International Association for Lichenology

Brian J. Coppins

Brian J. Coppins

Brian J. Coppins has been at the forefront of lichen research in Britain for more than 30 years. Brian became interested in lichens while at school when, like so many of his generation, he fell under spell of Kershaw and Alvin’s Observer’s Book of Lichens. He studied Botany at Hull University and as an undergraduate it is reputed that he could already identify most of the British lichen flora. One of his earliest publications (in Oikos [1971]) was based on his undergraduate project on lichens and mosses in heathland on Skipwith Common, Yorkshire, supervised by David Shimwell. He then went to the Department of Geography, King’s College, London, to take up a PhD studentship under the supervision of Francis Rose studying air pollution effects on lichens. Although Brian produced published output from this work (e.g. a chapter in Air Pollution and Lichens [1973]), he developed a far greater enthusiasm for lichen taxonomy than lichen ecophysiology, so much so that he eventually decided to switch topics and embark on a new PhD on the taxonomy of Micarea in Europe supervised jointly by Francis Rose and Peter James. He rapidly gained a reputation for being a gifted lichen taxonomist and, in 1974, he was appointed to the position of Ascomycete Taxonomist in the herbarium at The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh even before gaining his PhD; he was awarded this in 1982 and it was published in 1983 in The Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History), Botany.

Brian remained in Edinburgh for the duration of his professional career specializing in the systematics of crustose groups and producing major works on sterile crusts, Ramonia, Vezdaea, Psilolechia, Arthropyrenia, Catillaria, Arthoniaceae, Halecania and SE Asian Thelotremataceae while continuing to describe new species of Micarea amongst those of many other genera. Brian has also worked extensively describing the lichen mycota of habitats in many parts of Scotland, latterly an activity he frequently undertook with his wife Sandy, making a monumental contribution to our appreciation of the conservation importance of habitats such as the Atlantic hazel woods, Scottish native pinewoods, and alpine areas such as Ben Lawers and the Ben Nevis range, and raising awareness of the rich heritage of lichen communities in Scotland and their biodiversity importance in a European context.

In recent years he has had a very fruitful collaboration with Chris Ellis on the impact of climate change on lichen species ranges in Scotland. Brian has given generously of his time as a teacher and mentor, Oliver Gilbert observing that he “gave a higher priority to assisting other people with their lichens than making his own name through publications” (The Lichen Hunters [2004]). Brian has run numerous training courses and workshops including the now famed Rocker’s Workshop at Braemar and Kintail, 2005, and, until recently, the annual lichen course for beginners at the Kindrogan Field Studies Centre, again latterly in conjunction with Sandy. As a part of their lichen conservation campaign, Brian and Sandy initiated the “Lichen Apprenticeship” scheme providing training in lichen identification and survey methods to novices with work-related interests in conservation with a view to increasing awareness about lichens and increasing the number of skilled lichen identifiers. This scheme prompted a remarkable revival of interest in lichenology in Scotland. In recognition of their lifetime contributions to conservation of UK lichens, Brian and Sandy were presented with The Plantlife Award for Contributions to the Conservation of Plant Diversity (2009).

Although Brian’s field research has been largely focused on Scotland he has nonetheless had sorties to more exotic locations such as Borneo, Chile, the Carpathians, Thailand, USA, Norway and Canada and he has collaborated in describing new species from many parts of the world. Many of these collaborators, and colleagues in general, have enjoyed Brian and Sandy’s warm hospitality in their home in East Linton, and after dinner perhaps have been cosseted with a glass or two of a Scottish malt while discussing lichenology until late into the evening. At the same time as being a world authority on saxicolous crusts, Brian has an encyclopaedic knowledge of lichens in general and of lichen habitat ecology. As an example, several species of Thyrea and Anema from Spain that I sent to him were returned identified in a matter of a few days.

Brian was a member of the Editorial teams for the much celebrated Lichen Flora of Great Britain and Ireland (1992) and its recent revision The Lichens of Great Britain and Ireland (2009), either authoring or co-authoring over one fifth of the genera accounts in both volumes, and he has authored or co-authored several revisions of the Checklist of Lichens of Great Britain and Ireland. He was for many years Senior Editor of the Edinburgh Journal of Botany (1984-2001) and continues to serve on the editorial boards of The Lichenologist (all proofs are subject to Brian’s scrutiny!) and the Turkish Journal of Botany. He was President of the British Lichen Society from 1988-89, elected an Honorary Member in 1994 and awarded the BLS’ Ursula Duncan Award in 2005. Brian retired from the RBGE in May 2009. The fact that there are now two full-time lichenologist positions at RBGE is itself a tribute to the quality of Brian’s science and reflects the importance and relevance now attached to lichen conservation in 21st Century Scotland, thanks to him and Sandy. I am sure that Brian’s colleagues in many parts of the world will share my delight in his being awarded the Acharius Medal.

– Peter Crittenden, Nottingham 2010