Dr Elaine Bullard MBE

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n Dr Elaine Bullard MBE, botanist. Born: 1915, in London. Died: 19 August, 2011, in Kirkwall, aged 96.

Dr Elaine Bullard was the Orkney botanist whose work recording the botanical heritage of the archipelago raised new awareness of the importance of conserving one of Scotland’s richer wild collections.

Her detailed exploration of the varied plant life over a lifetime was achieved by personally visiting almost every habitat, across geos, gullies, cliffs, bogs, marshes, inlets, lochs and meadows. Her official role was botanical recorder for Orkney for the Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI), a post she held for a remarkable 46 years until retiring at 93.

The worth and meticulousness of her findings saw her awarded an MBE in 1981, with further recognition of an honorary doctorate from Heriot-Watt University in 2007. Her passing was the subject of the lodging of a motion in the Scottish Parliament by Orkney MSP Liam McArthur this month in which he acknowledged her “extraordinary legacy”.

Paying tribute to her, Professor Robert Crawford of St Andrews University said: “The fact that she had no training in botanical science is in her case irrelevant.”

Her painstaking field studies went beyond simply noting and locating species, to include the recording and assessment of change over many visits.

“This aspect of her work has assumed ever greater importance in recent times,” added Prof Crawford, “as changes in land use and climate variation repeatedly present problems for conservation and biodiversity.”

Elaine Bullard had been fascinated by plants and the accurate naming of since she was 10 years old, once saying: “If you can’t name a thing accurately, how can you go back to it again and tell somebody else anything about it?”

This was the legacy that saw the 31-year-old Londoner arrive in Orkney in 1946 as a milk recorder, and eventually undertake and complete a lifetime study of the islands’ natural life. Her work has provided inspiration for two generations of visiting academics as well as students and teachers coming to Orkney to enrich their knowledge and understanding of botany in a northern climate.

Her love for and professional botanical expertise concerning Orkney saw her appointed botanical recorder for BSBI in 1963. By this time, her imprint was already firmly on her adopted home; in 1959 she had founded Orkney Field Club, still flourishing today. She targeted some of her earliest work on the Scottish primrose, with one particular study of primula scotica involving visiting marked locations several times a year for 16 years. Such professional devotion had outlets in several papers and treatises, with her chapter on vegetation on The Natural History of Orkney remaining a standard work.

Dr Bullard worked outdoors at all times of the year, in some of the most testing conditions in the British Isles. In doing so, her ingenuity provided an almost comic touch, for her mobile headquarters was a three-wheeled Reliant Robin incongruously sporting a tent-like addition on the roof.

Liam Mcarthur added: “Her work in the study of her beloved primula scotica has left an important and lasting legacy. Her painstaking research and dedication to cataloguing the flora of Orkney has provided us with an invaluable record of our islands’ botanical heritage and the importance of its conservation”.

She was an honoured guest at the 50th anniversary celebration of Orkney Field Club two years ago, an evening which centred on original, interesting and unusual specimens found in the island.

Inevitably her own primula scotica received top mention, as did Alpine bearberry, purple ramping fumitory, oyster plant and St Kilda hookmoss; as well as trees, notably three remaining native hazels and a dozen native aspens.