Thursday, 28 May 2015

Big Nature Day: engaging people with botany.

An excellent day at the Natural History Museum last Saturday for Big Nature Day, the NHM's annual get-together, held in the Angela Marmont Centre, where wildlife/nature conservation groups can get together and show the public what we do and why. This year's event tied in with International Day for Biological Diversity.

It was very hectic but fortunately I was working alongside Ryan Clark, known to many of you as the Co-ordinator of this year's New Year Plant Hunt and also the newest addition to BSBI's Meetings & Communications Committee

Ryan is a natural at engaging people with conservation and biodiversity - he is one of those prolific people who "does" invertebrates, newts, mosses and birds as well as botany, although his main passion is probably pollinators

So he and I spent the day talking about wildflowers to a range of people from children to tourists visiting the Museum to members of other conservation organisations. We enjoyed telling everyone about the benefits of BSBI membership and we also had a Plant ID Quiz on our stand. 

The plants in our quiz included three species of Buttercup, so we could tell people how to separate them, and we had examples of medicinal and edible plants: Meadowsweet (where aspirin was first extracted); 
Coltsfoot (used in 'cigarettes' during World War II and also known in herbal medicine as an asthma cure); and 
Common Sorrel (as featured in Salmon with Sorrel Mousse. Yum.).


We also included a species of Hypericum and a sedge to test people's vegetative ID skills. And we exhibited three specimens from the Carrot Family - a live plant of Cow Parsley, augmented by herbarium sheets of Hemlock (the poison which did for Socrates) and Spignel (delicious but rare) - to illustrate the importance of knowing your plants. These three plants look similar, with their feathery or dissected compound leaves, but eating them would have very different effects! 

The winner of our ID Quiz will benefit from a year's free membership of BSBI so he/she can learn even more about how to identify wildflowers, as well as benefiting from all the other advantages of BSBI membership. 

And although we enjoyed seeing NHM staff members having a go at the quiz, we didn't allow them to enter. Fred Rumsey (above on right) and Mark Spencer are also BSBI members and expert botanists so they jolly well ought to know what our plants were (and they did!). 

Fred and Mark's stand (below) had herbarium sheets of orchid specimens - collected back in the pre-Schedule 8 days when there were enough orchids around that it was ok to pick them. How times have changed, and nowadays we all adhere strictly to the BSBI Code of Conduct

Mark and Fred were exhibiting orchid sheets to promote the new Orchid Observers project, which any of you attending the recent BSBI Recorders' Conference will have heard about.     

Ryan and I were both exhausted by the end of the day but it was great fun talking to so many people. Let's hope that a few of the children we spoke to feel inspired to keep on engaging with the natural world. Maybe we'll see some of them joining BSBI at some point in the future. What's that they say about little acorns... 
All images taken by me and Ryan. Click on them to enlarge.