Sycamore stumps adults in UK biodiversity survey

18 May 2010

Less than a quarter (24%) of UK adults are able to correctly identify the common UK sycamore tree, according to a survey on behalf of the Natural History Museum, which launches the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity today.

Help is available in the new centre to those 2 in 3 (68%) of us who are unable to correctly identify a peacock butterfly, or anyone else with an interest in UK natural history.

People at the launch of the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity

People at the launch of the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity in the Museum's Darwin Centre

The Ipsos MORI survey of more than 1000 adults showed that people were better at identifying a toad and blue tit, with 6 in 10 adults correctly identifying both. But it seems that many people could use some extra help with identifying UK biodiversity.

‘It is quite revealing how out of touch people are with their environment,’ says Dr Johannes Vogel, centre Director. ‘And it’s a real shame just how little people seem to understand the natural world.

‘Here at the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity we aim to improve things and nurture, inspire, excite and support naturalists of all ages and levels of interest.’

The survey

More than 1,000 adults and 100 children were asked to identify images of UK wildlife in the survey.

While a high number of adults could correctly identify a toad, woodlouse and blue tit, a worryingly low number were able to identify an ammonite, Britain’s most common fossil, with less than one in five (17%) giving a correct answer.

Stick insect or sycamore

Some of the more unusual suggestions for a sycamore were a stick insect or a strawberry plant! And some thought a woodlouse was a slug or worm!

Resource centre

Dr Gill Stevens, Head of the centre, explains its purpose. ‘Anyone with an interest in British natural history is welcome to use the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity free of charge.

‘It’s a resource centre for anyone and one of the key roles it plays is to respond to people’s concerns.

‘Visitors can see and use our UK collections, books from the extensive library of the London Natural History Society as well as our very own Identification and Advisory Service.’

There are more than 10,000 drawers of plants and animals, over 4,000 drawers of butterflies and moths, and over 6,000 drawers of British flowering plants, housed in the centre and available for amateur naturalists and groups to study.

Centre Manager Stuart Hine explains the role of the centre including the Identification and Advisory Service. ‘We are the first port of call for anyone with any enquiry about British wildlife, from fossils to ferns and bugs to badgers.’

‘While we can’t promise to have the answers to everything immediately, we probably know someone who does know, and along the way we will help anyone develop their interests and thereby inspire a new generation of nature lovers as they gain real hands-on experience of the UK’s biodiversity.’

Londoners the worst

Overall, Londoners had the worst knowledge, with only 11% able to correctly identify the sycamore.

However, those living in the south and midlands fared better, with northerners as runners-up. 40% from the midlands correctly identified the peacock butterfly, whereas 27% of adults from London could do the same.

Girls versus boys

The survey of 119 children revealed girls tended to be more accurate than boys at identification, although more boys were able to identify the ammonite and sycamore.

A larger proportion of boys than girls were able to recognise that the great crested newt is an amphibian found in the UK.

Other survey findings found that more than half of adults recognised that perch are found in the UK, and only 18% recognised the sundew, one of the UK’s only carnivorous plants.

Level of interest

The survey results also revealed people’s level of interest in wildlife and natural history. 

60% of all adults expressed an interest in wildlife and natural history, with a lower percentage of 49% for those aged 15-34 and higher percentage of 66% in the 35-44 age group.

Almost 8 out of 10 (78%) adults claimed they did not belong to a wildlife or natural history group such as the RSPB or Wildlife Trust.

6 in 10 adults expressed an interest in spending time outdoors doing activities such as fishing or walking (62%) and 1 in 2 adults likes to watch wildlife on TV (51%).

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Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity 
Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity

Discover the Centre for UK Biodiversity. It offers a drop-in identification service,  research facilities, and online nature resources. Watch a video and meet the team.

Find out about the Centre for UK Biodiversity