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Field work with Nature Live

27 Posts authored by: Tom - Nature Live host
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Day 10 was our last full day on the Isles of Scilly; the weather was glorious and everyone took the chance to finish off any things that needed to be collected. Over the past few days Nature Live host Ana Rita has been linking live to the Museum from the top of the bunker and today was our final event. With all of our responsibilities taken care of we could think about the past two weeks on the islands and how the trip has gone.

 

 

Mark and Tom wrap up the Scilly 2013 trip

 

I have loved being on the Isles of Scilly, we have been welcomed warmly by everyone we’ve encountered and, walking around the islands, the scenery is spectacular and the ocean an amazing mix of colours.

 

PIC 1 (Custom).JPGThe Scilly sea

 

I have loved the roadside shops that operate of a strict trust system, selling local produce ...

 

PIC 2 (Custom).JPGMrs Watt’s ‘Shop’

 

... and some more exotic goods ...

 

PIC 3 (Custom).JPGA lovely bunch?

 

We have eaten like kings, Vanessa being the chief chef, and I think every meal has included something foraged (usually by Mark), even if it is simply the humble, ubiquitous three-cornered leek.

 

PIC 4 (Custom).JPGGrows everywhere and gives a garlicky kick to anything you add it to!

 

Everyone is the team has been fantastic and despite sleeping 6 to a room, everyone has got on exceptionally well. For all their help and fun times, I’d like to especially thank my colleagues Ana Rita:

 

PIC 5 (Custom).JPGAna Rita Claro Rodrigues

 

And Tony (Grillmaster) Vinhas:

 

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Tony

 

It has been such an enjoyable trip as well as an educational one.

 

Finally, I would like to thank Mark Spencer for organising the trip and getting us all to the islands. Mark has been an excellent guide, fantastic company and reliable provider of foraged ingredients, and a brilliant team leader.

 

PIC 7 (Custom).JPGMark in his element

 

Spending time with Mark and the other scientists is an education in the natural world, it opens up and changes your view of what is living on the planet and I feel very fortunate to work at such an extraordinary place as the Natural History Museum.

 

Tom

 

PIC 8 (Custom).JPGGoodnight from the Isles of Scilly

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After the wash out that was yesterday’s bad weather, today the scientists have been returning with amazing finds left, right and centre. Mark and Rosemary found this Linum bienne, described scientifically by Mark, as a stonker! It is probably the ancestor of the domesticated flax and today he rediscovered a wild population of it on St Mary’s.

 

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Linum bienne also known as Pale flax

 

It is known historically but has not been seen recently and was feared extinct on the islands. It is also exceptionally pretty.

 

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A stonker indeed

 

Rosemary Parslow (literally) wrote the book on The Natural History of the Isles of Scilly and she has been a great asset to the project. She has spent years studying practically every aspect of the nature on the islands and she also used to work at the Museum.

 

James came back from the beach with a brilliant find. Sea spiders (pycnogonids) are in an order of their own, they are remarkable and weird and unlike anything else in the sea.

 

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Sea spider

 

James explained his find.

 

 

 

Two pycnogonids

 

Ana Rita made a welcome discovery on top of our bunker, a flush of St George’s Mushrooms.

 

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Calocybe gambosa and Ana Rita

 

After a positive identification by mycology expert Mark (on top of being potentially fatal, it would be very embarrassing to poison Museum staff with mushrooms) these gorgeous fungi were turned into a spanish omelet. Delicious.

 

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A St George’s omelette

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I spent day 8 of our trip with Andreia Salvador, curator of marine molluscs, looking at some of the stunning creatures she has found here in Scilly.

 

PIC 1 (Custom).JPGAndreia Salvador collecting marine molluscs

 

 

PIC 2 (Custom).JPGMarvellous marine molluscs

 

A curator’s job is to ‘future proof’ their collection; in the future, a specimen may be researched using techniques we don’t yet know of and Andreia is keen to perfect preservation methods that allow for as much of a mollusc to be accessible as possible. The molluscs known as gastropods, (things like top shells and winkles) have a trap door called an operculum which completely seals the animal inside.

 

PIC 3 (Custom).JPGA firmly shut operculum

 

In the past, researchers who needed the soft parts of molluscs may have had to break the shell open, destroying the specimen. Andreia is keen to work out the best way to preserve both the shell and the soft parts intact. The process of encouraging the animal out of its shell is called relaxing. This may take anything up to 12 hours to do, but it is crucial in providing future researchers with the specimens they may need.

 

PIC 4 (Custom).JPGA specimen beginning to ‘relax’

 

We have found some exceptionally beautiful molluscs over the past few days. When I was out with James, we found these spotted cowries and blue-rayed limpets.

 

PIC 5 (Custom).JPGSpotted cowrie

 

PIC 6 (Custom).JPGBlue-rayed limpets

 

The limpets in particular, were exciting for Andreia because, in her native Portugal, they are know as beijinho, a ‘little kiss’. We found them inside the kelp forests and they have absolutely stunning, electric colors. Although not rare, they provided quite a challenge to locate, as they lived in the 'hold fasts' at the base of the kelp.

 

PIC 7 (Custom).JPGA blue-rayed limpet living in the hold fast of kelp

 

Andreia was delighted when we returned with the good news that we had got some. I felt a little left out but, as the bigger man, kept my feelings to myself ...

 

PIC 8 (Custom).JPGBitter? Me?

 

Last night we had a BBQ - organised by Jon and Tony, it was to make the most of the nice weather that has now turned for the worse. It was a very serious affair...

 

PIC 9 (Custom).jpgWho has a hat specifically for BBQ? Tony Vinhas!

 

... Tony put on his ‘BBQ hat’ and began to refer to himself, in the 3rd person, as the grillmaster.

 

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The grillmaster in the world's biggest barbecue pit - how long ‘til it’s ready?

 

He expertly worked his way through various meats and veggie options and as the sun set behind us we enjoyed a lovely evening all together.

 

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Relaxing on the Woolpack

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This morning I followed Holger Thues (Curator of Lichens) to a remarkable place.

 

PIC 1 (Custom).JPGNot just any old trees ...

 

At first glance this short row of trees looks little more than a typical, beautiful countryside scene. However, these are elm trees and trees like these are a sight that has become exceptionally rare across Europe.

 

 

An increasingly rare sight in Britain and much of Europe, elm trees

 

Dutch elm disease has destroyed virtually all of the adult elm population in lower land Britain and much of Europe, and now many people only know elms from paintings and pictures.

 

PIC 2 (Custom).JPGThe open canopy and twisted branches of elm trees

 

The elm has an open canopy and the trees bend and twist in a magical way that leaves a wonderfully spooky shadow. The Isles of Scilly are one of the last places you can see adult elms - the tree still survives on the mainland as a shrub, but as soon as it gets to a certain size the beetle which transmits dutch elm disease, can burrow into the bark and pass on the infection. Of course, Dutch elm disease has effected much more than just the elms themselves. These trees supported other life, including lichens and Holger showed me one of the rarer lichens that live on elm.

 

 

It isn't just the trees that are affected when they succumb to Dutch elm disease.

 

Tragically, this lichen also lives on ash and with ash dieback destroying so many trees, it has a bleak future. Holger described it as the ‘dodo of the lichen world’, forced into making bad decisions that ultimately could be it’s downfall.

 

PIC 3 (Custom).JPGBacidia incompta (elm lichen), whose existence is linked to the under threat elms and ash trees

 

More optimistically, Holger found a very healthy population of a species that has declined dramatically over the last 100 years in the rest of the UK.

 

PIC 4 (Custom).JPGHeterodermia leucomela

 

 

This is a tropical lichen that now has the south west of Cornwall as it’s most northerly outpost. It is very rare in the rest of Britain but it seems the population here is doing very well.

 

Holger also showed me this photo of a specimen collected 100 years ago on Scilly - he was keen to find out if it was still here and if it was still so large! The size of the lichen is a sign of it’s vitality and it only occurs in a few local parts of the Uk and on Scilly.

 

PIC 5 (Custom).JPGRoccella fuciformis, collected 100 years ago on the Isles of Scilly

 

You can see it is still doing well on the islands.

 

PIC 6 (Custom).jpgRoccella fuciformis, still doing well on the Isles of Scilly

 

 

It goes to show how important collections are, specimens tell us so much much more than absence or presence. They tell us about the strength of a plant at a given time, what it looked like and how it was living and this means we can make judgments on it’s role in the ecosystem.

 

It really is a treat spending time with Holger; as a lichenologist he looks at the world in a completely different way to other scientists and the things that normally pass unnoticed become much larger and more interesting.

 

PIC 7 (Custom).JPGHolger sees the world in a different way

 

Although I have spent each day following different scientists, I think some of the most memorable moments have been in the evenings when the scientists come together, talk about what they have found and go through their specimens. I took this photo after dinner

 

PIC 8 (Custom).JPGThe evening sort

 

The table is turned into a mess of equipment, specimens and reference books and exciting finds are shared amongst the group. It’s not possible to know everything about the natural world but it is possible to try and become friends with enough experts to give you a good idea!

 

By the way, if you would like to do some science of your own and help an important study, find out how to take part in the OPAL project's Tree Health Survey.

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On day 6 of our trip I followed James Maclaine, Curator of fish at the Museum. James has a variety of tools he uses to make his collections including a 25m seine net. A few nights ago we went out to test the net and made a short video. Please note the temperature of the water is not as tropical as it looks! James has had some good success with the seine net in the past and you can read about what he found on this trip in his own post to the blog.

 

 

 

Seine net fishing

 

This morning we went to the nearby island of St Agnes. This is one of the most remote of the inhabited islands in Scilly and faces out bravely into the Atlantic. When the wind is blowing it can be a very extreme environment but today there was only a slight breeze, the sea was a flat as a pancake and the island felt very balmy. This was a good thing as spent most of the morning wading through the falling tide, turning over rocks and trying to find some very elusive fish.

 

PIC 1 (Custom).JPGSt Agnes in the sun

 

 

 

 

Looking for elusive fish in rock pools on the shore of St Agnes

 

In the Museum collection there are two species of clingfish that had already been collected from the Isles of Scilly, Lepadogaster lepadogaster (shore clingfish) and Apleton dentatus (small-headed clingfish). However, these were obtained in the 1970s and James was keen to find out if both species were still here. The two fish seemed to have very specific and quite distinct habitats and it took a few hours to crack the code of where to find them. We found the small-headed variety in the hold fasts of kelp.

 

PIC 2 (Custom).JPGJames finds a likely home for the small-headed clingfish

 

 

PIC 3 (Custom).JPGApleton dentatus (small-headed clingfish)

 

The shore clingfish seemed to live under particularly large rocks that were sitting in water.

 

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PIC 5 (Custom).jpgThe underside 'sucker' of the clingfish

 

It was great to find both species of fish still living in the bay where they were also found about 40 years ago, and also to be able to add a couple of modern specimens to our collection that can be used to extract samples of their DNA.

 

PIC 6 (Custom).JPGThe flora of one of the rock pools on St Agnes

 

It was great fun working in the rock pools and we found some fascinating things.

 

PIC 7 (Custom).JPGOne of our finds, a starfish ...

 

This starfish was a particular menace to the other specimens in our bucket so had to be separated - here you can see it working it's way through a tiny squat lobster.

 

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... mostly harmless to us but not so nice if you are a squat lobster

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As well as taking part in video conferences with schools back on the mainland this morning, we visited the local The Five Island School, to talk to some of the classes about our trip and why we we’re here. James Maclaine and Jon Ablett are seasoned Nature Live speakers but three classes of thirty 6-10 year olds is a daunting prospect for anyone. However, the pupils were superb - enthusiastic and interested and full of great questions.

 

I don't have any photos of the sessions to put up here, but I think it is safe to say that the the pupils enjoyed hearing from our scientists. I saw that two of them, Hafwen and Amelie, had drawn a quick (but very detailed and accurate) picture in the playtime after we had finished and had to get a picture of it. Well done to them for doing such a good picture and to Jon; the mollusc message clearly struck home.

 

PIC 1 (Custom).JPGAmelie and Hafwen's brilliant molluscs

 

I spent the rest of the day with Jon, back at the bulb fields head-down looking for snails and slugs.

 

PIC 2 (Custom).JPGSnail and slug hunt

 

This was really hard work but great fun. Finding a slug in a field of bulbs can be a harder task than finding a needle in a haystack. However, I did fin myself getting extraordinarily excited by the tiny molluscs, and they are very beautiful close up.

 

PIC 3 (Custom).JPGWe have a winner

 

If you look closely you can see the breathing hole. All slugs and snails breathe through a hole in the side of their body and - in slugs - the position of this hole can determine what family they are in.

 

PIC 4 (Custom).JPGLook closely and you can see the hole in the slug that it uses to breathe

 

After a good search we had found some really cool stuff, including Oxycailus alliarius.


 

 

Collecting slugs and snails

 

It is interesting in itself that there are any terrestrial molluscs on the islands. The soil here has very little naturally occurring calcium in it and molluscs require this element to build their shells. In Scilly, the high winds and high humidity mean the calcium is effectively ‘blown’ across the islands and dissolved into the soil, and it is this that allows the molluscs to build their shells.

 

Back at the ranch Jon explained some of techniques he uses to preserve the specimens.

 

 

 

How to join the snail preservation society

 

Today was also my birthday, and the team prepared a great meal and baked me a cake which was brilliant.

 

PIC 5 (Custom).JPGMy birthday cake ... thanks guys!

 

We had (foraged) watercress soup to start, then an amazing fisherman's pie - I caught the pollock and Vanessa turned them into this spectacular creation complete with (foraged, again) samphire.

 

PIC 6 (Custom).JPGMy catch of pollock

 

 

PIC 7 (Custom).JPGFisherman's (pollock) pie made by Vanessa Pike, yum!

 

Thanks so much to all the team but especially Mark and Vanessa for making such a lovely meal!

 

PIC 8 (Custom).JPGWhat better way to end my birthday than a sight like this?

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The rest of the team arrived today - in total there are now 11 of us and over the next few days I’ll introduce you to them so that you can get a idea of the full range of work and research that will going on during trip.

 

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Standing (l-r): Tony Vinhas (media tech), Jonathan Fenn (molluscs), Holger Thues (lichens), Daniel Whitmore (flies), Jon Ablett (molluscs-terrestrial), Mark Spencer (team leader and botanist), James Maclaine (fishes).

Sitting (l-r): Andreia Salvador (molluscs-marine), Ana Rita Rodrigues (Nature Live) and Vanessa Pike (helping with all of the above!)

 

We’re staying in the south west corner of St Mary’s in a building called The Woolpack. It’s a rather unique structure, a former gunning station that has been converted into accommodation for up to 14. Tony and I made a short film to give you an idea...

 

 

 

Where we're staying on St Mary's - the Woolpack

 

We’re beaming back live to the Museum's Attenborough Studio for four days of Nature Live events starting on Sunday (see the listing on the right had side of the blog homepage) using a satellite we have set up on the roof of an out-building. You can come to the Museum to see them in person, but if you can't make it, the Wednesday's will be webcast live online.

 

PIC 2 (Custom).JPGLive and direct (via a satellite)

 

Within 10 mins of arriving, the scientists had spread out in the green area around the building and were bringing back things for us to look at.

 

PIC 3 (Custom).JPGScilly slugs

 

Jon Ablett (molluscs, terrestrial) found a couple of beautiful slugs but the sharp-eyed quick-fire award goes to Holger Thues, who found a new record for the Isles of Scilly. It’s a parasitic fungus that lives inside the fungal fruiting body of a lichen. We have no records for this kind of fungus from the Isles of Scilly and it shows how important trips like these are in order to enhance our understanding of the islands’ biodiversity.

 

PIC 4 (Custom).JPGHolger found this new record just a few metres away from the Woolpack on his first day on St Mary's

 

PIC 5 (Custom).JPGYou’re looking for the black ‘pepper’ bits within the rest of the lichen

 

The group then headed off to have a look around the local town before beginning the serious work of collecting tomorrow.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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

 

 

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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).

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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Malva pseudolavatera

 

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.

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Today we took the short ferry to Bryher, about 15 mins across the bay from our home island of St Mary’s.

 

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Hiking across Bryher

 

 

Bryher faces out in to the Atlantic and feels the full effect of the ocean, yet it still has some unique and exquisite flowers, tiny things that seem to stand defiant against the wind and rain that smashes into them. Looking for these minute darlings means leaving your modesty at the door.

 

DAY 2 PIC 1 (Custom).JPG

Good thing no one is watching...

 

But we were rewarded with some close encounters with some of the most perfectly formed little plants I have ever seen. Mark’s enthusiasm for these flowers was infectious and soon we were all face down, searching for more and attracting others who were visiting the island.

 

 

DAY 2 PIC 3 (Custom).JPG

... oh, wait, no they are!

 

In order to give you an idea of the absolute tinyness and fantasticness of these things - we got as close as we could...

 

 

Tom and Mark find some small wonders: the dwarf pansy, orange birdfoot and subterranean clover

 

It’s difficult not to marvel at the things that have made a life for themselves on these islands thrust out in to the Atlantic and I really admire these small, resolute plants. It goes to show how important it is to really explore and examine an environment to take in the full extent of the the things living in it. We didn’t collect any of these plants, but I hope the film and pictures give you an idea of how wonderful they are.

 

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Another tiny beauty

 

Last night's foraged meal made for a great evening and once we had finished our Wild Watercress Soup and and Sea Shore Pasta, we went up onto the roof of our bunker to take in the sunset ...

 

DAY 2 PIC 5 (Custom).JPG

It's nice here

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We have settled in to island life on the Isles of Scilly. Our digs for the next two weeks are an old bunker in the south western corner of St Mary’s with a wonderful view across to St Agnes. It is quiet and beautiful and we are surround by the spectacular atlantic ocean.

 

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The view out onto the Atlantic Ocean

 

Our trip is part of a project led by Mark Spencer, Senior Curator of the British and Irish Herbarium at the Natural History Museum. The Isles of Scilly are a unique and stunning environment and they contain common and rare and (in some cases) invasive species - Mark’s work here aims to enrich the Museum's collection of British and European plants and animals with recent material.

 

This will fill gaps in our collections and make sure they cover a continuous span of time right up to the present day. Often, we don’t know how a collection will be used in future and they can play a key role in research. By keeping a collection like the one at the Museum, we have access to the information locked inside the specimens which could be used to answer questions on environmental change and other, similarly huge issues in the future.

 

The rest of the science team are arriving later in the week so, as an introduction to the island (and to find something to eat), Mark led us on a foraging tour of St Mary’s.

 

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Mark Spencer looking for plants on St. Mary's to cook for supper

 

We found a whole host of amazing (and delicious) species, more than enough for supper. It should be said that we found a lot more edible species that we didn’t collect. It is important to understand a plant's role in the ecosystem and environment and some plants were too rare, or delicate to collect. Mark has an excellent knowledge of the local flora and it is important to really understand an area before harvesting anything from the wild as well as having permission for anything you want to collect.

 

 

I think it is safe to say if you’re in doubt, leave it in the ground. Not only does this protect the environment but also saves any potential poisoning (so don't try this at home unless you know what you are doing!). We passed lots of species that are absolutely deadly including whole fields of hemlock water dropwort, which is exceptionally poisonous.

 

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The exceptionally poisonous hemlock water dropwort (Oenanthe crocata) - not part of our supper later in the day!

 

Having said that, when in the company of an expert like Mark, the natural world explodes with interest and intrigue. Every plant has story and history and a whole world of edible possibilities is opened up.

 

scilly-day-1-image-4.jpgThe basis of our supper, all harvested from the wild.

 

Later in the day we cooked up our foraged plants - finding things that are good, or interesting, to eat is always great fun and the meal at the end of the day was blooming delicious.

 

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For the next two weeks I am fortunate to be joining a Museum field trip to the Isles of Scilly, 30 miles off the southwest corner of Cornwall. Alongside my Nature Live colleague Ana Rita Rodrigues and Media Technician Tony Vinhas, we will be reporting back from the trip in daily posts and organizing live-video-links to for 4-days-worth of Nature Live events in the Museum's Attenborough Studio.

 

If you want to experience the project live and direct come to the Attenborough Studio for one of the following events, and keep checking the blog for updates:

 

 

All the events are are free to attend (as is entry to the Museum) and each will last 30 mins. You’ll be able to see and talk live to scientists in the field, see specimens collected during the trip and meet a Museum scientist in the studio.

 

The team in the Isles of Scilly comprises scientists studying topics as varied as flowering plants, fishes, lichens and flies! I will introduce the different scientists and their areas of specialism over the coming days but for now - to set the scene - here are some photos the trip's leader, Mark Spencer, took last time he visited the islands.

 

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They are clearly exceptionally beautiful, a fact that makes the involvement of the National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty even more pertinent and this collaborative project will strive to further our understanding of these incredible islands.

 

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I am so excited to be visiting the islands and to be accompanying the team. Spending any time with our scientists is an education in the natural world and two weeks exploring a stunning part of the world with such experts is a very exiting prospect. On a more personal note, I am also very pleased to be able to relive one of my Dad’s dinner time stories. Many a family meal have been the forum for a retelling of the old man’s ‘best ever, EVER dream. In his own words ...

 

‘At some point it the 70s, or was it the 80s(?), I was in Bryher in the Isles of Scilly. Half way through a walk around the island I lay down on the beach for a nap. During the dream that followed I became a professional tennis player and managed, against all odds, to win Wimbledon. Having raised the trophy and flushed with pride, I woke up and finished my walk.'

 

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Some say he [my dad] never fully woke up from that nap on the Isles of Scilly ...

 

See you again next week when we will all have arrived!

 

Tom

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Today we trekked back down the mountain to the first hut we stayed in on our trip, Casa Coca. It was a stunning walk, the weather changing all the time.

 

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(Click the images to see them full size)

 

And we stopped off half way to collect. We were told to be careful of a snake that had been seen on the route the day before. I didn’t see it but I did spot this strange mammal up a tree.

 

Day 14 PIC 3.jpg

 

We are now only a short walk from the entrance to the park and our lift back to INBIO. We are sleeping on mats on the floor surrounded by beastly horse flies.

 

Day 14 PIC 4.JPG

 

And amazing fireflies.

 

 

As a last supper (for this trip, rather than in the biblical sense) we have had some chicken so spirits are high! Equally, Casa Coca provided a new forum for moth spotting - our favorite evening past-time. They really are amazing!

 

Day 14 PIC 5.JPG

 

Tomorrow we leave the forest and drive back to INBIO. I wonder what it will be like back in the normal world?!

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The weather today was glorious…

 

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(Click images to see them full size)

 

… and I followed the vascular plant (flowering plants and ferns) team of Neil, Daniel and Alex to a site about an hour and a half away from the hut. I decided to record each of the species they found and turn it into a film to give you an idea of the variety that we’ve been able to collect.

 

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In the film below, I’ve listed the family, genus and species (where possible). This highlights why it is so important to collect samples of the plants - without taking them to a herbarium and comparing them with other specimens it can be difficult to identify exactly what is there.

 

The top line is the family and the bottom is the genus and species (if we knew it straight away, of course!) Please note, I made this video so if anything is wrong it is my fault not Alex’s!

 

 

Just my luck - this site only provided 44 species which was quite a poor haul compared to the others we have had. Our best day has had over a hundred different species of vascular plant and that’s not counting the lichens and bryophytes Holger and Jo are also collecting.

 

On days where more species are collected, we sometimes have to do the pressing back at the hut and the dinner table is transformed into a mass of newspaper and plants

 

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But today we got home early so Alex made us a pasta dinner.

 

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Species of the day – take your pick from any of the ones in the film above!

 

Tomorrow we are walking back down the mountain to the first hut we stayed in before heading back to the entrance to the park and the drive back to INBIO.

 

I feel quite sad to be leaving our hut in the Valley of Silence as my time here in Costa Rica nears its end. It has been an amazing place to be based and I feel very attached to the forest and our place in it.

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I was just about to submit today’s blog when Holger rushed back from a walk to say he had seen a huge Tapir – maybe 1.2 metres tall. He said it caused the earth to vibrate! I ran down to the river to catch it crossing - have a look, it’s a bit shaky but I was very excited. It’s very rare to see a Tapir here so I am very chuffed with myself for catching it on film.

 

I also filmed the others’ reaction back at the hut.

 

 

(If you listen carefully you can hear Daniel, once the camera had swung away from the Tapir and was showing my feet on the computer screen, saying, ‘Wow, A Yeti!’)

 

The weather today was sunny and warm – a glorious day, so with my life in my hands, I ventured up a very rickety ladder on to the roof of the hut, which gave me a good view of the forest near by.

 

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I spent the day with Holger, who is a lichenologist. He talked me through some of the things he has found so far on the trip and why lichens are such an amazing tool to understand an environment such as the one here in the Talamanca Mountains.

 

(My apologies for the low quality of the film but I had to make it smaller to be able to upload it - I'll see if I can update it to a higher resolution version later)

 

At night, once the generator has been turned off we our at the mercy of our head lamps.

 

We enter the world of things that flutter in the night. Beautiful and bizarre, I made a short clip from photos Alex took last night, after lights out.

 

 

And speaking of flutterers – I had a visitor to the laptop today.

 

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My keyboard must be pretty filthy and he/she spent a good 5 mins tasting it!

 

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Species of the day goes to Holger and joins up today’s themes nicely! It is a lichen in the genus Dictyonema (most probably D. sericeum)

 

 

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And it is species of the day because it could be confused (or vice versa) with one of the moths from last night. What amazing camouflage!

 

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Tomorrow, I am going to report on a day with the florwering plant team and attempt a tropical bioblitz.

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I am writing this blog while chomping on a delicious, freshly-fried pork scratching! Amazing.

 

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(Click images to see them full size)

 

Today we did a live-video-link to the Museum's Attenborough Studio (our last two will be at 12.30 and 14.30 on Saturday 18 Feb) from the middle of a river near our hut – Rio Terbi. Perched on top of a rock we spoke to an audience in London about our trip and answered their questions about our time here.

 

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One young member of the audience asked about the weight of an acorn we held to camera – we actually don't have any scales so we can't tell for certain, but we estimate it as being about 4 to 5 times bigger than your average UK acorn. Sorry we can't be more accurate!

 

The river is the lifeblood of the forest and our hut - we get our water supply directly from it and use it to cook, wash and drink.

 

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Today we waked for about an hour to a site downstream and by the river.

 

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Holger showed me how he collects aquatic lichens...

 

 

And Alex, Daniel and Neil set up beside the river and went about collecting a huge amount of different plants.

 

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I have been promoted from simply being a weight to hold down specimens to pressing plants and collecting samples for DNA. I also came in useful for a particularly high orchid. We have poles that we normally use to cut specimens that are out of arms reach but we thought this was quicker and more fun. It's nice to know that I am helping out!

 

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Species of the day goes to Jo and it is a carnivorous liverwort! It's in the genus Colura and lives on leaves.

 

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It’s lobes form water sacs, which could be an adaptation to retain moisture, and people have found tiny microscopic creatures called nematodes in these water sacs. It has been suggested that the liverwort dissolves theses tiny creatures and eats them! As Jo says, when you live on only a leaf, every little helps. She also says that up close they look like tiny teapots which made Holger laugh – 'so British', he exclaimed!

 

I can't get close enough to see if I agree with the teapot analogy - have a search for Colura and tell me what you think!

 

Until tomorrow

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