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Conservationist appeals to schools for help in naming new tree species

Posted on 11 December 2015

While choosing the perfect Christmas tree can be a struggle for some people at this time of year, spare a thought for a University of York conservation scientist who has discovered a new species of tree - and now has the daunting task of naming it.

The new species of tree - given a festive makeover

Naming a new species is normally a privilege conferred on the person who discovered it, but Dr Andy Marshall has passed up that opportunity and is hoping schools and colleges around the country will come to his aid.

The new tree was discovered by accident in a remote mountain forest inTanzania while Dr Marshall was studying one of the world’s rarest primates - the kipunji monkey. 

During the 2011 trip his attention was drawn by a curious tree that he could not identify. Soon afterwards, while rummaging through dried specimens at the National Museums of Kenya, it turned out it was an entirely new species from the genus Polyceratocarpus.

“Most people are thinking about their Christmas tree at the moment, but I want people to think about a totally different tree altogether.

“The tree grows as large as an oak tree, so I was amazed to find that scientists had not named it before.

“If there are still species as large as a tree that remain unnoticed, imagine the treasure trove of smaller ones that are still awaiting discovery!

“The Schools for Forests campaign is a fantastic opportunity to get students involved in charitable work while also having the opportunity to win an amazing range of prizes, including naming this new tree species.”

Schools for Forests is a unique competition and education scheme for schools and colleges, aiming to raise funds for the conservation of tropical forests. The school that raises the most money will have the 20-metre tall tree named after them.

Those who raise over £1000 will be twinned with a school in Tanzania, and invited to an awards ceremony and activity day at Flamingo Land.

Other rewards such as t-shirts will be given to those who raise over £50, and all schools signing up for the Schools for Forests competition will receive teaching resources tailored for the primary and secondary curriculum. A research paper published early in 2016 will then formally announce the tree’s new name in the journal PhytoKeys.

CIRCLE is a collaboration between York’s Environment Department and Flamingo Land that aims to protect biodiversity, animal welfare and promote public understanding of the natural world.

Funds raised will go towards CIRCLE’s work in Tanzania in collaboration with the Udzungwa Forest Project to better protect tropical forests through scientific research, forest management, community education, training and lobbying.

Dr Marshall added: “I would like to thank my colleagues from Ohio Wesleyan University, the National Museums of Kenya, and various other institutions, who were instrumental in helping me to describe this tree. I would also like to thank Flamingo Land and the Mammal Working Group of the British and Irish Association for Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) for funding the expedition that led to the discovery of the new species, and both the United Bank of Carbon and Santander for supporting the Schools for Forests campaign.”

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