Team From Natural History Museum Start Islands’ Study

Team from the Natural History Museum

Team from the Natural History Museum

A team of scientists from the Natural History Museum is on the islands this week.

They’re collecting specimens of plants and insects to update their collection. The last major sample-gathering exercise in Scilly was carried out by Rosemary Parslow in the 1980s.

Dr Mark Spencer says it’s important to assess how things change over time. If emerging trends are recognised, government, planning or AONB policy could be changed.

The team are based at the Woolpack Centre on the Garrison.

They’ve been on Bryher looking at the dwarf pansies and they’ve interviewed St Mary’s flower farmer Mike Brown about commercial crops. Most of their survey work will be on St Agnes, where data is being recorded so, in the future, the impact of the rat eradication can be identified.

But Mark says St Mary’s is also a good sample site as it is diverse, from the wooded area at Holy Vale to the sand dunes.

The group has already found a fungus, which has never been seen on the islands before. Agrocybe rivulosa was first discovered in Holland in 2004 and is now widespread in southern England, but still rare in the west of the country. It’s thought to be spread in potting compost.

But it’s not just unusual species they’re interested in. Mark says they want a snapshot of the islands’ biodiversity and want to compare it to the mainland, so the ordinary and common specimens, including daisies and snails, are very important.

In total 28 people will be here over this month and again in August, while in October, a worm specialist will visit after the main group has left, because damp weather is preferable.

There’s an educational element to their work too. They’ll be beaming live TV-style programmes using a satellite, to an audience at the museum in London and to some schools. The scientists will also be going into the Five Islands School to work with the pupils on Thursday.

Next week, the public will be able to visit the team on the Garrison and they are arranging a series of presentations and walks with locals and visitors on St Mary’s and Bryher.

Details will be available in a leaflet from the TIC later in the week.

The Scilly Lottery