Lincolnshire’s botanical heritage sees a flowering of funds with National Lottery grant

Red Hill Nature ReserveCaption: Credit: Rachel Shaw

Plants are extremely important, they provide us with food, oxygen, energy and a wealth of resources. Botany, the study of plants, is therefore crucial in shaping our understanding of the environment.

A new Heritage Lottery Fund supported project now aims to inspire young people to become the botanists of the future, helping to safeguard and improve our understanding of plants and the environment.

Pioneered by Lincolnshire Naturalists’ Union, Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, the Sir Joseph Banks Society and the Natural History Museum, the project is called ‘Lincolnshire Plants – Past and Future’.

A development grant of £21,400 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has already been secured to begin setting up the project. Once this development phase is complete, a larger grant of £473,100 has been earmarked by HLF for a three year project.

This larger grant will partly be used for a range of lifelong learning events and public engagement, a key aspect of which is to help young people connect with wildlife and develop botanical skills like plant identification, wildlife recording and the careful collection of important specimens.

Lincolnshire has very few botanists and without people to further the study of plants, many important species might be lost, along with an important scientific outlook on our environment.

The project will also fund the creation of a contemporary collection of Lincolnshire plant specimens, inspired by a collection created by Sir Joseph Banks, an eighteenth century Lincolnshire naturalist who famously voyaged around the world with Captain Cook. This will compliment an older collection currently preserved by Lincolnshire Naturalists’ Union.

Over the last 150 years the Lincolnshire Naturalists’ Union has been compiling a huge collection of over 9000 plant specimens, including some of Lincolnshire’s rarest plants. Such a special archive can provide lots of information about climate change, plant genetics and nature conservation.

However, with no proper storage facilities available in Lincolnshire the collection is now at serious risk of deterioration. Fortunately, as part of the lottery funded project the Natural History Museum in London will now look after the collection, securing it safely in facilities designed specifically for the protection of plant specimens. The Natural History Museum will also professionally catalogue and document the specimens, unlocking a treasure trove of vital environmental information.

These plant collections will allow scientists to study changes in our environment over the last three centuries, dramatically improving our understanding of the natural history of Lincolnshire and informing future environmental decisions. The University of Lincoln hopes to study the genetics of the specimens once they have been catalogued.

Chris Manning, Chair of the Project Steering Board and from Lincolnshire Naturalists’ Union, said:

This project is a wonderful opportunity to inspire young people with nature and improve our knowledge of Lincolnshire’s natural history. We need new botanists to help us understand the impact of climate change and to champion the knowledge we can gain about our environment from studying plants.

Once our past and present plant collections are catalogued and stored by the Natural History Museum we will have a huge resource to help botanists and scientists better understand our environment.

Jonathan Platt, Head of HLF East Midlands, said:

It’s great that this collection is being researched and catalogued by the Natural History Museum. Today’s investment will secure the future of the collection whilst training and inspiring a new generation of botanists. I’m delighted we are able to support it with money raised by National Lottery players.

Volunteers will be vital to the Lincolnshire Plants project. Creating a present day collection of plant specimens will require people to visit all parts of Greater Lincolnshire under guidance from the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust. This citizen-science project will not only train volunteers in plant identification, it will also find a new role for threatened traditional skills, ensuring that a group of botanists are trained in the collection, preparation and mounting of specimens.

Once catalogued the contemporary plant specimens will be kept at the Natural History Museum in London and at the Joseph Banks Centre in Horncastle. Information from both the past and contemporary collections will be available online as part of the Natural History Museum’s digital botanical collection of plant specimens.

Paul Learoyd, from Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, said:

Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust has always supported the involvement of young people in nature conservation. We’re delighted to be a part of this project and to help inspire the next generation of botanists.

Lincolnshire Naturalists’ Union’s plant collection is an invaluable part of Lincolnshire’s natural history and it’s great that the Natural History Museum will be looking after it. We’re really looking forward to working with volunteers to create a contemporary collection of plant specimens that will further enhance our knowledge of Lincolnshire’s environment.

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