Edinburgh Botanics students

Bringing people together has all sorts of benefits for personal development – growing confidence, group work and peer support to name a few. For a long time it wasn’t possible for groups to gain these benefits through residentials, with young people really suffering as a result.

We’ve loved being able to have residentials again since spring, and last week enjoyed hosting students from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and their teachers. Many of these students had just arrived from Canada, the US, China and Australia, as well as other parts of the UK. They came for a field trip to Wiston Lodge to begin learning how to think like practical scientists. But the most important part of their visit was to learn how to study and work in real groups, after two years when so much learning has been online.

The 25 students are postgraduate beginners on the MSc Biodiversity and Taxonomy of Plants course, run between the Botanics and Edinburgh University. They all have degrees in other disciplines, and last week was the start of the year-long postgraduate course. They began the week learning about ‘big plants’ – the large trees and vegetation that occupy large parts of our estate. Then it was on to smaller plants including mosses, lichens and fungi. The teachers wanted them to begin learning to look at plants and collect in a scientific manner, and the route to that was getting the young people together, socialising and being outside.  

Our development workers at Wiston use activities to achieve positive outcomes, but this time it was the grounds and setting that did the work. The students had the space to socialise in the house, enjoy campfires, and explore. The climbed Tinto on their first day, discovering remnants of alpine heath and lichen that have diminished as a result of climate change, grazing and footfall on the hill. Although Tinto stands at over 700m, this type of plant is not normally seen on elevations this low. It was one of several botanical surprises including discovering seven different species of mosses in a 10m stretch between two trees in the beech wood. The specialists have begun cataloguing the plants we have across the grounds.

The large number of non-native trees around the site – often thought of as not very helpful for biodiversity – bring a large variety of vascular plants and greater species. It’s been fascinating to learn more about the plants we have under our feet and we hope to continue the relationship with the botanical scientists.

Previous field trips have been to the southern hemisphere, but as well as the pandemic, climate concerns makes air travel a harder decision. The teachers agreed that being only an hour from their Edinburgh base was a major advantage in helping the new students face a study trip, with young people getting used to working face to face again.

It’s been great to see the grounds and house helping to facilitate a group coming together for work – highly scientific study but with human nature at its root.