An outstanding contributor to natural history in Hertfordshire

Dr. Brenda Harold,  is t this year’s winner because of her dedication to teaching and training and its impressive impact on aspiring botanists, ecologists and land managers in Hertfordshire and beyond.

Plants have held a fascination for Brenda from an early age. At university she studied plant cytogenetics and subsequently became a lecturer and then Deputy Head of Biological Sciences at Brunel University, London. She  retired from academia in 1997 and moved into Hertfordshire, where she joined the Herts Local Wildlife Sites (LWS) survey team as a volunteer.  This gave her an opportunity to get out of the lab and into the field where it became apparent that her botanical expertise was going to be of huge benefit teaching identification skills to new and  more experienced volunteer surveyors.

Her involvement with the LWS team for nearly 20 years helped greatly to increase its professionalism and the reliability of its reporting. It also led her to realise that, for amateur botanists, not having been taught the foundation principles of plant biology and identification is a major barrier to increasing in proficiency. Her response was to develop a complete course in herbaceous plant identification as an introduction to ‘serious’ botany. Her Identiplant course provides a crucial stepping stone that sets people with an interest in plants on the road to becoming competent botanists and recorders.

The course was trialed in Herts in 2011 and is now hosted nationally and widely endorsed. Since its inception, it has been used to train members of the Herts Environmental Records Centre, Herts & Mdx Wildlife Trust nature reserves trainees and new LWS surveyors, as well as many others across the county and whole country. Almost 800 participants have so far been trained.  Until trecently, Brenda undertook much of the course management herself.  She now works tirelessly to ensure a future for the course by developing a new model for its delivery based on a network of regional hubs. One of these hubs will be the Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust.

Brenda has also continued teaching botany and genetics courses through the Workers Educational Association, giving voluntary community talks and delivering courses in Potentilla ID for the BSBI, for which genus she has been referee for some 40 years. In her local community at Sarratt, she has contributed to  natural history for many years as a volunteer warden at Dell Wood in Chorleywood, co-leading the Wildlife Volunteers of Sarratt Parish Council, arranging and leading fortnightly work parties and providing advice for the management of woodland and commons in the parish.

(Adapted from the full citation read by Alex Waechter, Manager, Herts Environmental Records Centre at the 2022 HNHS Autumn Meeting)