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UK: Historical herbarium meets modern plant archives

Botanists from the University of Lincoln are part of a new three year project which will help to safeguard our understanding of plants and the environment for the future, while inspiring a new generation of botanists.

Funded by a £499,000 grant awarded to The Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust by The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), the project, Lincolnshire Plants: Past and future, will provide a vital tool for scientific research into climate change and plant genetics, helping to address plant extinction on a local and national level using both historical herbarium archives and new archives of Lincolnshire's plants which will be created.

Botanist staff and students from the University of the Lincoln will be working on both the historic and 21st century collection. The project is inspired by Sir Joseph Banks, an eighteenth century Lincolnshire naturalist who famously voyaged around the world with Captain Cook.

Thanks to the Wildlife Trust's grant, a historical herbarium collection amassed over the last 150 years by the Lincolnshire Naturalists' Union and containing more than 9,000 plant specimens – including some of Lincolnshire's rarest plants – has this week been moved from the University's Riseholme campus to new storage facilities at the Natural History Museum to avoid deterioration.

The specialist facilities will offer secure storage and are designed for the protection of plant specimens. The museum will also be able to use state-of-the-art imaging facilities to make the collection available to view online. Some of the archive has been retained and displayed at the Sir Joseph Banks Centre in Horncastle.

Dr Carl Soulsbury from the University of Lincoln's School of Life Sciences, said: "This is an exciting opportunity to conserve a valuable resource and at the same time to then create a herbarium for the future."

Volunteers will be vital to the Lincolnshire Plants project, and people will be asked to visit all parts of Greater Lincolnshire under guidance from the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust to help create a present day collection of plant specimens.

This citizen-science project will not only train volunteers in plant identification, it will also find a new role for threatened traditional archiving skills, ensuring that volunteers are trained in the collection, preparation and mounting of specimens as well as opportunities to gain skills in botanical illustration and photography.

The grant is thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, and the project is a partnership between the Natural History Museum in London, The Sir Joseph Banks Society, Lincolnshire Naturalists Union, and the University of Lincoln.

Chris Manning, from Lincolnshire Naturalists' Union, said: "We are delighted to receive Heritage Lottery Fund grant and excited to be working on this ambitious project. The Lincolnshire Naturalists' Union and the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust have a long history of working together. With the additional expertise of the Natural History Museum this work can be expanded scientifically.

"The Sir Joseph Banks Society expands the scope culturally and historically through the continuing influence of the world-renowned botanist. This will enable the partnership to engage with wider audiences, thereby generating a better understanding of Lincolnshire's flora, past, present and future."

Jonathan Platt, Head of HLF East Midlands, added: "We are delighted that National Lottery players have been able to support the preservation of Lincolnshire's historic herbarium. The project offers a fantastic opportunity for local people to emulate Sir Joseph Banks, work with the Natural History Museum, create a new collection of flora for Lincolnshire, and inspire and train a new generation of botanists."

Source: University of Lincoln (Cerri Evans)
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