With the state of the UK's wildlife making the headlines on today's International Day for Biological Diversity, I think yesterday's tiny flowers are a real symbol of the spirit needed to forge a life on one of the country's most distant lands, the Isles of Scilly. The islands are so exposed and remote that constant ingenuity and resourcefulness are vital for survival.
A dwarf pansy looking spectacular next to a five pence piece
This is as true for the agriculture that occurs on these islands as for the flowers and plants that live in the wild here. Below is a photo of some allotments on St Mary's, the plots divided up into small boxes by high borders in order to keep out the howling Atlantic winds. If the bushes weren't there, the plants would be destroyed by the high winds which can be so strong they actually burn the plants.
Allotments in St Mary's with high borders to protect the plants from Atlantic winds
Once the wind has been dealt with, the general climate is so mild on the islands that it is possible to grow things that would freeze in other parts of the British Isles, and the roadsides and hedgerows are full of incredible plants.
I call this one the elephant plant! Note: not its real common or scientific name
Because of their climate, the Isles of Scilly are famous for bulb fields - the flowers these bulbs produce are shipped to the rest of Britain to be sold as cut flowers. The climate here means it is possible to produce flowers during times of the year when the rest of the UK is simply too cold. The bulb fields are a key part of the local environment and a fascinating and important habitat in their own right. We went to meet Farmer Mike Brown, a 4th generation Scillonian bulb farmer and he explained more about the industry.
Farmer Mike Brown, a 4th generation Scillonian bulb farmer
A flower bulb grown on the Isles of Scilly
Huge thanks to Mike - he was incredibly enthusiastic and helpful and his fields were a real treat to visit. Farms like these are not only an example of how agriculture can support important biodiversity, but also a crucial piece of cultural heritage - a part of a local industry that has been going for hundreds of years. (Note, you can visit Farmer Brown's Bulb Shop and also stay in an adjoining cottage - there is more information here).
Farmer Brown's Bulb Shop
Walking back from the farm, Mark spotted an unbelievably rare variant of a plant called Silene gallica. The variant is called Silene gallica var quinqueuulneraria (a lot of people say scientific names are inaccessible, pah I say!). It is now extinct in the wild in mainland Britain but is still found on the Isles of Scilly.
Mark finds the rare Silene gallica var quinqueuulneraria
We also saw the more common variant Silene gallica var gallica, growing in a nearby verge.
The more common Silene gallica var gallica
It is incredible how many amazing plants the Isles of Scilly support and how easy it is to spot them just walking around the islands. You can sit on a bench to eat your fish and chips and be sat next to a plant normally found on the Canaries or in the Mediterranean.
Again, Scilly is practically the last only place in the UK you can find this (Malva pseudolavatera) - and we found it happily growing on a roadside wall.
It has been really good fun following Mark around the islands over the past coupe of days, finding out about the plant life here (and, to be fair, tasting quite a lot of it) and tomorrow the rest of the scientists arrive so I think things will take a turn towards the animal kingdom.