Last month Dr Colin French gave an excellent talk to 35 members about his life’s work that culminated with his publication of the Flora of Cornwall in 2020. After obtaining a PhD in Palaeoecology he returned to Cornwall in 1985 and started working initially as a volunteer at the Cornish Biological Records Unit(CRBU) based at Murdoch House. This had been set up in 1972 to record all biological sightings in and around Cornwall. In 1987 the unit moved to the Cornwall College campus, where Colin was employed to assess the feasibility of computerising the card index records under project ERICA (Environmental Recording in Cornwall Automated). This required obtaining a mini-computer to ensure that the system could undertake data transfer which started in 1989. The CBRU moved again to larger premises, elsewhere on the campusand was kitted out with state-of-the-art connections, via the Camborne School of Mines, to the mini-computer housed at Exeter University.

A much larger capacity for processing more than the existing archives, encouraged the group to systematically survey the flora of Cornwall. The CBRU also developed the very first Cornish website and ERICA became the largest online natural history database in 1996. Unfortunately the unit closed shortly after for financial reasons. However, Colin and his group were able to transfer the database to run on home PCs, ultimately as a Windows version, which is now the most comprehensive computerised natural history databank of any region in Britain.

Colin’s talk then reviewed the historical work of ten previous naturalists who had documented the local flora starting with Matthias De Lobel in 1570, who studied just four species, followed by John Ray, considered the ‘Father of Botany,’ who in the 1680s documented Bermuda grass around Marazion. He ended with the publication of the first Flora of Cornwall in 1999.

Key findings in the 2020 version include 2,249,094 plant records and 3,018 plants,(an additional 426, mostly alien plants/garden escapes). More exciting was the discovery of a large hybrid orchid(a cross between a southern marsh orchid and a fragrant orchid) and a dock hybrid, both of which were new to science. A number of new species to Britain were also found including a diaphanous bladder fern, a green strawberry and tree angelica. Nine plants thought to be extinct, have been rediscovered, including the sand crocus, last found growing on the clifftop near Polruan in 1879 and the corn buttercup.

Unfortunately there has been an inexorable decline over the last 50 years both in the amount of wildlife habitat available and overall biodiversity. While no native plants are known to have become extinct since 1982, at least 40% of Cornwall has lost 90% of its flora. This is down to intensive agricultural practices with the use of herbicides, pesticides and artificial fertilisers.

Cornwall is a very special place in terms of its natural environment. It supports a very rich and varied suite of plants and is a refuge for hundreds of the rarest species known to occur in Britain. Thanks to dedicated botanists like Colin for keeping records over many years and making their database available for the greater good and future protection of the local flora.

The website for accessing the interactive flora database is at .

If you wish to purchase the 550 page book on the Cornish Flora at the reduced price of £45(mention that you are U3A member) then contact Colin French at .

10th February, Tom Horton, PhD student at the University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, returned to talk about “Bluefin Tuna Migration”. He previously gave our first Zoom talk in July 2020. This time he touched on some exciting new research tracking the bluefin tuna that now seasonally reside in waters off the UK.

Roy Fisher        01872 270528 Meets- online 2nd Thursday



All future monthly meeting (as from February onwards) will be held at the  leader’s home, from 14.00 – 16.00, but only if at lease 6 of the members have already notified their leader, within 5 days prior to the date of the meeting that they wish to attend, and that they have also successfully completed a lateral-flow.

We are meeting again on the first Wednesday in the month.

We’ve been speculating about the way humanity’s insatiable desire to “progress” (as illustrated below) seems to have affected, not only our natural environment, but our psychological make-up and personal feelings of well-being and happiness too.



The people of Bhutan felt the concept of ‘progress’ ought to be considered in terms of ‘gross national happiness’ but the capitalist economies of the world think it should be measured in terms of ‘gross national product’, ‘employment-levels’, ‘per capita income’, and so on.  Perhaps therefore, our sensually-conscious feelings, and our conceptually-conscious thoughts, point us in different directions and may even be in denial of each other, sometimes resulting in stress-related illnesses such as bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia which has been described as “a consequence of modernity” [Al-Khalili, 2014].  So, how has this change in our different levels of consciousness, and in the way we evaluate our own and everyone else’s sense of well-being, come about? 
As a social-species, our sensually-conscious need to care and share things cooperatively together and, where necessary, to restrain conflict by means of reconciliation, has gradually been replaced by the conceptually-conscious belief that, to progress, we now need to compete against one another instead.  It has come about by an overall change in the way communities everywhere use to control themselves equilaterally and in balance, to the way we now find ourselves being controlled and organized hierarchically out of balance, in order to achieve our dreams of the future.  Yet, “it’s a remarkable paradox, that at the pinnacle of human material and technical achievement, we find ourselves anxiety-ridden, prone to depression, worried about how others see us, unsure of our friendships, driven to consume and with little or no community life” [Wilkinson & Picket, 2010]. 
Perhaps there’s scope here for further discussion at our next meeting about the real meaning of ‘progress’ and of our ‘well-being’?

John Faupel:, 01872-561628


For all activities, please check our Google Calendar to confirm dates, times and locations

Pat Harrod Groups coordinator