Flora Cardiganshire Arthur Chater

The best county flora of Britain & Ireland ever compiled is that of Cardiganshire (2010). See: https://bsbi.org/Cardiganshire

Chris Chadwell botanizing in Cardiganshire with Arthur Chater in 2012 © John Norton

I recommend any serious student of British flora to obtain a copy - even if they have never been there or are never likely to, as Chater's depth of knowledge is exceptional, so we can all learn much from him. Every time I did into it, my knowledge of British flowers improves.

I had the good fortune to meet Arthur Chater, unquestionably one of this country's and in fact the world's finest field-botanists, several times, in the main herbarium of the Natural History Museum, London, where he worked as a plant taxonomist. He was a gentle man and gentleman, treating me with respect, as he did everyone, regardless of rank or seniority. Each time there was another visitor that day with an interest in Himalayan flora, Arthur would kindly take the trouble to introduce us - an approach I never experienced at Kew or Edinburgh, accepted that Kew is much larger. Thus I was able to speak e.g. with plant ecologist George Miehe and Sorbus specialist Hugh McAllister; I also chatted with Mary Briggs, long-time Botanical Society of the British Isles [BSBI] (as it was) Secretary, who had been on a trek in Kashmir with Oleg Polunin, so had a personal interest in Himalayan flora - she read through the Report of the Kashmir Botanical Expedition 1983 I wrote, making informed comments.

Arthur Chater pointing out diagnostic characteristics of a pine tree (he was also very knowledgeable about cultivated plants) © Chris Chadwell

I consulted the Natural History Museum's herbarium, which was the best for Himalayan flora, especially that of Nepal, anywhere in the world from the 1950s through to the 1980s. Whilst Kew (K) is much larger, a lot of its Himalayan specimens date back to the 19th century. In more recent decades, the herbarium of Edinburgh Botanical Garden has outranked the Natural History Museum's (BM) due to collections made towards the 'Flora of Bhutan' and of late, 'Flora of Nepal'. It was the joint Royal Horticultural Society/Natural History Museum expeditions to Nepal in the early 1950s (under Polunin, Sykes & Williams, then Stainton, Sykes & Williams collection numbers) and resultant sets of dried, pressed, botanical specimens, which at the time resulted in unrivalled reference material. This led to 'An Enumeration of the Flowering Plants of Nepal', of which Chater was co-author. Based upon this, Oleg Polinin & Adam Stainton published 'Flowers of the Himalaya' - which I was asked to review for BSBI New by BM member of staff, Robson.

Arthur (sensibly with stick) searching for aquatic plants at the edge of an acidic lake - most people miss these plants altogether or cannot recognise them when not in flower; despite his senior years, Arthur was still nimble and quick on his feet - the rest of us struggled to keep up! © Chris Chadwell

I have visited Cardiganshire a number of times, though not to undertake any formal surveys, most recently in 2012, when in the company of John Norton (a member of my first ever trip to the Himalaya on the University of Southampton Ladakh Expedition 1980), we explored for wild flowers. Arthur kindly invited us for tea, prior to me inviting locals who had helped me in various ways, to a meal at a restaurant in Aberystwyth (the county and university-town).

There is overlap in Cardigan's flora with that of Ceredigion, which I got to know from being team-leader of a survey of riverside vegetation (of the Upper Wye and its tributaries) in the early 1980s - my first botanical job after graduating from the University of Southampton. I passed through Cardiganshire again in 1984 when working as a field surveyor for the Wales Field Unit of the then Nature Conservancy Council. Decades later, I spent pleasant summer holiday visits in the county taking two of my sons on preserved narrow-gauge steam railways.