The Natural History Museum Comes to Lincolnshire

Fern collection at Chambers Farm Wood - Catherine Watson

Recently Simon and I joined four members of staff visiting Lincolnshire from the Natural History Museum in London.

Recently Simon and I joined four members of staff visiting Lincolnshire from the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London. Between them we had botany experts, a molecular biologist and a charophyte (freshwater algae) specialist. 

The aim of the visit was twofold - to find and collect charophyte species and any other species of note, all of which we took duplicate samples of to keep in the herbarium at Sir Joseph Banks Society in Horncastle; and for Fred Rumsey (Senior Curator at NHM) to lead a fern identification and collection event at Chambers Farm Wood.

Sea Lavender

Sea Lavender - Catherine Watson

In three days, we visited Whisby, Gibraltar Point and Baston Fen nature reserves, giving us a mixture of freshwater and halophyte (salt-tolerant) plant species to study. Simon and myself spent most of our time with Kath Castillo (Love Lincs Plants Project Officer at NHM) who was in charge of recording the data, including plant and habitat descriptions and location.

We took a photo of the plant still in the ground (where possible) and input all the information on an app Kath has developed for plant collection events and on paper forms. We took two of each species and placed both in a press after first taking a small piece of leaf. This is stored separately as a DNA sample which will eventually be sequenced, with records kept at the museum.

Over the course of the visit we had collected over 70 specimens – including duplicates. One species, Chara canescens, was found by Michelle Casanova a charophyte specialist kitted out in waders and armed with two metal grappling hooks.

Collecting freshwater plants was a first for me and Simon, so Debra Turner taught us how to correctly prep the sample for pressing. The method involves placing the specimen in a shallow tray of clean water, separating the individual plants apart and spreading them in a way that will make for a good mounted plant. When ready, you slide in a labelled piece of blot paper under the sample and pull it back out with the plant now attached.

Natural History Museum with fern

Fern collection at Chambers Farm Wood - Catherine Watson

On the Saturday we were also joined by Suzanne Fysh, Love Lincs Plants Education & Community Officer, for the fern collection. We wandered into the beautiful Chambers Farm Wood and Fred introduced us to several species of fern. He pointed out all the differences in overall size and shape of the frond, the differences in individual leaves and the shape of sori – the structures which produce spores for reproduction.

I had never realised how varied ferns could be, especially in just one woodland!

Catherine