Skip to main content

“Lichens are cool because they are everywhere. Once you notice them, you realise they are crazy, weird, colourful and interesting.”

Rob Hodgson started his lichen journey in lockdown as a complete beginner. Walking around Bristol one day, a lichen peaked his interest and from then on he was gripped by these secret miniature forests.

As an illustrator, Rob has created dynamic and lifelike lichen characters to help more people starting out.

We went to chat to Rob and join him on a lichen hunt.

Man looking at a tree for lichens

What’s it like as a lichen beginner?

“It was kind of my lockdown project and I just got interested one day, like what is this crazy thing. When I first started looking at lichens, you go online and there’s a million Latin names and I was just like, no this isn’t for me – I’m not a lichen expert. But once you learn the common names and you start to spot different ones, it gets easier. You don’t have to go anywhere far away, you can see these things just on the street. There’s one called chewing Chewing Gum lichen that you can see everywhere once you tune into it, just on the pavement.

Where are all these lichens?

“You do definitely notice if you go to the countryside, it’s like a lichen explosion. But I live in the centre of Bristol pretty much and there’s still lichens everywhere. On my doorstep, you see them on the pavements, you see them on walls and in my local parks there’s loads of lichens.

It’s a really good time of year to go lichen hunting [autumn/winter] and you don’t need any stuff. You can just go and as soon as you get out of the house you are on a lichen hunt – that’s as easy as it is. You just need to look on the floor, look in the tress and you’re good to go.

Let’s meet the lichen characters…

Rob Hodgson looking for lichens on a wall

How did you make the lichen characters?

“The way I work things out sometimes is through my work. When I was looking at lichens, I thought how can I make this more interesting than all of these super technical, botanical drawings. I drew one, and then once you notice one, you notice another, and then all of sudden I had drawn 20 different lichens.

There was a lot of back and forth between going out and looking at lichens and going back and modifying them.

That was where I was coming from, trying to make them fun and accessible.”

 

Rob has made beautifully designed lichen characters including dust lichen, shield lichen and oak moss. Follow him on social media here.

I always thought that I was someone who immersed themselves in nature. The entire ethos of my work is inspired by the natural world; it’s the seeds that allow my paintings to grow. However, my life-changing trip this summer exploring IPA sites across the UK has opened my eyes. It’s shown me what truly settling into stillness and absorbing the magic of nature really is.

As part of my Artist Residency for Plantlife – and supported by Arts Council England’s Developing your Creative Practice Fund – I set off on a wildflower treasure hunt back in May to uncover rare species; many of which are currently living on the edge.

The brilliance of botanical art

I have always been fascinated by the juxtaposition of a wildflower, how its strength can rise through rubble and yet its fragility can break at the lightest of touches. A wildflower experiences birth, growth, transformation and decay, often in a thimble of time. It shows courage, hope, resilience, a contentment that is enviable.

Being amongst wildflowers I feel joy, strength, grief and an easeful glimmer of peace. With every wildflower season, I am able to experience this cycle of emotions. I am my raw, honest self, no hiding, nature welcomes you as you are, inviting you to be part of the purposeful chaos. My art helps me grow down through my layers and expand my roots.

Life on the verge

My journey started at Ranscombe Farm Nature Reserve in Kent. And what a start to the trip! I pulled up in the smallest of car parks where I was met by Ben, the site manager. He was excited to show me the incredibly rare Man Orchid: a handful of this endangered species had decided to make a verge on the side of a busy road their home.

If he hadn’t pointed them out, I would have walked straight past – but the moment you notice them, you cannot look away. Milky lime yellow with stripes of burgundy and tongues like snakes; they were utterly divine.

The juxtaposition of this rare, beautiful flower with the frantic hum of traffic continuously passing by felt like a metaphor for human nature. How much do we miss out on because we’re simply too busy?

Discovering species on the edge

My visit up to Scotland was the biggest part of my trip. The colours here were like a symphony; vibrant pops against a rugged landscape. Shades of storm grey into an icy blue, merging into crystalline greens. Soft lavender and silver ribbons. All these colours merged together against the textures of the flagstone rocks and the wildlife that burst from them.

And you had to work to find the rare species among this incredible palette! At one point, I had to lean right over a cliffside to spot the tiniest deep pink Scottish Primrose; it was so small and fragile – around 5cm tall – that you had to seriously tune your eye in to find it.

But I was so glad I made the effort. The Scottish Primrose can only be found in Orkney and the northern coast of Scotland. If it disappears from these sites, it’s gone forever. Our discovery, therefore, felt enormously poignant.

Top tips for aspiring botanical artists

  • Purchase a hand lens and take it everywhere, discover micro worlds that are everywhere and observe as much as possible.
  • Make notes, voice recordings, anything that helps plant you back in your sweet spot, most of all find comfort in stillness.
  • The more peace in stillness you find, the more nature reveals to you.
  • Talk about what you do with passion, share what you learn, by doing so you will inspire others to protect nature.

Learn more about our reserves

Munsary Nature Reserve’s Road to UNESCO World Heritage Site

Munsary Nature Reserve’s Road to UNESCO World Heritage Site

Learn about why our Munsary Peatlands reserve is being put forward for inscription as the world’s first peatland UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A Botanical Art Journey of Plantlife’s Reserves

A Botanical Art Journey of Plantlife’s Reserves

Plantlife’s Artist in Residence, shares her summer journey across our reserves and some top tips for aspiring botanical artists.

Spring on Plantlife’s Welsh Nature Reserves

Spring on Plantlife’s Welsh Nature Reserves

Spring is an exciting time to be on our nature reserves. This is the season when the meadows really burst into life, with lush growth and seasonal flowers.

The Fen Orchid Liparis loeselii, is one of the most endangered wildflowers in Europe, but successful conservation efforts have given hope for its survival. The orchid is only found in two areas of the UK:

  • Sand dunes in South Wales
  • Fens of the Norfolk Broads.

We believe that the orchid could finally be removed from the Red Lists for both England  and Great Britain.

 

Conservation Efforts in England

After a decade of research and partnership work, the orchid has been re-discovered at former sites in the Broads, and the total population has estimated to have risen to over 15,000 plants through proper management.

The orchid has also been reintroduced to its former sites in Suffolk, and the signs are encouraging that it will become established in some of its old homes.

 

Conservation Efforts in Wales

In South Wales, the conservation effort to restore the fragile dune habitat at Kenfig and to rediscover the plant at former dune locations.

At Kenfig numbers had dropped from a conservative 21,000 at the end of the 1980s to just 400 when conservation work began.

After almost 10 years of work, over 4000 Fen Orchids have been counted, more than double the highest number seen in the last two decades.

The orchids once grew at eight dune sites along the south Wales coast, but a lack of active management led to their disappearance. The success at Kenfig gives hope for other dune sites like Whiteford and Pembrey, the former of which the plant has recently been re-found after searching.

Related Posts

How Fungi Find Love on the Wood Wide Web

How Fungi Find Love on the Wood Wide Web

Join Senior Ecologist Sarah Shuttleworth for a deadwood date, as she shares what gets fungi swiping right on the wood wide web.

Rare Fungus spotted at Kenfig National Nature Reserve
Brown topped fungus with yellow gills in a green grassy area.

Rare Fungus spotted at Kenfig National Nature Reserve

Chris Jones, the Warden of Kenfig National Nature Reserve, recently found the very rare fungus, during a routine survey.

Wild Plants and Fungi are at the Heart of Climate Crisis
Red plants with mountains behind.

Wild Plants and Fungi are at the Heart of Climate Crisis

Plantlife and WWF study on grassland demonstrate how wild plants and fungi are at the heart of climate crisis. Calling world governments to recognise sites for wild plants and fungi