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Working for British field botany – young botanist Ryan Clark

Dr M is delighted to welcome this botanical selfie from Ryan Clark who was, until last year, BSc student at University of Reading, and is now busy developing his botanical skills with the likes of BSBI. With keen, enthusiastic and able botanists like Ryan, the future of Botany remains assured!

I am… Ryan Clark. A graduate finding my feet in the ecological sector. I am interested in the ecology and conservation almost every taxonomic group but I have a special interest in flowering plants and pollinators. I try to encourage as many people as I can to appreciate and protect British wildlife. I believe everyone was amazing species on their doorsteps, they just have to open their eyes (and minds).

I got into botany… Almost accidentally. I live near to the Chilterns and fell in love with chalk grasslands and the flowers that they contain. Social media has also helped me find out about the wonderful plants we have in Britain that I have yet to see.

I studied botany… Slowly but surely over the last few years, teaching myself how to identify any wildflowers I find. I still haven’t quite got to grips with many groups though including grasses and ferns. This year, through following Dr M’s tweets and blog posts, I have became mesmerised by bryophytes, a slippery slope I feel!

I have worked with plants… In a wide variety of circumstances including recording vascular plants to build site lists and management plans for sites local to me (click here).  I have also carried out practical habitat management in aquatic habitats in order to identify and remove invasive plant species in order to encourage native species recolonisation.

January 2015 was the first year that I co-ordinated the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) New Year Plant Hunt, a project founded by Dr Tim Rich and Dr Sarah Whild. The aim is to get anyone with an interest in nature to record any wildflowers they found in flower between the 1st and 4th January. This has been a great success and January 2015 generated nearly 3000 records of 368 different species in flower and the results even made the BBC News!  I look forward to co-ordinating it again in 2016.

My botanical interest areas…  Firstly I am interested in pollinator – plant relationships. My BSc dissertation at University of Reading focussed on using flowering lawns to encourage pollinators in urban environments and pollinator – plant relationships are a research area I continue to be interested in.

Osmia spinulosa (Solitary bee), visiting Fleabane

Osmia spinulosa (Solitary bee), visiting Fleabane


Secondly, I am very interested in the use of citizen science in botany. I believe you don’t have to be an expert to make valuable contributions to studying natural history and believe that the National Plant Monitoring Scheme designed by BSBI, CEH, Plantlife and JNCC, which is being rolled out this year, will highlight just how valuable citizen scientists are. Even Charles Darwin valued the contribution of citizen scientists, and while he was supporting his theory of natural selection he exchanged thousands of letters with everyone from gardeners to explorers.

The biggest challenge for botany today… Without a doubt I believe the biggest challenge for botany today is  encouraging new (and younger) people into the wonderful world of botany. There has been a drastic reduction in the amount of botany taught in schools and even to biologists at degree level! Thankfully the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland is very keen to encourage new members and even offers a discounted rate for younger members. There are many people that want to encourage young botanists so watch this space!

My favourite plant… Any plants that can be used to make paper. I am a big bibliophile and can’t imagine a world (or studying natural history) without books!

My botanical superhero… Professor Clive Stace who has revolutionised the way in which Botany is carried out in Britain through his seminal publications including the “Book of Stace” also known as: New Flora of British Isles.  Professor Stace spoke at this year’s BSBI Annual Exhibition Meeting about the Hybrid Flora of the British Isles which he is currently producing.

My web presence… I am a profilic twitter user and tweet at @RyanClarkNature, I also blog at ryanclarkecology

Dr M says: It’s always a great feeling to see my students making their way into the botanical world and making and impact, it’s also great to see how supportive the wider botanical community is of young people, best wishes to Ryan and all young botanists in finding rewarding career pathways!


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