Spring is fully in the air when we catch up with Yvonne Coomber to discuss her conservation work with Plantlife and other charities. A keen ambassador for the protection of wildflowers, the conservation of our delicate ecosystems in the UK is central to Yvonne’s practice and shines through in her work. In this interview, she tells us all about why this cause is so important to her, how she’s supporting conservation charities through her work, and what she’s looking forward to in the future.
You are renowned for your gorgeous wildflower paintings and a huge part of your work attempts to educate people about the importance of wildflowers in the environment and highlight conservation work. Why is this work so close to your heart?
At this precise moment in history, all our ecological systems are threatened and have become precarious and unstable. The protection of our wildflowers, and indeed our planet, needs a higher consciousness – it needs us all.
Wildflowers are such a joyful part of our environment and I love them so much. They have the ability to evoke innocence, beauty and happiness and they are such a powerful force. It is in these locations that I believe magic and deep transformation can grow.
Wildflowers are delicate and glamorous show-offs in summer fields, but most importantly they are a precious necessity to our planet. Meadows are an incredibly endangered species and their ongoing survival is a concern at this time. It feels deeply important to make a stand for their continuation. Cross-fertilisation and the protection of bees are all woven into this very fragile and delicate ecosystem. Everything on this earth is interconnected and it is important that we wake up to this so we are able to care for and nurture our environment.
It’s so saddening to hear some of the statistics about the loss of wildflowers across Britain. Ten species have become extinct since Queen Elizabeth was crowned. Eighteen species have disappeared since the seventeenth century. Intensive agriculture and the use of pesticides have really threatened wildflowers and the rate at which these delicate flowers are vanishing is shocking. The steep decline in the bee population is also a serious problem and one that can very directly be linked to the absence of wild flowers (bee food!).
Your love and concern for wildflowers explains your keen support of Plantlife. What is it about their work that first drew you to the charity?
The work that they are doing is invaluable because they are frontline in protecting wildflowers, plants and fungi in the United Kingdom. They are completely dedicated to this mission in a very concentrated way – they understand this natural heritage is priceless and needs to be conserved. Plantlife own 4,500 acres of nature reserve across the UK and over eighty percent of Britain’s wildflowers can actually be found on their land.
An essential aspect of their work involves raising awareness. They are weaving a consciousness about the protection of wildflowers, plants and fungi into every corner of the country. They work with landowners, businesses, conservation organisations and governments in their mission to create profound change.
They have a really important campaign at the moment, the Road Verge Campaign. Rural road verges are such a vital place for wildflowers – an amazing number of rare species grow on road verges. Plantlife are trying to make sure they are cared for and maintained by local councils. When carefully managed, these protected verges can allow numerous species to thrive as well as providing a beautiful sight for motorists!
Plantlife host a Great British Wildflower Hunt event in the spring. It is a wonderful way of bringing the community together. Encouraging children and families to become involved means that their message is more broadly shared and received.
I know you’ve done some work with Plantlife in the past. Can you tell us a bit about the work you have been involved with and what we can expect in the future?
It is a deepening and ongoing relationship and I feel committed to being part of the work that they are doing, it feels like the grass roots of my own practice (literally!).
I have been working on an enormous, incredibly textured, kaleidoscopic painting, with a multitude of layers. It sparkles and shimmers and I have poured so much hope, love and blessings into each of the layers. It has taken several months to create and is a really stunning piece – my heart and soul are woven into it! It will be auctioned at Plantlife’s fundraising charity ball in May at Kensington Palace. It is a complete honour to be contributing directly to the work that Plantlife does. I am both humbled and proud to support their vision.
You previously mentioned the launch of the wildflower centre at the Eden Project. This sounds so exciting! Can you tell me a bit more about it?
The Eden Project is an incredibly inspirational centre. The National Wildlife Centre has its new home there. The organisation is deeply committed to protecting and restoring wild habitats. It is passionate about reversing the wildflower decline and restoring wildflowers to being a central part of the UK’s living culture.
I was honoured to recently attend the launch of the Wildflower Centre at the Eden Project. In attendance were some deeply informed speakers who are leading authorities in environmentalism, conservation and ecology as well as passionate students with groundbreaking ideas.
This was a fertile space for visions of wildflower sanctuaries woven into our everyday life. The creation of ecological structures in industrial places, like the edges of motorways, is just as important as the emerald pasture lands of bygone days. This dream should be planted everywhere, in urban spaces as well as rural locations.
The founder of the Eden Project, Tim Smit, is an incredibly inspiring man. He states that the challenges of this century will require the very best of us! That ethos is an essential ingredient of the Eden Project’s narrative and mission to awaken individuals to realising that we are a part of nature, not apart from nature.
Tim Smit is a champion for believing that we can create change together. In its infancy, he held a deep belief that the Eden Project needed to exist and a trust that it could happen, despite scepticism. He wanted to regenerate this enormous, barren clay pit and create what he calls “a symbol of optimism, to show that ordinary people working together could do the nearly impossible”. He succeeded!
He also embraced a powerful commitment to bringing people together. The ability of the Eden Project to connect the local community illuminated the possibility of a different cultural paradigm. It became an example of how things could be if we are working in unity. We can all make a difference. In the attempt to manifest big changes, the acknowledgement of the significance of little gestures is so important.
For instance, planting a garden in our own green spaces, however humble they may be is a magical thing to do. The Eden Project has created their own unique seed collection and this is an invitation to not only plant flowers but also to plant dreams.
Can we look forward to any future collaborations with conservation organisations?
I am committed to all conservation projects and the work that these organisations do feels totally necessary. Supporting charities who are attempting to create an alternative vision for our precious planet is a beautiful thing to be part of.
Spring is always a busy time of year for me. I’m so pleased to be exhibiting in so many places over the next two months and I would love to meet some of you at these events.
13th April: Solo exhibition at Art5 Gallery, Brighton
26th – 28th April: Fresh Art Fair, Cheltenham
9th – 12th May: London Affordable Art Fair, Hamsptead
17th – 19th May: Glasgow Contemporary Art Fair, Scotland
18th – 19th May: Dulwich Open Studios, London
24th – 27th May: Totnes Open Studios, Totnes