16 Apr 2020

Meet the Biophilic Wales Team

Ardd Fotaneg · Botanic Garden

The Biophilic Wales project is a three-year project funded by the Enabling Natural Resources and Wellbeing in Wales Grant Scheme (ENRaW). We’re striving to improve the health of the environment, wildlife and people of Wales, using three interconnected work packages (Inspiring Spaces, Grasslands for Life and Plants for People) which you can read more about here.

Hi, I’m Kathryn Thomas, Biodiversity and Green Infrastructure Officer for Biophilic Wales.

I’m so excited to be involved in a project that will really reach out to those who need it most. I’ve been lucky enough to have the job of a countryside ranger in some of the most beautiful places in Wales for the last 20 years. I worked to protect, enhance and create habitats and encouraged people to get out and enjoy them. I know the positive effect that nature has on our physical and mental health, but not everyone is lucky enough to experience it. Biophilic Wales is working to change that. The buzz of a foraging bee, a field of wildflowers swaying in the breeze. The feel of grass at your fingertips – these are experiences that make us feel alive and calm us down. If you take the time to appreciate such small details, you’ll be rewarded by immense beauty of nature.

My main focus within the project will be our Inspiring Spaces program which will bring nature into Swansea Bay University Health board sites. Transforming amenity grasslands and under-utilised outdoor areas, into spaces that are full of wildlife, where people can enjoy and be restored by the natural world. Biophilic Wales will deliver community co-developed green infrastructure projects, using 40 sites within the Swansea Bay University Health Board estate as focal points. The sites surround hospitals, health-centres, mental health and residential facilities. We will increase biodiversity value, accessibility, ecosystem services and connectivity. We will create inspirational green spaces for people to connect with nature. Areas full of Welsh native species will be created by volunteers and enjoyed by patients, visitors and hospital staff. The work we do will be used to develop models that can be applied throughout Wales.

I’m Laura Davies, the Project Administrator for Biophilic Wales.

I became interested in the Biophilia Hypothesis when I studied the effect of natural environments on wellbeing as part of my MSc in Environmental Conservation & Management. After graduating, I went on to work for HM Prison Service & the NHS where my interest in mental health and wellbeing continued to develop, and when I read about the Biophilic Wales project, thought it would be an excellent opportunity to be involved in something I hold dear.

Research has shown that spending time in green spaces can be beneficial to the mindset and I’m excited to explore how we can better connect people with nature for positive impact on wellbeing, while also looking after our native plant species. Although I’ll be mostly based in the office, I‘m hoping to get out and about on occasion and help with some of the more practical parts of the project.

I’m Elliot Waters, the Biodiversity Conservation Officer for the Biophilic Wales project.

I recently completed an MSc in Applied Ecology at the University of Gloucestershire, so this is my first role in conservation since graduating. During my undergraduate degree I undertook a placement working for Kew Gardens at the Millennium Seed Bank. I was working for the UK Native Seed Hub, banking seeds of native wildflowers and using them in meadow restoration projects across the country. The dramatic loss of wildflowers from our landscape is one of the biggest challenges facing the natural world and I am passionate about reversing their fortunes. The Biophilic Wales project is an amazing opportunity to make a positive change in Wales and I can’t wait to get stuck in!

I will be working across all the three aspects of the Biophilic Wales project. Although, I will be particularly focused on the Plants for People which aims to celebrate Wales’ natural heritage by protecting our most threatened plants. We will achieve this by protecting our most vulnerable species in the wild but also here at the Botanic Garden. I will be using my experience of seed banking to collect seeds from Wales’ most threatened plants and key grassland species, storing them in the new National Seed Bank of Wales.

We are focusing on plant species that have never been banked from Wales and which have declined to just a few populations in the country. Seed banking ensures that they are protected for future generations by storing seeds in conditions that allow them to survive for potentially hundreds of years. We can use then use the Welsh provenance seed of rare grassland species for future restoration and creation projects.

I’m Dr Laura Jones, Science Officer at the Botanic Garden working on the Biophilic Wales project.

I recently completed my PhD with the Garden where I used DNA present in honey to identify the forage plants which were most important to honeybees. To do this, I used the Garden’s bee hives as a study system as well as examining honey from beekeepers across the UK.

With the Biophilic Wales project, I’ll be using the DNA metabarcoding techniques I’ve developed with the Garden’s expertise to examine the biodiversity held in the soil of grassland communities throughout Wales’ national nature reserves. Using DNA in the soil, we can identify the plants, fungi, microbes and animals contributing to our grasslands. In addition to the Nature Reserves, we also be examining the diversity held within the Swansea Bay University Health Board’s green spaces as well as old colliery spoil sites in South Wales. The aim is to provide guidance and new techniques in monitoring, maintaining and restoring the biodiversity and resilience of these habitats.

Hi, I’m Alice, the new Biodiversity Officer for the Biophilic Wales project.

In 2016 and 2018 respectively, I completed a BSc in Zoology and a MRes in Biosciences at Swansea University. For my undergraduate degree, I studied butterfly diversity in the tropical rainforests of the Peruvian Amazon, and for my master’s project, I studied the movement of giant Aldabra tortoises on a remote Mauritian islet. Since finishing my studies, I have been fortunate enough to work as a research assistant in the tropical rainforests of Costa Rica and on Aride Island in the Seychelles. Indeed, I have had some fantastic experiences working with spectacular wildlife across the world.

Despite my career focusing predominantly on the conservation of fauna until recently, I was delighted to secure a position here at the National Botanic Garden of Wales. Not only does this opportunity enable me to gain invaluable skills in the fields of both botany and horticulture through banking the seeds of declining plant species for their future protection, but also the potential to help create inspirational green spaces to increase people’s connectivity with nature. The significant physical and mental benefits I have personally experienced through my own connection with nature has instilled a deep passion within me to encourage others to find solace in nature too.

I am thrilled to be part of such an exciting project, and to further my career in protecting both the flora and fauna of our planet.