field scabious, marjoram, cowslips, wonderful bee orchids and even autumn gentians, though don’t let these little beauties fool you, they begin to bloom as early as July.
After a couple of years, my wildflower recording expanded to 5 plots within a 1 km square on the edge of Workman’s Wood, next to the Ebworth Centre in Gloucestershire, where the National Trust manage the beech woodland and six hundred acres of organic farmland. Two of my plots were nestled within the woods; my plant recognition skills were challenged but the scenery was wonderful and I was in habitat heaven.
Then in early 2015, the yearly Plantlife survey evolved into the National Plant Monitoring Scheme. At the time I had been one of 400 volunteer plant surveyors, but the aim then was to increase the volunteer numbers to 2,000 so that the wildflowers within 28 important diverse habitats could be monitored. These habitats cover a such a wide and diverse range of plants, from those braving the salt spray on coastal shingle and salt marshes to the hardy upland heathers found defying the elements on heathlands or the little starry saxifrages tucked into rocks on mountain scree.
When I went to record the twice-yearly survey, I had grown fairly content with my wildflower recognition skills. I didn’t need to lug too many heavy plant ID books in the rucksack, but then we moved to Brighton! To cut down on travel time my previous plots were given to another volunteer, and I could choose a new area that required surveying nearer to our new home. I selected a square over Saltdean beach which could include the cliffs and the green hilltop above. It was wonderful to have such bracing views, but I felt as though my plant recognition skills had been left behind in the west country.
Admittedly, coastal plant species can be more challenging, but I decided to apply for a botany identification course that was run up until last year by Field Studies Council for the NPMS; I felt it was time to get to grips with botany’s nuts and bolts. The course and materials were online, and the flowers were found according to their flowering season, it really was a tonic during lockdown last year and it has helped me improve my botany skills as well as increasing the wonder while I scribble down notes about the wildflowers in our local area.
If you would like to know more about the NPMS, Plantlife and our other important Botanical organisations then please see the links for further information. The NPMS wildflower survey was created with input from Dr. Kevin Walker and Dr. Oliver Pescott along with the BSBI, UKCEH, Plantlife and the JNCC.
Plantlife – with resources to begin your wildflower journey
Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland – Plantlife with resources to begin your wildflower journey.