Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Project Skills for Botanical Artists (ii) - considering the habitat

Apologies that there has been a bit of a gap between my last blog post and this one.

The first blogpost in the series certainly went a bit mad in terms of viewing figures, so I hope that this is a sign that it has proved useful to botanical artists embarking on a botanical art project with wild flowers and plants in mind.

In case you didn't get to read it, here is the link:  Project Skills for Botanical Artists (i) - Identifying Wild Flowers and Plants

This blog post will focus on the bigger picture and one aspect in particular that we may need to consider when immersed in a project - the habitat

When we are focused on a specific plant or  genus of plants as part of a project, we can often forget the habitat and the significance of it.  If looking at a particular suite of species, it can be due to the habitat and associated factors alone, for the reason that plant species is growing there.

As an art project versus a scientific project you may wonder why we need to consider the habitat so much, but if we have the background information at the beginning it can really help to expand our knowledge and inform our thinking, as well as practical tasks associated with the project eg. are you allowed to collect specimens, do I need to get permission as it is a designated site, is there further information available from who manages the site ??

An example of a group exhibit at the Royal Horticultural Society Botanical Art Show in 2016.
Iceni Botanical Artists depicted plants that came from the fragile and declining habitat of the Brecks found in the east of England in Suffolk and Norfolk.

Researching about the habitat and how it influences the plants would have been an important part for each botanical artist when illustrating their chosen plant.

Should I focus on one site or two ?
  • it depends on the focus of your project.
  • if focusing on one species of plant or a suite of species, you may still want to see how it looks over different sites and habitats, to help you determine its main and most familiar characteristics.  It's amazing how the look of plant can differ dependant on its growing conditions and the affect of hydrology and soil type, as well as management, such as grazing regimes.
  • if focusing on a group of plants from different plant families eg. meadow plants, they may not all be available in one site.  'Meadow plants' is also quite a general title, so consider if the plants you want to illustrate are from a particular type of meadow/grassland.  This may then be limited to one site or may be spread over a wider area.
How can I find out information about a site ?
Unfortunately, I am only able to comment on resources available within the UK.
  • MAGIC  - What is MAGIC?  'The MAGIC website provides authoritative geographic information about the natural environment from across government.  The information covers rural, urban, coastal and marine environments across Great Britain.  It is presented in an interactive map which can be explored using various mapping tools that are included.  Natural England manages the service under the direction of a Steering Group'. 
  • I have used the MAGIC website for many years, first when working as an Ecologist and latterly when working on botanical art projects and such like.  It provides a good starting point to determining the habitat type of a particular area.  To help you understand how it can be of help have a look at the following images:
When you first visit the website, you see a page showing a map of the British Isles.  You can then zoom into a specific area.  The example above shows Farley Mount Country Park, near Winchester, which is adjacent to and includes Crab Wood.

On the left you can see the orange box where you can tick what you want to see.  Firstly, you can choose what type of mapping you want.  So above it shows background mapping and Ordnance Survey black and white mapping.

The image above shows where I have chosen to see the Site of Special Scientific Interests and the specific detail about what condition they are in (bright green).

This is where the mapping tool can really give you the information that will prove useful - the habitat types.  Here, I have chosen the woodland option on the left and it shows me the different types of woodland on the site - Ancient and semi-natural woodland and ancient replanted woodland.

  • Other sources of information include your County Wildlife Trust - they may be able to provide you with further habitat about a site they manage.  Also, there are Biological Record Centres in some regions, that may provide information about habitats, and species too, but there may be a small charge for this service.

I hope this overview has been of help.  The next blogpost in the series will be about growing plants for a botanical art project.

Happy painting !

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