May 30, 2024

Britain has a long tradition of volunteer naturalists dating back 250 years to the Reverend Gilbert White in Selborne, Hampshire, best known for his classic book The Natural History of Selborne (1789).

In recent times, Rosemary Parslow has detailed the plants of the Isles of Scilly, many found nowhere else in Britain, thanks to the sub-tropical climate of the islands.

Rosemary first visited the islands in 1958, and now – at the age of 87 – she still monitors the islands’ moors and coasts.

One of her greatest discoveries was a small rare fern, the least viper’s-tongue fern (Ophioglossum lusitanicum), which grows to just 0.8 inches (2 cm) tall, found on a patch of heather on the small island of St Agnes and is unique to the UK.

In Ashtead, Surrey, Jean Combes recorded the dates each spring when her local trees first came into leaf. She began her records in 1947, noting the leaves of oak trees, ash, lime and horse chestnut, which she did simply out of her love for nature.

Over the years, her records have proved invaluable, showing that the trees are leafing steadily earlier due to the warm climate. Jean died in 2023 at the age of 96, but her work is continued by other volunteers.

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