Saturday, 6 August 2011

The hundred day alga and five seasons for the UK, just for the record

I've been in office now for 100 days. If I ran a country, or an Australian State, there would be some kind of Report Card prepared the media, inevitably ending with something like 'tries hard but could do better'. As Director of Conservation, Living Collections and Estates at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew I have to prepare my own review.

I spent the first month or so on an induction tour of Kew so achievements were slim for May. I did manage to slip away to Korea to join senior staff from a few other botanic gardens and related organisations to discuss a scientific partnership in support of the Convention for Biological Diversity. Let's just give that a pass rather than a credit - the intent was there and some good discussions, but the world hasn't been saved yet.

By June I had a reasonable understanding of what my 400 or so staff do, although I still discover almost daily new people and activities. I started to think and document some of the big tasks ahead of me, such as working out what a 'Director of Conservation' does in an organisation where almost everything we do is about conservation. I also started to get excited about ideas for Kew Gardens, including ways to lift the horticulture, to connect disjointed elements, to recreate or create vistas, and to interpret the rich but complex living collection. These would all link in with the Landscape Master Plan for the estate. Wakehurst Place was a revelation and ideas about it's future surfaced in its almost completed Landscape Master Plan. Let's say a good credit on this one.

I flew across to St Louis, to discover how close geographically the US really is to the UK, and how distant it is culturally - Australia seems to sit in the middle, culturally. At this meeting I also got excited about the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation and how it brings botanic gardens and like minded folks together. Again, a credit.

More planning and thinking in July, including a week in Melbourne at the International Botanical Congress. That was fun and stimulating. I not only honed my tweeting skills but leant a lot too. Again it helped me think about my roles at Kew. Surely a distinction here.

And on my 100th day? I visited Wakehurst Place to talk about the UK Seed Hub project (and exciting new venture bulking up seed for restoration projects) and the future of this estate as a premier visitor attraction (which it already is really, with more than 400,000 visitors a year in a fairly difficult to get to place).

On my return to Kew I spent my 'research afternoon' (my job includes a 10% research expectation) collecting some algae from a few of the ponds in the estate. There are massive filamentous algal blooms in nearly every pond at the moment so I'm curious, and we should know, what species are in them. I was also inspired by reading two papers by Brian Whitton on the pond flora of St James lake. Brian sampled the lake a few times back in the sixties and published algal lists in at least 1966 and 1969. He made a plea for more regular long term monitoring of ponds and the like.

Whether I can sustain regular collecting at Kew I don't know but at the very least we should know what algae grow in our ponds. I can also add this data to the currently blank fields under algae in Kew's Wildlife pages.

What will really shock my Australian followers is the discovery of some five-season supporters here in the UK. Yes, even in the home of the four traditional seasons there are people who think there should be more. And curiously these five seasons are not unlike the ones I've spruiked for Australia. I'm chasing up some publications of John Kington and Hubert Lamb to find out more. I'm sure I'll report more on this in due course, sometime during my next 100 days.

The two pictures are from the big pond in Kew - 'the lake'. The algae have been blooming since I arrived. They say around these parts that the freshwater algae are doing better than ever before, putting it down to my arrival in town. I haven't looked at the samples from today but if they prove interesting I'll be sure to let you know...

I'm not sure whether to score the abundance of algae as a pass or a fail. Let's just say that after 100 days I've tried hard but, inevitably, I could do better.


Doug Beckers said...

Tim, great post, I really like the thoughts of Brian Whitton on long-term monitoring, it would be interesting to see if there is something you could do along these lines. Maybe the Wildlife Sightings Database could show some reports that demonstrate observations over time.

Doug in MacMasters Beach

Tim Entwisle said...

Thanks Doug. Yes must see if I can get some routine going. The secret is to set up something simple enough to fit in with all the other diversions of life. And of course I'd have to identify all sorts of algae I tend to ignore - but that wouldn't be such a bad thing, and fun.

pathh said...

Nice report and review Tim!
Are you planning some metagenomics for the long-term algal (and associated prokaryote) survey? It might at least be worth collecting water samples and extracting DNA regularly with the plan to sequence it once the informatics has caught up with the sequencing technologies!

Tim Entwisle said...

Hi Pat,
Yes a very good idea. I have been thinking about how to add an extra dimension to this so it's not simply a subjective 'essay' on how the algae come and go. It will also get help deal with the sometimes nebulous taxonomies of various groups of algae.