Skip navigation

Life sciences news

11 Posts tagged with the botany tag

Our trainees on the Identification Trainers for the Future project have been extremely busy since our last blog post, here's Mike Waller with an update on what they have been getting up to!


Trainees puzzing over the latest capture.jpg

The trainees puzzle over their latest capture (L-R: Sally, Anthony, Mike and Katy)


Our timetables, until now a collage of various colours, have become a very busy reality over the last two months. We got our teeth into another batch of long-anticipated ID workshops - Flowering Plants, Beetles, Flies and Earthworms. I think I speak for everyone when I say the skills and knowledge we've been passed by some of the leading scientific experts in the Museum have been rich, extensive and unique. Developing techniques to hoard as much of this golden information as possible have become paramount.


I've already gathered a thick stack of mixed ID keys, notes, powerpoint handouts and even the odd specimen - usually midway through the processing to go into my personal collection. Sally has taken her learning consolidation to a new level and is producing an incredible assemblage of annotated line drawings and intricate watercolours in her note book. She'll be blogging about that separately, but we're all a little jealous!


Extract from Sallys Notebook.jpg

An extract from Sallys notebook


The first of these workshops was a one-day instalment of flowering plants out in the wilds of East London with Mark Spencer. We met promptly for 9.00 at Mile End tube station before heading out in the company of other trainees from a similar scheme called Wild Talent being run by the London Wildlife Trust (also funded by the HLF's Skills for the Future programme), and people who narrowly missed out on getting the traineeship during the first round. Indeed, several places have been made available on all workshops for the other 20 trainee applicants as an opportunity to maximise the skills-base across the board. It was great to see them again!


Mark pointing out some of the finer points of plant identification.jpg

Mark Spencer highlighting some of the finer points of plant identification


After a scorching day keying out Fabacae and crucifers, dodging cyclists and discussing the horror of path-side 'tidying', we finished in Mark's local pub for a well-earned pint. As always, Mark's casual ability to blend good science, humour and memorable anecdotes always makes for a superb time. We all very much look forward to our next sessions with him in July.


Next up was our very first invertebrate workshop, and what better to start with than beetles - the group within which both Katy and Anthony find their true passion. This workshop was a solid four-day stretch that began with Roger Booth taking us through the depths of beetle anatomy followed by some family keying. Max Barclay provided a two-part lecture on world beetle families that, for me, gave a fascinating insight into the truly spectacular speciation and morphological diversity of the group acoss the planet.


As our confidence grew, we began to use specific familiy keys to make accurate species identifications of some of the more challenging groups such as Elateridae or the 'click' beetles. Michael Geiser and Roger offered invaluable help during this process as their oceans of knowledge were repeatedly called upon.


A few of our beetles for identifying.jpg

A small selection of beetles for identification


Just as we thought we were getting to understand insects, BOOM, in swept the seemingly impenetrable order of flies - a group with unfathomable diversity! Luckily we were in very good hands as we were led through the array of sub-orders by Erica McAlister, Duncan Sivell, Zoe Adams, Daniel Whitemore and the AMC's very own Chris Raper.


In similar style to the beetles, we used familiy keys to start with then slowly graduated to species identifications where possible. This workshop however came with a difference and on the second day, we all met at Wimbledon Common for a day out collecting.


With nets, pooters and pots at the ready, we were unleased on the varied mix of heathland, pastures and oak woodlands to capture what we could. The weather couldn't have been better and gave us a golden opportunity to use collecting techniques in the field. Once back in the Museum we were then able to pin and mount our specimens for our personal collections.


Wimbledon Common.jpgChloe learning slide preparation for diptera ID.jpg

Left: Out on Wimbledon Common with the Diptera team. Right: Chloe back in the lab working on her diptera slide preparation


Our most recent workshop went subterranean with Emma Sherlock as we dug up seemingly half of the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trusts London Wetland Centre in the pursuit of earthworms. Using our trusty spades, and encouraged with the possibility of encountering a rare species, we sampled different habitats around the reserve to gain a good range of species which we then took back to the lab for identification the following day. Emma's unbridled passion for earthworms is infections and we all developed a new-found interest to take forward.



If that wasn't enough, we all packed our walking boots and set out for our placements with the Field Studies Council where we were based at various FSC Centres scattered up and down the country.


During May, I made my way north to Malham Tarn, whilst Chloe took heading north to the extreme with a week at Kindrogan and Milport on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park. Meanwhile, Anthony settled at Flatford Mill in Suffolk. Sally followed the South Wales coast to Dale Fort and Katy battled her way through the winding roads of North Wales to Rhyd-y-Creau in the mists of Snowdonia.


The focus of each of our placements was 2-fold: to observe the identification courses each centre was running and to assist with the outdoor teaching for which the FSC is renowned. I got to observe a beginners course called 'Spring Wildflowers of the Dales' which, as you'd expect, concentrated on the botanical.


It was led by local botanist Judith Allinson who taught a mixture of plant structure and lineage with a good dose of field visits to observe some of the specialist plants of the stunning limestone pastures, pavements and hay meadows. Having not been to the Dales proper before, I was continually stunned by this landscape of dramatic limestone cliffs and thick green meadows chequered by moss-drenched dry stone walls where the only sounds were the melancholy warbles of distant curlews. Highlights for me were the rafts of early purple orchids, adder's-tongue ferns and a hungry peregrine attempting to snatch Lapwing chicks on the tarn shore


Malham Tarn FSC Centre.jpg

Malham Tarn FSC Centre


The second part of my stay saw a sudden shift from pupil to teacher as various school groups, ranging from 8-14 year olds, visited for day trips and longer stays. This meant hanging out with the tireless field teachers who work extremely long hours to meet the educational needs of over-excited children!


It was a real privilege to see the field teacher's skills in action, but equally how challenging their roles can be. Trying to deliver a range of syllabus-based content that is relevant and exciting to different age groups, whilst trying to avoid the hazards of controlling a large group of children in an unpredicatable environment is very hard indeed. These observations were echoed by the other trainees who also gained immesurably from their experiences.


To round off our teaching and learning, Sally, Anthony and I also got stuck into some more people engagement at Big Nature Day here at the Museum. This is a coming together of over 50 different specialist wildlife organisations from across the UK. These included the more familiar groups such as the BSBI and iSpot, but it also provided an opportunity for some of the lesser-known societies such as the Conchological Society of Great Britain and Ireland and the British Pteridological Society to get their name out there.


Like Lyme Regis, this was a wonderful opportunity to showcase the work of the Angela Marmont Centre while also browsing and networking with some fascinating wildlife groups. As trainees, we ran our own table providing microscopes to observe lichens and several drawers filled with UK insects and bee mimics. I also spent some of my time at the Orchid Observers stand where I helped answer questions about the project alongside Kath Castillo, Fred Rumsey and Mark Spencer.


Big Nature Day.jpg

Mike, Sally and Anthony at Big Nature Day


All in all, an inspiring day, and an inspiring, and hectic couple of months! As the traineeship progresses, we're all looking forward to our next few workshops, which include Freshwater Invertebrates, Lepidoptera and Hymenoptera, as well as our short field trip down to the Isle of Purbeck before we all set sail in September for our three month curation placements at various departments around the Museum. Make sure you stay tuned for the next instalment of the Identification Trainees saga!


Mike as a dipterist.jpg

Your blog author, Mike Waller


Thanks Mike! Don't forget you can find out more about the Identification Trainers for the Future project at, including how and when to apply for next years traineeship positions.


Posted on behalf of Ranee Prakash, Curator of Flowering Plants in the Plants Division, Department of Life Sciences.


Wadakam (Hello!),


We are happy to share our recent journey to the Nilgiris in Tamilnadu, southern India in March - April 2015.


Our team from the Plants Division, Department of Life Sciences includes: >


The aim of the visit was to consult the herbaria of Botanical Survey of India (BSI) at Coimbatore, and Pune and also to visit Blatter Herbarium, St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. We looked at the Solanaceae collections.


Apart from visiting BSI’s regional offices, we also visited Madras Christian College (MCC), Presidency College, National Biodiversity Authority (NBA), The Eco Park and the Theosophical Society in Chennai.


Xavier also made a brief visit to the French Institute in Pondicherry. The aim of this visit was to investigate the botanical collections of the herbarium of the French Institute, as well as to liaise with the French and Indian researchers working on the Indian flora. They are known to be particularly well curated and informative for the region of Mumbai and Pondicherry, from where Solanum trilobatum L. is native.


The Botanical Survey of India (BSI)


The BSI was established in 1890, with the main aim of surveying the plant resources and identifying plant species of economic value within the countr. With headquarters in Kolkata, it has ten regional offices in various states of India. It comes under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India.


We visited regional offices in Coimbatore and Pune. Coimbatore office has important collections of R.Wight (b. 6 July 1796 – d. 26 May 1872) and other collectors of the Honorable East India Company (EIC).


We databased around 400 specimens from both the regional offices. This data will be repatriated back to India. During the visit, Xavier identified Solanum species and recurated the species. For example Solanum xanthocarpum Schrad. & H. Wendl. is now Solanum virginianum L.


A detailed list of synonyms, correct taxonomy and pictures of Solanceae species is available on the Solanaceae Source website.


Madras Christian College (MCC)


Madras Christian College has a beautiful campus spread over 360 acres area with a rich flora and fauna (see Fig. 1). Originally founded by Rev. John Anderson, a Missionary from the Church of Scotland, on April 3, 1837, the college recently celebrated its 178th anniversary. Anderson is known for introducing English medium education in Southern India. MCC is an autonomous college and is renowned for academic excellence and for social commitment.



Fig 1. Madras Christian College, Chennai.


We met the faculty staff members: Dr M. Baluswami (Head-Department of Botany), Dr D Narasimhan (Associate Professor), Leslie Lawrence (Assistant Professor) and Sheeba Irwin (Research Assistant). We also had a brief chat with undergraduates and post graduate students and listened to their views on career aspirations.


Presidency College


Established in 1840, Presidency College is one of the oldest Arts College in Chennai, India. Located opposite the Marina beach in Karmalai area in Chennai, the building has very beautiful architecture (see Fig. 2). The college has various streams viz. Arts, Science, Commerce and has facilities for research leading to Ph.D. degree.



Fig 2. Presidency College, Chennai Ravichandar84.


We looked at P.F. Fyson’s (1877–1947) botanical collections stored in the College’s herbarium (see Fig.3). Fyson was a noted botanist and educator who worked in Southern India. During the period of 1920-1925, he served as Inspector of Schools for Vishakapatnam and Ganjam districts (Andhra Pradesh). He later returned to the Presidency College and served as Principal from 1925-1932.



Fig 3. PF Fyson.


Fyson is famous for many books and illustrated volumes that he wrote from 1912-1932.In 1912, he wrote a textbook of Botany for college students.


He is renowned for the first illustrated volumes of the South Indian Hills, 'The Flora of the Nilgiri and Pulney Hill-tops' which was published in 1915. This book has 286 illustrated pages and 483 species. This book was followed with a book on plant species from the lower elevations and notes on the Shevaory Hills in 1921. In 1932, he published 'The Flora of the South Indian Hill Stations', which covered 877 species.  Besides these, he also wrote a book on Madras flowers - illustrated 100 plates, a monograph on the genus Eriocaulon and a Flora of the South Indian Hills.


In his honour, the Presidency College, Chennai has instituted 'The Fyson Prize' for work in the area of Natural Sciences. 


Theosophical Society at Adyar, Chennai


Founded in 1875 in New York, the International Headquarters moved to Adyar, Chennai in 1882. The main aim of this body is universal brotherhood and the members are united to learn the purpose of existence through, self-responsibility, study, reflection and loving service.


Located between the Adyar River and the coast, the society is spread in 100-hectare grounds and provide a green, peaceful, vehicle-free retreat from the city. One can wander through the native and introduced flora, including a 400 year old banyan tree. Some of the plants that we saw in the garden and will not forget include the Sandbox tree, also known as Dynamite tree (see Fig. 4).



Fig 4. Hura crepitans, commonly known as sandbox tree.


Botanically, this plant is known as Hura crepitans belonging to the Euphorbiaceae family and the Cannon Ball tree - botanically known as Couroupita guianensis belonging to Lecthidaceae family (see Fig. 5a, b).



Fig 5a. Fruits of Couroupita guianensis, commonly known as cannon ball tree.


Fig 5b. Flower of Couroupita guianensis commonly known as cannon ball tree.


The French Institute at Pondicherry


Inaugurated after the cessation of French Territories to India in 1955 (i.e. the 5 cities of Pondicherry, Karikal, Yanaon, Mahé and Chandannagar), the French Institute of Pondicherry is very active in the study of South Indian civilisation and culture. Since the 60s, it has also developed an important ecology department, specialised in collecting information on the evolution of the environment in South India. From this time, the researchers of the Institute have constituted a herbarium which counts today more than 24,000 specimens.


Xavier visited the herbarium, annotated and databased all the Solanacae specimens present in the collections (more than a 100). This trip to Pondicherry has been also an ideal occasion to exchange contacts with the French and Indian researchers working there on various aspect of the Indian flora (mostly forest ecology), and Xavier has presented his research project during a conference. During a short tour at the Pondicherry Botanical Garden with Soupramanien Aravajy, the most knowledgeable botanist of the IFP, we were happy to find, hidden in the bushes, the small (and terribly spiny!) Solanum trilobatum L. (see Fig. 10).


After three days of work in this quiet and beautiful “Petite France”, it was difficult to come back to busy Chennai…


Besides visiting the Institutes, we also visited some historic temples in Chennai, Coimbatore, Mahabalipuram (also known as Mamallapuram) and Madurai belonging to the Chola and Pallava dynasty (around 3rd to 6th century C.E.). We were amazed with the absolute beauty of architectural designs. It was sweltering hot in India with temperatures around 38-40 degrees centigrade but the food was delicious with so many varieties of Kathrik kai (brinjal) (see Figs. 6a & 6b), Valai palam (banana) and the lovely chutneys made from Takali (tomatoes) and puli (tamarind).  We had rice Arisi (rice) for lunch and dinner, lots of keerai (leafy vegetables) and tanni (water) to keep us hydrated!



Fig. 6a. Solanum torvum( sundaikkai) sold in the market.



Fig 6b. Brinjal varieties sold in the market.


As our journey came to an end, we would like to reflect on the memorable wander to the Nilgiris, the picturesque memories for years to linger including the highest Peak Point 'Doddabetta' in the Nilgiri Mountains at 2367 metres (8650 feet). This is where the Eastern and Western Ghats meet (see Fig. 7). The endless vibrant greenery of the tea estates (see Fig. 8) (wonder what it must be like when there were undisturbed forests) and the beautiful architectural buildings of the various temples and palaces.



Fig. 7. Doddabetta Peak (highest point 2637m, where the Eastern and Western Ghats meet).



Fig. 8. Tea plantation in the Nilgiris.


We would like to convey our warm Nandri (Thank you- in Tamil) and gratitude to all the staff at various Institutes. A special Nandri to Dr D.Narasimhan at MCC, Dr V Sampath Kumar, Dr G V S Murthy, Dr Beniamim, G. Gyanansekaharan and Kannamani at BSI for all the hospitality and help (see Fig. 9).



Fig. 9. Staff at BSI Coimbatore office.



Great way to collaborate and open the boundaries! Come on India.



Fig. 10. Solanum trilobatum L., growing along the path, Pondicherry Botanical Garden.


In the final post in our series of blogs introducing our new trainees on the Identification Trainers for the Future project we meet Chloe Rose:


My name is Chloe Rose, I am 30 years old and have spent the last 10 years enjoying living by the sea in Brighton. After graduating in an Ecology and Biogeography degree I spent a year out travelling in South East Asia and New Zealand, marvelling at the wonderful flora and fauna.


Upon my return I began working for the RSPB at the South East regional office as a PA/marketing adminstrator and worked within the wildlife enquiry team. I jumped at the chance of many project opportunities throughout my 2.5 years there, such as project managing the Big Garden Bird Watch, and volunteering where I could at reserve events such as the Big Wild Sleep Out. During my time there I had the pleasure of working with a highly dedicated and passionate team who were devoted to saving nature.


Chloe Rose.jpg

ID Trainer for the Future Chloe Rose, whose background is in ecology and biogeography.


I have spent the last 8 years studying UK biodiversity, during which time I have volunteered for numerous conservation organisations, assisted in countless biological recordings and, along the way, have developed my identification and surveying technqiues. Some of the more recent work I have been involved in includes: wetland bird counts, corn bunting and nightjar surveying for the Sussex Ornithological Trust, bee walks for the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, great crested newt surveys for Ecological Consultancy, and barbastelle bat monitoring as part of the National Bat Monitoring Programme.


20150423 Barbastelle bat NaturalHistoryMuseum_PictureLibrary_036107_IA.jpgA 1905 drawing 'from a dead bat' of a barbastelle (Barbastella barbastellus) in the Museum's Picture Library.


When I saw the Identification Trainers for the Future project opportunity with the Museum, I knew that I had to give it my everything. I have found it extremely difficult to come across work since completing my degree, with huge competition and so few jobs it can be easy to become disilluisioned.


The training the Museum was offering would provide me with the perfect stepping stone into a career in UK biodiversity, giving me the skills and confidence needed. Whilst preparing for the assessment day, which involved displaying our own projects and revising for the somewhat ominous 'UK wildlife ID test', it re-confirmed my desire to work within this sector and reignited my passion for learning and developing my career.


At the end of the traineeship I want to be able to apply the skills gained into bridging the gap in species identification. So I will be trying to find in particular the more priority organisms - the ones vulnerable and which require most attention. I think it's clear to see that I am passionate about our natural world, but I also take great pleasure from passing my knowledge onto others.


I look forward to working with the Museum's Learning and Engagement team during phase 4 of the traineeship. During this time I hope to be supported in becoming better equipped in inspiring others about UK biodiversity, especially those who have lost connection with the natural world.


There were so many knowledgeable and zealous individuals on the day, I feel extremely lucky to be here, it really is a dream come true. I wish all the other candidates the best of luck with their future endeavours.


Thank you Chloe! So there you have it, you have now met all 5 of our trainees in this year's cohort. You will be hearing more from them as their traineeship advances because they will be telling you all about their progress, but for now if you would like to find out more about the traineeships, or the Identification Trainers for the Future project, visit


In our second to last post in our series introducing our trainees on the Identification Trainers for the Future project, we meet Anthony Roach. Although Anthony comes from a background in archaeology, he is a very keen amateur naturalist and science communicator, having already worked as a weekend science educator for the Museum.


My name is Anthony Roach and I am an enthusiastic and energetic amateur naturalist with a strong passion for inspiring people about the natural world. I was fascinated by material culture and prehistory and graduated as an archaeologist at the Univeristy of Reading in July 2003.


Anthony Roach.jpg

ID Trainer for the Future Anthony Roach, whose background is in archaeology and science communication.


I have spent the last 9 years in the handling, documentation, interpretation and advocacy of natural science collections (entomology, zoology, geology, archaeology and palaeontology) and inspiring museum audiences by delivering educational workshops and object-handling sessions at Plymouth City Museum and Exeter's Royal Albert Memorial Museum, affectionately known as RAMM.


RAMM was awarded 'Museum of the Year 2012' after a major 4 year re-development and between 2007 and 2010 I was given the opportunity to handle, pack and move its complete natural science collections, assist in delivering natural history outreach sessions, wildlife festivals and events and contributed to a touring exhibition called 'Micro-Sensation' about the beautiful and bizarre microscopic world.


My career working with natural science collections has shown that I have a strong interest in the natural world, but in my spare time I spend much of my time observing, photographing and identifying wildlife around the city of Exeter and the Exe Estuary in my home county of Devon. I have a strong passion for all wildlife, but particularly birds and invertebrates. I am an avid and enthusiastic birdwatcher following voluntary work as Peregrine Warden with the National Trust in 2006. In 2013 I was lucky enough to travel and work in New Zealand, volunteering for The Papa and Auckland War Memorial Museums, whilst travelling to see some of the rarest birds that still survive on remote pacific islands such as the Takahe, Yellow-Eyed Penguin and Kokako.


20150421 IDTrainers Peregrine AnthonyRoach NaturalHistoryMuseum_PictureLibrary_005517_IA.jpg

Anthony is an enthusiastic birdwatcher following voluntary work as Peregrine Warden with the National Trust in 2006. Image: Plate 17 from John Gould's The Birds of Great Britain, Vol. 1 (1873, hand coloured lithograph).


Due to my strong interest in the  Museum's collections following repeated visits to exhibitions such as Dino-Birds in 2002, Wildlife Photographer of the Year and the Darwin Cenenary exhibitions in 2009, I was delighted to join the Natural History Museum as a Weekend Science Educator in 2010.


My interest in citizen science and teaching and inspiring people of all ages about wildlife has given me the chance to work with school and familiy audiences in the Museum's learning spaces and with Museum scientists on learnin projects and special events such as Dino Snores and Big Nature Day. I have really enjoyed working with fellow Science Educators in the flagship science centre 'Investigate' that allows visitors to handle and explore real natural history specimens, develop scientific literacy skills and inspire their interest in the natural world.


My proudest moment was in 2013, being asked to work alongside fellow Life and Earth sciences scientists in the Hintze Hall for the Museum's annual Science Uncovered event, where the public get the chance to meet scientists and understand the scientific research taking place at the Museum. My role was to assist the scientists and facilitate discussions with the public who were able to see incredibly rare and scientifically important specimens such as those collected by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace.


I applied for the Identification Trainers for the Future traineeship to expand my knowledge of UK biodiversity and the mosaic of habitats that occur, and some of the main indicator species for the health of our environment. I was particularly moved as a result of the 2013 State of Nature report which showed that 60% of UK species studied had declined over recent decades and one in ten species assessed are under threat of disappearing altogether.


I wanted to do something more pro-active to help UK wildlife, inspire people of all ages through citizen science projects as well as continuing my passionate interest in museum collections. Working with staff in the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity (AMC) allows me to do all these thngs, as it is a place where reference collections allow people to identify what they find while the AMC runs citizen science projects, events and courses to help people learn about wildlfie, contributes valuable specimens to an ever-expanding library of life and are custodians of important botanical, entomological and zoological collections.


I love meeting new people and working in a team and so I am looking forward to the experiences that I will have to meet new people, visit new wildlife rich places around the UK and inspire others. I would like to use the skills and experience that I gain during the traineeship to improve my understanding of UK biodiversity and the role of habitat management in creating opportunities for wildlife rich landscape-scale conservation. I would like to further improve my knowledge and experience of handling, documenting and preparing specimens for museum collections, developing wildlife keys and interpretation and the critical skills and experience of surveying, identification and field recording as well as the abiltiy to assess habitats using industry recognised approaches.


Thanks Anthony! We'll be introducing the final member of the first cohort of trainees soon. If you'd like to find out more about the Identification Trainers for the Future project, and the traineeships, visit:


The next of our new trainees to introduce themselves is Katy Potts. Katy is a keen entomologist and has volunteered with the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and most recently with our own Coleoptera department before joining the traineeship programme.


I have been an amateur entomologist for the past 3 years and I am passionate about all aspects of wildlife, but particularly things with six legs. I recently graduated from Plymouth University where I studied Conservation Biology, since I graduated I have been keen to gain more knowledge in the identification of UK wildlife with particular focus on conservation. I am very interested in all aspects of wildlife but I am fascinated with insects, I find their morphology, behaviour and evolution extremely interesting.


Katy Potts.jpg

ID Trainer for the Future Katy Potts, with a drawer of coleoptera from the Museum's collection.


Over the last four years I have been involved with public engagement events with Opal and Buglife where we ran invertebrate surveys and BioBlitz projects to encourage the public to become interested in their local wildlife. I was also involved with a pollinator survey run by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology that involved me surveying for hoverflies and bumblebees on Dartmoor and then identifying specimens to species level. This survey ignited my passion for identification further and I engaged in entomological and recording communities to develop my understanding.


Wildlife fascinates me, all aspects from trees, mosses and lichens to beetles and hoverflies, I find it all amazing to watch in the wild and also to learn about their ecology. The content of the traineeship enthused me as it covers core groups of UK wildlife. As I said, I have a particular interest in the six legged insects, particularly beetles.


After studying conservation at university I realised there has never been more importance for naturalists to have good biological skills, particuarly when species are under threat from habitat fragmentation and climate change. Naturalists need to have good biological skills in order to monitor and record trends in populations of wildlife, this can allow for the most optimal conservation of our wildlife. I knew I wanted to improve my identification skills after I left university so I came to the museum to volunteer in the Coleoptera department learning the basic skills in taxonomy and how to preserve biological records.


This traineeship is the next step in my path to becoming a wildlife expert. I am looking forward to engaging in the identifcation workshops and field trips where we will learn the key knowledge, principles and skills of taxonomy and biological recording. I am keen to develop my identification skills and this traineeship will equip me with the skills to begin my career as a UK wildlife scientist.


After this section of the training we can then apply this knowlege and pass it on to others by learning how to teach others about UK wildlife. This part of the traineeship can be done in a practical manner and I am particularly looking forward to fomulating my own identifcation workshops to teach others what I have learnt. I hope to engage others in the identification of insects in the UK by creating a guide to the commonly found insects by encouraging them to look around their local parks and woodlands. This should be fun and engage people with their local wildlife.


I feel inspired by this traineeship, a career in the biodiversity sector represents what I have been working towards during my degree and now as a graduate. I hope to gain a broad range of knowlege in UK wildlife identification skills, with a developing expertise in the insects. I would like to increase my skillset in biological recording both in the field and in the curation of biological records and I hope to improve my skills in science communication and public engagement, which will allow me to effectively teach others and raise awareness about natural history in the UK.


The Museum is an important resource for schools and many of the UK's future scientists, I am eager to ensure that future generations are able to identify the wildlife that is around them.


Thanks Katy! We'll be introducing the remaining 2 members of the first cohort of trainees over the next week. If you'd like to find out more about the Identification Trainers for the Future project, and the traineeships, visit:


In the second post in our series introducing the new trainees on the Identification Trainers for the Future project, meet Sally Hyslop a keen volunteer recorder who will be focussing on our Bluebells survey project in the next few weeks.


My curiosity for natural history stems from many years of study, both out in the field and academically. I studied Zoology at the University of Sheffield where I completed an undergraduate Masters degree. Volunteering, however, has always complimented my studies and I take any opportuity to learn a little more about the natural world. These experiences range from volunteering in the collections of my local museum to working with big cats in wildlife sanctuaries.

Sally Hyslop.jpg

ID Trainer for the Future Sally Hyslop, whose background is in zoology.


Since leaving university and returning to my home in Kent, I have become increasingly involved in recording and monitoring the biodiversity in my area, taking part in identification courses and surveys with orgnaisations such as Kent Wildlfie Trust, Kent Mammal Group and Plantlife. I also volunteer as a Meadow Champion for the Medway Valley Countryside Partnership, a community-focused project which aims to increase understanding and conservation of our remaining meadow habitats.


Prior to starting as a trainee at the Museum, I was Young Facilitator for the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services, working alongside partner organisation The Conservation Volunteers on wildlife projects in Kent. I supported and led weekly sessions of school groups which were focused on inspiring environmental action and promoting outdoor learning. The children were always enthusiastic and inquisitive, making the challenge of explaining new ideas and concepts to them a pleasure.


Through my own amateur interest in ecology, I was able to introduce the children to basic identification, using all sorts of species encountered during the sessions as examples. Our sessions concentrated on creating new habitats in school grounds and I particularly enjoyed planting meadows with the children, an activity through which I could introduce the children to native wildflowers and their defining features. Working with school groups and at my local environment centre has given me new insight into wildlife education, which I hope will benefit my experience during the traineeship.


I look forward to developing my understainding of UK biodiversity throughout my time at the Museum, yet I am particularly excited about learning and developing creative ways to pass these skills on. I'm especially keen to start delving into the collections and it will be brilliant to have both the time and resources to improve on my identification - I also hope to use any spare moment practising scientific illustration!


Thanks Sally! We'll be introducing other members of the first cohort of trainees over the next couple of weeks. If you'd like to find out more about the Identification Trainers for the Future project, and the traineeships, visit:


Welcome to our series of posts introducing our trainees on the Identification Trainers for the Future project. We start with Mike Waller, who over the coming months will be working particularly on our Orchid Observers project:


Hello! I'm Mike - a wildlife fanatic and general all round naturalist from Wolverhampton where I've been based in between my years at Aberystwyth University studying Physical Geography. I graduated with a 1st Class Honours degree in 2013 and since then I've been immersing myself in anything wildlife orientated with the long-term goal of a career in conservation. Most notably, I spent last summer working with the superb team at RSPB Ynys-hir running the visitor centre and assisting with practical conservation work on the reserve.


Mike Waller.jpg

ID Trainer for the Future Mike Waller, who has a keen interest in orchids.


In terms of my interests, I've always loved British wildlife in all its forms but I first specialised in birds, winning the RSPBs 'Young Birder of the Year' award aged eleven. In the depths of winter I dragged my mum to the freezing coastal plains of Norfolk and Southern Scotland for geese and waders and watched garden birds for hours on end.


From around the age of twelve I became fascinated with wildflowers and recorded every species within a three mile radius of my grandmother's house. It wasn't long before I saw my first bee orchid and instantly became fascinated with terrestrial European orchids. Over ten years I criss-crossed the country and amassed a large database of images in the pursuit of every UK species but it was the ecology of the bee orchid on which I ultimately focussed my dissertation.


20150409 Bee orchid - ID Trainers for the Future - Mike Waller - NaturalHistoryMuseum_PictureLibrary_030814_IA.jpg

The bee orchid (Ophrys apifera). Watercolour by Arthur Harry Church, 17 June 1913.


More recently I co-founded 'The Ghost Orchid Project' - a research initiative seeking to locate extant populations of the extremely rare ghost orchid through the training of willing volunteers to identify specific indicator species and habitat types. We are currently expanding our research and hopefully will be able to use the resources of the Museum to aid our understanding of this mysterious species.


Indeed, while I am here I plan to take full advantage of the rest of the Museum, especially the frequent lectures and seminars and opportunities for networking and building bridges with experts in some of my other fields of interest. I was particularly inspired to hear that Adrian Lister - an expert in Pleistocene megafauna - works at the Museum and it is people like this that I hope to get involved with, whether with the work they are doing or simply grill them for the answers to some burning questions.


Visiting different parts of the country and finding wildlife highlighted to me the importance of biological recording but equally the paucity of recording that actually takes place. This is particularly acute for some of the more 'difficult' species groups such as mosses, flies and earthworms (to name a few). This traineeship addresses that issue directly. Identifying and recording is not only essential but exciting and I know our fantastic public can be enthused given half the chance.


Simply having the chance to be shown the intricate diversity of the species groups in the workshop phase of our programme here at the Museum will be undoubtedly fascinating. Ultimately I hope to come out of this year with the confidence and knowledge to help others to unlock their passion for UK wildlife and the subtleties of identification. We have the longest and grandest tradition of biological recording anywhere in the world and we simply cannot allow that legacy to dwindle any further.


Thanks Mike! We'll be introducing other members of the first cohort of trainees over the next couple of weeks. If you'd like to find out more about the Identification Trainers for the Future project, and the traineeships, visit:


Welcome to the first blog post for the Museums Identification Trainers for the Future project! This exciting new project centers around 15 work-based traineeship positions that will be hosted at the Museum and has been designed to address the growing skills gap in species identification in the UK. We will be doing this by targeting species groups where there is a lack, or loss, of ID skills in biological recording.


Our first group of trainees started with us this month, having come through a very competitive selection process, and were selected from over 400 applications. Choosing our first cohort has meant we have had to make some difficult decisions: certainly by the standard of the 25 we invited to selection day back in January, there are some very capable and enthusiastic people out there, with everyone who came along performing extremely well. Hopefully that, of course, means great things for UK biodiversity and biological recording!

Our first trainees taking part in the Identification Trainers for the Future project

L-R Sally Hyslop, Michael Waller, Katy Potts, Anthony Roach and Chloe Rose


Sally, Katy, Michael, Chloe and Anthony will be introducing themselves in their own blog posts which will appear here over the next few weeks, so I will save mentioning more about their backgrounds here. They have a very busy year in front of them getting involved in our work in the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity as well as working with our specialist curation teams and helping out at Field Studies Council centres across the country.


They will be building their own species identification skills through a wide range of workshops, field visits and private study and later on we will be looking at building their communication and teaching skills so they can pass on to others what they have learnt, which is the priniciple purpose of our new project. In the mean time they will also be out and about at various Museum events throughout the year, and we will be reporting back on those too as soon as we can.


For now that leaves me only needing to say a big welcome to all our trainees, I look forward to working with you over the next 12 months!


Steph West

Project Manager - Identification Trainers for the Future


The ID Trainers for the Future project is sponsored through the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Skills for the Future programme and is supported by the Field Studies Council and National Biodiversity Network Trust.


For more information, see our website


Artist Chrystel Lebas and Museum biologist and botanist Kath Castillo are exploring the E J Salisbury collection at the Natural History Museum and Kew Gardens Archives. They hope to use Salisbury’s images of Scottish landscapes to reconstruct environmental change over the last 50 years.



Article in the New Scientist 11 June 1959, Courtesy of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew Library & Archives.


Chrystel and Kath began looking for clues that could reveal more about Salisbury’s research on ecology and botany through his methods of recording data, his travel journals and field notes. Delving into the 30 boxes of Salisbury’s documents has also revealed a small collection of hand written quotations, puns and limericks.


The Salisbury archive at Kew Gardens is currently in the condition in which it was received and will be fully conserved when resources allow.


img2.jpgMuseum biologist and botanist Kath Castillo and Artist Chrystel Lebas, researching the E J Salisbury collection at Kew Gardens. Photograph by Bergit Arends, project curator.


One of the notebooks found in Kew Library & Archives reveals a wealth of information including experimental data and research annotations on ecology. Courtesy of the Royal Botany Gardens Kew Library & Archives.


Funding from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation permitted Kath Castillo to join Chrystel on her research in Scotland. Kath, who joined the project in September 2013, provides the necessary scientific knowledge (botanical and ecological) that enables geographical and botanical determinations in the field, based on Salisbury’s recorded images in the same locations.

img4.jpgKath and Chrystel on fieldwork in Scotland, October 2013 (Photographs by Bergit Arends).


Kath and Chrystel began the research and comparative study in Rothiemurchus Estate, a privately owned Highland estate within the Strathspey, northeast of the river Spey, in theCairngorms National Park.



Kath and Chrystel comparing and searching for Salisbury’s locations from his landscape images in Rothiemurchus Estate. Photograph by Bergit Arends.


The project engages with environmental change, particularly in the Scottish landscape, and creates new understandings of the artistic and scientific gaze onto the natural environment and its representation. The project is supported by a grant from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundationand the University of the Arts London.



Kath holding one of E J Salisbury’s photographs against the Rothiemurchus landscape. Photograph by Bergit Arends.


Above left: Kath identifying a specimen. Right: Chrystel photographing ‘Vaccinium vitis-idaea on remains of pine bole in Rothiemurchus forest’. Bottom: Chrystel recording a view of the fens at twilight.

The Salisbury collection has, until recently, remained un-catalogued and undervalued. A collaborative approach to these materials is important as the plates represent an important piece of landscape and wildlife photographic history – UK natural history and photographic history knowledge and expertise will be essential to unlock the arts and science potential of this collection.


The images represent a unique record of landscapes that may have changed dramatically. They are an irreplaceable piece of the scientific information that may be used to investigate environmental change, either through natural processes or the hand of man.


Photographer and filmmaker Chrystel Lebas is working on a collaborative project to observe environmental change in the British landscape using the the Sir Edward James Salisbury Archive.


image-1.jpgChrystel photographed by Kath Castillo (Museum biologist and botanist) on their first research trip together in Culbin Forest in October 2013.


The Museum holds a beguiling collection of unexplored landscape images and field notes taken by British botanist and ecologist Sir Edward James Salisbury, who was Director of Kew Gardens from 1943 to 1956. The collection of over 1,400 works was orphaned – an anonymous assembly of Kodak boxes containing silver gelatine prints and photographic glass plates kept in two large cardboard boxes. The images record natural environments, capturing in particular botanical information in the United Kingdom and Ireland, to which specific annotations on the regions’ ecology were added.


Around two years ago photographer and filmmaker Chrystel Lebas was introduced to the collection by Bergit Arends (former Curator of Contempory Art at the Natural History Museum). Chrystel Lebas and Museum botanist Mark Spencer (Curator of the British and Irish Herbarium), began to trace this important collection, which was assembled in the first third of the 20th century.


image-2.jpgThe images include close-ups of plants and sometimes a foot appearing in the corner of the frame, presumably to indicate the scale of the specimen, or sometimes a subject, a woman standing amongst the forest trees.


Each of the boxes containing glass plates were scrutinised to look for clues that could indicate the author’s name or any information that could relocate the collection. And finally one day, and after a couple of months researching the collection, Chrystel found a glass plate negative with a handwritten name on it: E.J Salisbury, and of course this was the moment that made us realise that this particular collection was extremely valuable!


image-3.jpg‘Edward James Salisbury: Prophet and propagandist of botany’ New Scientist, 11 June 1959.



Chrystel began travelling to Scotland on her own, prior to the research being funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. She started her research in the field and recorded the landscapes.


The focus of this project is on the Scottish landscape through Salisbury’s images taken between 1925 to 1933 in the following areas:

  • Arrochar in Argyll and Bute
  • the Trossachs National park
  • the Rothiemurchus Estate, a privately owned Highland Estate within the Strathspey, northeast of the river Spey, in the Cairngorms National Park
  • Culbin Forest, which sits on the Moray Firth between Nairn and Findhorn


The research contributes to a comparative landscape and botanical study spanning nearly 90 years.


by Hayley Dunning, Science Web Editor


A species of nightshade  thought to be restricted to one area of Peru has been found in 17 other  locations with the aid of habitat modelling.


Museum botanists Dr Tiina Särkinen (now at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh) and Dr Sandra Knapp discovered the new species of nightshade, named this week as Solanum pseudoamericanum,  in 2012 in the Andes. When they first found it, they thought this  species only occurred in two river valleys in southern Peru. By using a  method known as species distribution modelling, they predicted other  regions of Peru where the plant might also be found, based on the  environmental conditions at the original collection sites.


An example of the newly discovered Solanum pseudoamericanum, collected on 7 March 2012.

The flowers are on the left and the berries on the right.


A  collecting field trip to northern Peru the following year uncovered the  nightshade in 17 new locations predicted by the model. The success of  the project proves the method of species distribution modelling can work  in complex climatic regions such as the Andes, where there is an  abundance of undiscovered species and data coverage is generally poor.


Mapping species

Species  distribution modelling uses climatic data to help map the range of a  new species, speeding up the process of cataloguing it worldwide and  providing a way to accurately predict where that species might be found  again.


The approach may be particularly useful when dealing with critically endangered species, where there is an urgent need to find and conserve remaining populations.

The work is part of a larger project to map the distribution patterns of all the endemic Solanaceae species in Peru, and to look for components of rarity; what sorts of  things make plant species rare. With this information, researchers hope  to be able to better describe, and then conserve, plant diversity in  Peru.


Hidden diversity

Species  distribution modelling has been used successfully for vertebrates  before, but has not been widely tested in plants. Dr Knapp belives this  may be because collecting plants is seen as reasonably straightforward,  but this case study suggests that it is not always true.


Solanum pseudoamericanum was not originally collected because it looks a lot like a common weed.  ‘Collecting is extremely biased, and this raises the question of how we  deal with absences,’ Knapp said. The new species represents a category  of ‘hidden diversity’, where new discoveries can be obscured by their  physical similarity to known, common species.


Open data

The research, and all its associated geographical and specimen data, is published this week in the open-access journal PhytoKeys.  By publishing the results and original specimens as open data, said  Knapp, large specimen datasets can be combined by other researchers  globally to produce more general analyses of diversity.