Heritage Lottery funding to safeguard Lincolnshire plants

A new Heritage Lottery Fund supported project 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’. The University of Lincoln will support the project by studying the genetics of these plants.

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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.

The project will fund the creation of a contemporary collection of Lincolnshire plant specimens, inspired by a collection created by Sir Joseph Banks, the 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. Scientists at the University of Lincoln hope 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.”

Lincoln research showcased on BBC’s Ingenious Animals

School of Life Sciences on Ingenious Animals

Lincoln research showcased on BBC’s Ingenious Animals

School of Life Sciences on Ingenious Animals
Photo: BBC Iplayer

Research by Dr Anna Wilkinson from the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences features on a prime-time BBC television series which sheds light on fascinating findings from the animal world.

Ingenious Animals is a new BBC One series in which a team of wildlife experts travel the globe in search of the most surprising animal stories and reveal how and why animals do such remarkable things.

Catch up on BBC iPlayer here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b07tj0ps/ingenious-animals-1-intelligence

Dr Wilkinson’s work exploring the cognitive abilities of cold-blooded animals featured in the opening episode of the series, which is presented by award-winning broadcaster Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

Her research has resulted in world-first evidence that reptiles can learn through imitation.

The study, which was showcased in full as part of Ingenious Animals on Thursday 1st September 2016, revealed that bearded dragons are in fact capable of social learning through imitation.

Scientists draw an important distinction between imitation and emulation when studying the cognitive abilities of animals. The ability to acquire new skills through the imitation of others’ behaviour was previously thought to be unique to humans and apes, however Dr Wilkinson’s work was the first to demonstrate this ability in reptiles.

The research involved two different sets of bearded dragons. One group was shown a video of another bearded dragon moving aside a small sliding door to reach food on the other side, whereas a control group was shown a video of the door opening but with no indication of how it could be moved.

The bearded dragons which were shown the video of the animal sliding open the door were all able to imitate this action and get to the food, whereas the control group could not.

Talking about the research on the programme, presenter Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall said: “Anna has clear evidence that they are solving problems by imitation, and now science is rethinking the extent of reptile intelligence.

“Anna’s exciting research overturns the view that reptiles are slow thinkers with limited intelligence, and these delightful dragons are changing the way we see the reptile world.”

The Lincoln study featured in the first episode of the series, dedicated to ‘animal intelligence’, alongside other research and animal stories from across the globe. The programme also featured rats which are becoming unexpected heroes – helping to save lives as part of a unique mine-detection squad.

The episode is available to view again on the BBC iPlayer: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b07tj0ps/ingenious-animals-1-intelligence