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Botanical selfies take a trip to China (via Bangor) with Sophie Williams

Just as #iamabotanist gets trending on Twitter Dr M’s series of botanical selfies continues with self-confessed non-botanist (!) but definite plantophile, Dr Sophie Williams one of the team developing the new MSc in Plant Conservation at Bangor.

Anyone who works so closely with people and plants IS a botanist in Dr M’s eyes and there is much to love in this account, and for Dr M two interrelated elements stand out:

(1) Sophie originally went to Bangor to study zoology and ended up studying plants! (I love it when that happens!)

(2) And this change of plan was all because of the inspirational teaching of Nigel Brown who Dr M himself recalls with huge affection as one of his first lecturers teaching him all about plant families (some years ago now!) when Dr M (then plain JM!) was studying BSc Botany at Bangor!

But enough of Dr M, this is about Sophie:

I am… Sophie Williams, lecturer in conservation at Bangor and not really a botanist! I study the interactions between people and plants using both ecological and social science methods. When I worked at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh I was surrounded by real botanists and stopped calling myself one.

I got into botany…because of an amazing teacher – Nigel Brown, the curator of Treborth Botanic Garden. I went to Bangor University to study zoology and Nigel opened my eyes to the wonderful world of plants. Now I am a lecturer teaching students from a range of degrees: zoology, environmental science, marine ecology, so I am now on a mission to create some converts too!

I studied botany… and realised that plant conservation was linked to people.

I have worked with plants… mostly in tropical places that few people in the UK have heard of! Turks and Caicos Islands, Lesotho, Xishuangbanna.

My research/interest area… is currently looking into the trade of orchids in South East Asia. This project is just starting as I’ve recently taken up a position at Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanic Garden, which is located on the border with Myanmar, Laos and very close to Vietnam and Thailand.

The biggest challenge for botany today…

Persuading people that it is really worthwhile to conserve plants.

My favourite plant to eat/use… 

Camelia sinensis – in all of its wondrous forms. There are so many varieties of green tea here in Xishuangbanna, which are delicious. I recently went to a tea plantation where the trees were over 500 years old. But it is difficult to find a good cup of black tea in SW China and I admit that I bring enough black tea bags from the UK for a cup a day (and I use each bag twice).  

My botanical superhero: Peter Raven – I’ve seen him speak twice with astounding eloquence and infectious motivation.

My web presence… is part time because I spend five months a year in China so can only sometimes access WordPress sites (including my own www.sophiewilliams.org).

I also really miss getting updates through Twitter (@SJA_Williams)

[Let’s see if Dr M can pursuade Sophie to Tweet #iamabotanist but…?!]

sophie williams web




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