RAU lecturers contribute to national conservation campaign

Environment experts at the Royal Agricultural University (RAU) have been part of the national Back from the Brink campaign to conserve some of the most threatened species of animal, plant and fungi.

Back from the Brink was developed by Natural England and Rethink Nature, and is one of the most ambitious conservation projects ever undertaken. Bringing together conservation organisations, charities and experts, its aim is to save 20 species from extinction and benefit over 200 more through 19 projects spanning the length and breadth of England.

One of those projects is the Colour in the Margins project, led by British conservation charity Plantlife, which focuses on the management of arable land to enhance the diversity of arable wildflowers such as Cornflower, Venus’s-looking-glass and Corn Marigold.

An important part of the project has involved raising awareness on the ecological value of arable plants among future land managers.

To help achieve this, Dr Kelly Swallow and Dr Ian Grange, senior lecturers at the RAU’s School of Agriculture, Food and Environment, have spent the last year developing a range of educational resources for colleges and universities.

Kelly Swallow

"Arable plants are vital in supporting other wildlife, such as pollinators, natural pest predators and farmland birds” explains Dr Kelly Swallow, Senior Lecturer in Ecology and Agro-ecosystems. “These plants are also valued for their own beauty and cultural associations, for example the Common Poppy, Field Forget-me-not, and Field Madder. There is a knowledge-gap when it comes to some of these often over-looked plants."

"We designed these education packs to not only raise awareness, but to engage future land managers in arable plant conservation and management and to help them develop practical field skills in identifying and surveying arable plant species."

Dr Swallow and Dr Grange have delivered multiple arable plant workshops to students at the University, as well as partner colleges and industry visitors to help promote the resources.

"We have actually learnt a lot ourselves from creating these resources so it has been a really interesting opportunity for us to be involved in the Colour in the Margins project,” Dr Swallow continues. “We have had great feedback from students on the resources too, with students on wildlife, countryside, and agriculture courses finding a really fresh perspective. Several have got involved in other projects or based their dissertations on the topic."

The educational resources are available to download from the Colour in the Margins project website (https://naturebftb.co.uk/the-projects/colour-in-the-margins/) under ‘Show downloads.’

The Back from the Brink Colour in the Margins project is funded by the National Heritage Lottery Fund and People’s Postcode Lottery.

The RAU offer a variety of courses relating to wildlife, conservation and the countryside