Sunday, 23 February 2020

Wild Flower Hour: interview with Rebecca Wheeler

From left: Isabel, Janette & Rebecca
Image: I. Hardman
Wild Flower Hour has become something of a social media phenomenon in recent years! Every Sunday evening between 8-9pm, people share photos of any wild or naturalised plants they've spotted in bloom during the previous week across Britain and Ireland. From small beginnings in 2015 when founder Isabel Hardman invited BSBI to promote and support the initiative, Wild Flower Hour now regularly "trends" on Twitter and has proved a great way for plant-lovers to come together, compare notes and get ID help from friendly botanists. 

There's a bit more about the history of Wild Flower Hour here and we introduce you to some of the people involved. But most of us would agree that these days, the main person behind the success of Wild Flower Hour is BSBI member Rebecca Wheeler aka @botany_beck

I caught up with Rebecca to find out how she got involved in Wild Flower Hour. But first I asked her to tell us a bit more about herself and her botanical life:

Rebecca (on left) with members of Liverpool
Botanical Society at Altcar,
admiring the green-winged orchids
RW: For as long as I can remember I have always loved plants. In fact my mum likes to tell the story that after saying mum & dad as a baby my first proper word was ‘flower’. Both my parents and grandparents were keen gardeners and growing up I had my own little patch and I used to spend much of my pocket money buying plants and seeds. It was mum though that introduced me to wild flowers giving me her fathers copy of Keble Martin and teaching me the scientific names which I loved. I used to spend many hours poring over the beautiful illustrations and the orchid pages held a particular fascination to me. I went on to study horticulture and for a time worked as a garden designer before diversifying into teaching and then becoming a forest school practitioner.

Rebecca out with the Warrington Plant
Group and the "biggest patch of common
cow-wheat in the world!" 
LM: So that was your background, but how did you first get involved in Wild Flower Hour?

RW: I had enrolled on the online Identiplant course when I first discovered Wild Flower Hour. I can still recall the moment when I stumbled across it, it seemed quite magical to me, a charming colourful tumble of wildflower tweets which really brightened up my Sunday evening and the realisation that there was this wonderful community of friendly and knowledgeable people that were also mad about plants!!! I participated for the next few months, #wildflowerhour becoming a key focus of my walks and driving my family mad as I dived into hedgerows and it was responsible for me always lagging behind! 


Broad-leaved helleborine
Image: R. Wheeler
Then in 2017 Isabel advertised on Twitter for volunteers, I jumped at the chance and that is when I became involved in helping to run the @wildflower_hour account.

LM: And now you run the WFH social media accounts…

RW: Yes, we're on Twitter under the @wildflower_hour account and when people tweet, they add the #wildflowerhour hashtag; we're also on Facebook and on Instagram.

LM: And of course you are the woman behind the Wild Flower Hour challenges! What was your thinking behind the creation of the challenges?

RW: The thinking behind Wild Flower Hour and the challenges is to get people looking and noticing all these wonderful wildflowers some of which are of course small and easily overlooked, but when you take the time to really study and observe them are just fascinating!! For me looking and noticing is the first step to naming and then caring and becoming passionate about plants. You can’t care and fight for things that you don’t know about or notice and that for me is the driving force behind what I do for Wild Flower Hour. 


Rebecca photographing
bird's-nest orchid
The challenges are planned to be fun and engaging, focusing people’s attention on different habitats and particular plant families. Wild Flower Hour founder Isabel Hardman once said that ‘#wildflowerhour is the gateway to serious botany’ and I think she is absolutely right! Learning is memorable when it is fun and people’s interest is piqued and they want to learn more!

LM: I know that #thewinter10 challenge, which has been running over the last few months, finishes at the end of February so what is the next challenge coming up? And I think we go to weekly challenges now?

RW: Yes #thewinter10 finishes at the end of February with the weekly challenge programme beginning at the start of March. This season we will be teaming up with the Nature’s Calendar team for some challenges and the first will be the Colt’s-foot challenge! An exciting development which means that throughout the year #wildflowerhour finds will directly contribute to research into the effects of climate change. 

Close-up of the
bird's-nest orchid
Image: R. Wheeler
LM: Ooh yes! On Friday, we featured a guest blogpost by Judith from the Nature’s Calendar team, so that’s another way that people can share info about which wild or naturalised flowers they are seeing in bloom, and when. I love the way that New Year Plant Hunt, Wild Flower Hour and Nature's Calendar all give people a way to get involved in the botanical community! I think that if people have tried and enjoyed any of these three activities, they will probably like all three.

RW: Absolutely! I think it’s fantastic that we have these strong links and support each other and would encourage people to try recording for Nature’s Calendar or to participate in the fantastic New Year Plant Hunt if they have not already as they will hugely enjoy it!

LM: So to close, what are the plans for Wild Flower Hour going forward?

RW: At Wild Flower Hour we are passionate about making plant identification fun and accessible for beginners, we have just launched a new series of top tips by Moira O’ Donnell (@nervousbotanist) which has been a great success.

Some of the Wild Flower Hour gang on an outing!
From left: Linden, Barry, Martin, Rebecca,
Moira & Josh
LM: Yes! Hope it's ok if I butt in here to say that we've shared links to two of Moira's ID sheets for Wild Flower Hour on our new Plant ID: getting started page and Moira (also a BSBI member) has very kindly agreed to do a blogpost for us next week about how to find wild flower ID info and resources on social media. I'm really looking forward to that!

RW: Moira really is amazing - every Sunday, and all throughout the week, she answers queries under the #wildflowerID hashtag and very generously gives her time to help with identifications.

LM: Yes and she is always so patient and helpful with people - as well as being a really good botanist!


From left: Moira, Rebecca & Louise (BSBI
Comms Officer) at BSBI 2018 Exhibition Meeting

Image: R. Horton 
RW: Going forward I would like to see guest features by experienced botanists to deepen people’s knowledge.
A subject close to my own heart is to keep on spreading the word about how vital wildflowers are for wildlife – they are the foundation upon which so many other species depend. With this in mind @Wildflower_hour started a new hashtag #WildWebsWednesday where folks can share pictures of the species they have found dependent on wild plants.
Above all to keep on celebrating our beautiful and fascinating wild flora with as many people as possible!!!

Well said Rebecca and many thanks for talking to us. Don't forget that Wild Flower Hour happens this evening and every Sunday 8-9pm but before that, there's an extra treat: author Brigit Strawbridge will be on BBC Countryfile this evening looking at snowdrops in Dorset and then she'll be trying to find #thewinter10 for Wild Flower Hour. So from social media to primetime TV, our wonderful wild flowers are having their moment in the spotlight! Rebecca, Moira, Isabel, Brigit and I are all - as you would expect - absolutely delighted about this and we hope you will be too :-)

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