The lifelong passion for Britain’s wild flowers of Berwickshire’s Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland’s vice-county recorder has resulted in the first written record of the county’s flora in 160 years.
After retiring as a chartered accountant over ten years ago, Hawick-based Michael Braithwaite has been a full time, unpaid botanist, and over the past seven years he has covered 350,000 acres of Berwickshire countryside inspecting “every flower, tree and blade of grass”.
Berwickshire has an enviable historical record of its flora, Dr George Johnston having produced volumes in 1829/1831 and again in 1853. This has meant that Michael has been able to look at the changes over the last 200 years and record the decline in many of the county’s native wildflower species.
“I have been absolutely everywhere in Berwickshire,” said Michael, who has been Berwickshire’s vice-county recorder for the past 37 years. “Up burns, over hills etc and everyone has been incredibly kind and given me permission to go to quite private places. It’s been unbelieveable how kind everyone has been. There isn’t anywhere else in the world where I could have had more access.
“Taking the population of the scarcest species, in a 10 year period 14% have disappeared and that has been going on for a century or more.
“It’s really frightening.”
Michael’s studies have led him to believe that the problem goes back 200 years when farming changed and fields became enclosed.
“Since then the wild part of the countryside is the little bit that’s left over and they are awkward to manage - regulating fertiliser coming off the fields into the hedgerows etc.
“It isn’t that people have been doing anything wrong recently, it’s what we have inherited from the past.
“There are a lot of people who have tried things but it’s a really difficult subject.”
‘A short flora of Berwickshire’ will be officially launched at the Berwickshire Naturalist Club’s AGM next month and if you are interested in buying a copy a form is available on the BSBI website under Berwickshire, or a cheque for £25 made out to M E Braithwaite may be sent to: Michael Braithwaite, Clarilaw Farmhouse, Hawick, Roxburghshire, TD9 8PT.