Lichen conservation leads public on a trail of discovery
The plants that make the environments on which we rely are running for cover: species are quite literally on the move because climate change is adjusting their vulnerable habitats. At the same time, more people are needed to recognise – and, therefore, help protect – the species around us. That is why a new family discovery trail at Benmore Botanic Garden, in Argyll & Bute, is so important to the conservation of habitats in Scotland and beyond.
In laying out a trail – complete with hand lens loans for participants – lichenologist Dr Rebecca Yahr and Curator Peter Baxter aim to spread the word to the thousands of people who visit Benmore every year. Now, the fun of the Lichen Safari can equip them with the knowledge to help crucial conservation, wherever they may travel.
Not really plants, but fungi with a trick up their sleeve – with symbiotic algae or bacteria, which provide their food, growing inside their bodies - lichens are hugely sensitive to environmental perturbation. That makes them important bioindicators for pollution and climate change, and for habitat management. Britain, home to some 2,000, species, is also home to globally rare temperate rainforest species. So, researchers at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) and likeminded institutions around the country are identifying lichen species, locating where they occur and how threats to species and habitats can be avoided through conservation. Benmore is the first Garden to take this project from Edinburgh in a bid to extend public outreach; along the trail are examples of RBGE’s work in ecology and conservation of lichens.
Explaining the motivation behind the scheme, Rebecca Yahr stressed the potential far-reaching effects of public engagement: “Lichens can be found everywhere from inner city pavements to mountain tops. Yet, while there are probably more scientific papers being published on the subject, this is almost certainly balanced by a lack of people who can recognise them in the field and so can actively work to conserve them. By providing simple lichen ID leaflets, and a trail of 10 information points to identify while enjoying this stunning Garden, it would be wonderful to think we might inspire even small numbers of children and adults to go home and continue the pursuit. Every little increase in understanding our environment moves towards conserving it.”
Peter Baxter said it was an important initiative for Benmore to pick-up: “While we welcome visitors to relax and enjoy the Garden, what sets RBGE’s four sites apart from others is its remit to inspire people of all ages to want to engage with nature. Whether they live locally and come regularly from Dunoon or visit from further afield, we offer the opportunity to take away a personal experience of discovering the Wee World of Lichens.”
Benmore Lichen Trail booklets are obtained from the Garden admissions desk, Benmore Botanic Garden, seven miles north of Dunoon, on the Cowal Peninsula. There is a similar trail at RBGE’s Edinburgh site and plans for others at Logan Botanic Garden, Dumfries & Galloway and Dawyck Botanic Garden, in the Scottish Borders.
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