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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

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A Day Volunteering at a Nature Reserve

Find out what it's like to volunteer at one of our nature reserves. Jim Whiteford describes a day working outdoors, protecting and restoring nature in Deep Dale, Derbyshire.

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.

The Wye Valley AONB Partnership are running a project aimed at reversing the decline of the Noble Chafer beetle. Despite extensive surveying on suitable habitat in summer 2022, the beetle was found at only 2 sites in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with one of them being the old orchard at Plantlife’s Joan’s Hill Farm nature reserve.

An ancient apple tree on a hill

A Home Fit for Royalty

Fruit trees may live for roughly 100 years and provide decaying wood habitat during the last third of their lives. It’s important that we plant regular replacements and manage our older trees to prolong their lives, ensuring a variation in age and the continued presence of wood-decay habitats. 

Last week we were delighted to receive 10 young plum and damson trees for Joan’s Hill Farm, thanks to the Wye Valley AONB Partnership. Not only that, but 2 AONB staff helped our Reserve Manager to plant them and to build substantial guards which will protect them from cattle. Although plums and damsons are some of the fastest species to produce decaying wood, it may be 60 years before they become suitable for beetle colonisation. In the meantime, we will be putting up some artificial ‘beetle boxes’, filled with wood compost, to increase the available habitat, and to act as stepping stones between the two orchard areas at Joan’s Hill Farm. 

Noble Chafer beetle found at Joan's Hill Farm by Ellie Baggett - Wye Valley AONB https://www.wyevalleyaonb.org.uk/

Learn More About the Noble Chafer 

The Noble Chafer Gnorimus nobilis is a beetle about 20mm long with a metallic green body, speckled with white. The whole body displays a brilliant iridescence which can flash copper, gold and even violet. The adults emerge in June or July and feed on pollen and nectar from a variety of umbellifers, before laying their eggs in the decaying trunks of old trees. The larvae feed on the decaying wood, emerging after 2 to 3 years. 

The beetle’s numbers have declined in parallel with the loss of veteran trees and traditional orchards, and it is now classed as Nationally Scarce. 

Noble Chafer beetle found at Joan’s Hill Farm by Ellie Baggett – Wye Valley AONB

How to Stand up for Wildlife and Protect Local Sites From Being Destroyed
Crop spraying.

How to Stand up for Wildlife and Protect Local Sites From Being Destroyed

Every day, our wild plants and fungi are put at risk from planning decisions, chemical sprays and more. Find out what you can do to help protect nature.

Saving Our Endangered Aquatic Buttercup
White flowers with green leaves in a pool of water

Saving Our Endangered Aquatic Buttercup

The effort Greena Moor Nature Reserve management team put in place to save the Three-lobed Water Crowfoot.

Where to go for a Walk in Scotland this Spring
Big trees covered with lichens and moss a Scottish rainforest.

Where to go for a Walk in Scotland this Spring

Discover 4 new walk ideas and Scottish spring adventure inspiration from Plantlife Scotland’s Communications and Policy Officer, Erin Shott.