UK 'young scientists' to provide a snapshot of natural Britain
Press release, 29 April 2009
Primary school children across the UK will join scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (RBG Kew) in a mass observation study to provide a snapshot of natural Britain.
From daisy and dandelion to garlic mustard and white campion, The Great Plant Hunt Week (15-22 May 2009) will see thousands of 'young scientists' go in search of ten species of plants, recording when and where they flower. Monitoring when plants flower each year helps scientists assess the effects of climate change.
The phenology study coincides with the run up to International Day for Biological Diversity (22 May 2009) with initiatives worldwide to raise awareness of the importance of biodiversity.
Once completed, the study will provide a snapshot of natural Britain as recorded and compiled by primary school children aged 5-11. The information will add to the decades of records held by the RBG Kew and help the children to understand their role in appreciating and preserving the environment around them.
Professor Angela McFarlane , Director of Content and Learning for the RBG Kew, said: "As the next custodians of the natural world, the primary school children involved in the project may well have to face some of the toughest environmental challenges ever. The Great Plant Hunt Week aims to jumpstart children's enthusiasm for science as they get involved with collecting real data 'in the field'."
RBG Kew has a long history of collecting phenology data. More than five decades ago, Kew botanist Nigel Hepper (now retired) started to make notes about the flowering dates of plants he found at Kew. Recalling those early days, Nigel Hepper comments: "People thought science needed expensive equipment but what you need is information. Phenology only needed a pencil and paper. It's a cheap and easy way to collect data." What started as a personal passion in the early 1950s is now regarded as important scientific data recording the effects of climate change on Britain 's wildlife.
Nigel adds: "Noting flowering dates over the years becomes increasingly interesting as one compares the dates year by year to see whether the plants are coming out earlier or later! Plants grow in the same spot and monitor the environment around them like an instrument, growing and flowering in response. The longer one does it the more fascinating it becomes."
The flowering dates for hawthorn, for example, have changed considerably over the decades. The average flowering date for hawthorn in the 1980s was the first day of May hence the common name 'may blossom'. Since 2000, the average opening date has been 10 th April, some 21 days earlier.
The Great Plant Hunt Week is the first time Kew has invited very young children to record their observations of plant life in this way. While initially they will be recording their field data with paper and pencil, today's young scientists will also share pictures online on The Great Plant Hunt website using Google Maps and photo-sharing service, Picasa.
Obi Felter, Google's UK Head of Consumer Marketing, applauded the aims of the project: "This is a fantastic way for curious kids to explore the nature that surrounds them, to learn more about its annual patterns and rhythms and to help preserve it for the future. Using Google's collaborative technologies they will now be able to share their findings with friends in a new and imaginative way."
The ten species featuring in The Great Plant Hunt Week range from the ubiquitous daisy and dandelion to garlic mustard and white campion. Three tree species are also included, elder, silver birch and hawthorn.
The full list: Daisy (Bellis perennis), Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), Elder (Sambucus nigra), Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), Red clover (Trifolium pratense), Self heal (Prunella vulgaris), Silver birch (Betula pendula), Sorrel (Rumex acetosa), White campion (Silene latifolia).
Created by RBG Kew, The Great Plant Hunt has been commissioned and funded by the Wellcome Trust. Two and a half thousand schools from across the UK have already registered for The Great Plant Hunt. To see details about the schools that are taking part in the project, please visit www.greatplanthunt.org and click on 'Look who's plant hunting'.
- For further press information please call +44 (0)20 8332 3823 or +44 (0)7890 093 106.
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a world famous scientific organisation, internationally respected for its outstanding living collection of plants and world-class herbarium as well as its scientific expertise in plant diversity, conservation and sustainable development in the UK and around the world. Kew Gardens is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a major international visitor attraction. Together the landscaped, 132 hectares of Kew Gardens and RBG Kew's country estate, Wakehurst Place, attract nearly 2 million visitors every year. In 2009 RBG Kew celebrates its 250th anniversary.
Kew's Millennium Seed Bank is the largest wild plant seed bank in the world. By 2010, RBG Kew and its partners will have collected and conserved seed from 10 per cent of the world's wild flowering plant species (c.30, 000 species). The aim is to conserve 25% by 2020, however the project currently has no secured funding post 2010. Funds are being actively sought in order to continue to develop this vital work.
The Wellcome Trust is the largest charity in the UK . It funds innovative biomedical research, in the UK and internationally, spending over £600 million each year to support the brightest scientists with the best ideas. The Wellcome Trust supports public debate about biomedical research and its impact on health and wellbeing.
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