Liz Kungu

Liz Kungu


A life in bryology

As an only child born and growing up in post-war north London suburbia anything to do with nature was my sanity and my salvation. My first love from primary school was ornithology, but my interest soon expanded to include botany, as without the plants there would be no habitats for the birds. As the first in my family to go to university I was lucky enough to have parents who were happy to let me study whatever interested me, even though the job prospects seemed meagre. At the University of Durham, I was one of only two students, both female, in the inaugural year of a joint honours course in Botany and Geography, this in the days when UK universities still had thriving botany departments, and before ecology or environmental sciences degrees existed. After Durham I moved to the Geography Department of Queen’s University, Belfast to do an MSc by research. This was early on during the start of the troubles and a month after the British troops had moved in, so it was a strange time to be doing field work in the Sperrin Mountains.  

Jobs were indeed very scarce once I graduated, and so I was grateful to eventually find my dream job in 1972, as a scientific officer in the peatland research group of the Nature Conservancy, the original UK wide, nature conservation organisation. This is where my love affair with bryophytes really started. I was given a copy of The Student’s Handbook of British Mosses (Dixon 1924) and The Student’s Handbook of British Hepatics (MacVicar 1926) and a shoe box of peatland bryophytes to identify. The first plant I looked at was Mylia taylorii and yes, even though these were samples from a Scottish bog, it was M. taylorii and not M. anomala, and I was hooked, such a beautiful plant, wonderful details of cell structure, and found in such amazing habitats. In 1974 I was transferred to the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology (ITE), when the newly formed Nature Conservancy Council lost its research capability. A very retrograde step in my opinion. In ITE I was part of the Scottish soft coast survey, which again took me to superb places all around the Scottish coast to record the vascular plant flora, and my winters were spent in the lab identifying the bryophyte collections from these sites. This was my first introduction to Entodon concinnus which we found throughout the Hebridean machair, it having previously only been known from a couple of sites.

In 1980, when my daughter Cathy was born, I took a career break to become a full-time mum, and subsequently help run the family business and work part-time as an archaeologist, and only returned to science when the family moved to Kenya in 1990. Here I started work as an assistant lecturer in the Botany Department of the University of Nairobi, teaching bryology amongst many other Botanical topics. It was there that Prof. John Kokwaro first encouraged me to register for my PhD. In 1991 I joined the British Bryological Society (BBS) tropical group meeting to Mt Mulanje in Malawi. This was an amazing opportunity to meet with other members of the BBS whilst studying the bryoflora of this magnificent African mountain, and one lunchtime sitting by the Thuchila River, to ask Royce Longton if he would supervise me as a PhD student to complete research on some aspect of bryophyte taxonomy, eventually settling on the revision of African Entodontaceae.

I moved to the Botany Department of The University of Reading in 1994, and studied part-time whilst looking after my young son, eventually registering for my PhD at Reading in 1997 and finally graduating in 2003. At Reading I realised that I was part of a cohort of women returning to university in later life to complete their first or higher degrees. I had started at university in an era when only 4% of UK school leavers went to university and women were a small minority as undergraduates, and very rarely completed postgraduate degrees. From Reading, I was fortunate to get an ideal job, working at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh (RBGE) on a short-term contract, looking for novel compounds of potential medicinal use in the Scottish flora, and specifically bryophytes. This gave me the opportunity to become far more involved in the running of the BBS and to widen my bryological knowledge with the guidance of the Scottish bryologists, especially with the help of David Long, David Chamberlain and Gordon Rothero. I am very grateful to them and many other members of the BBS for their patient tuition and friendship over the last two decades. I have had support from the RBGE in my bryological life, initially as an employee and subsequently as a research associate. This has enabled me to arrange numerous field meetings to under recorded areas of Scotland, in preparation for the 2014 Atlas of the British and Irish Bryophytes, to edit the Journal of Bryology for almost 12 years and to start the South-west Scotland Bryophyte Recording group. I continue as a bryologist to this day, being very proud, and slightly overwhelmed, to be elected president of the BBS, starting this year, and being appointed joint vice county recorder for VCs 72–74. The study of bryophytes has taken me to some beautiful places, with the company of many lovely people and provided much needed bryo-therapy over the years.

List of publications:

Kungu E.M. 2003. Taxonomic revision of African Entodontaceae. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis. The University of Reading.

Kungu E.M., Bonner L. & Longton R.E. 2003. Patterns of peristome reduction and ornamentation in African Entodontaceae. Journal of Hattori Botanical Laboratory, 93: 223–246.

Bosanquet, S.D.S. Kungu, E.M. & Preston C.D. 2005. Extreme arable bryology: a brief visit to the cereal fields of Caithness. Field Bryology No. 86: 18–21.

Chamberlain, D.F. & Kungu E.M. 2005. Bryological survey of Habbies Howe SSSI, Logan Burn, Pentlands, Midlothian. Report to SNH.

Kungu E.M. 2005. Pencloe Forest bryophyte survey. Moss harvesting. Report to Forestry Commission.

Kungu E.M. 2005. South Kyle Forest bryophyte survey. Moss harvesting. Report to Forestry Commission.

Chamberlain D.F. & Kungu E.M. 2006. Dollar Glen Bryological Survey. Report to NTS.

Chamberlain D.F. & Kungu E.M. 2006. Impact assessment of a proposed wind farm on the bryophytes of Auchencorth Moss, Midlothian. Private report.

Chamberlain D. & Kungu L. 2006 A regional meeting in south-west Scotland, October2005.  Field Bryology No. 89: 17–19

Kungu E.M, Longton R. and Bonner L. 2006. Character reduction and peristome morphology in Entodontaceae – constraints on an information source. In Pleurocarpous Mosses Systematics and Evolution. The Systematics Association Special Volume Series 71. pp 247–268. Ed: Newton A.E. & Tangney R.S. CRC Press.

Kungu E.M. and Chamberlain D.F. 2006. Bryophyte Survey of Lochelbank Proposed Wind Farm. Private report.

Long D. & Kungu E.M. 2006. Glenkinnon Burn bryophyte survey and management recommendations.  Report to Forestry Commission and Community Woodland.

Long D. & Kungu E.M. 2007. Tinnis Burn Bryophyte Survey and Management Recommendations. Report to Forestry Commission and Community Woodland.

Kungu L. 2008. Summer field meeting (2) Isle of Lewis 22–28 July 2007. Field Bryology        No. 94:51–54.

Kungu L. 2009. BBS spring field meeting, Ayrshire 1–7 April 2008. Field Bryology No.                  99: 42–54.

Kungu L. 2011. BBS summer meeting – week 1. 26 June–3 July 2010. Field Bryology                    No. 103: 57–67.

Dalton N.J., Kungu E.M. & Long D.G. 2012. The misapplication of Hedwigia integrifolia P.Beauv. and identity of Gymnostomum imberbe Sm. (Hedwigiaceae, Bryopsida). Journal of Bryology 34(1):59–61.

Dalton N.J., Kungu E.M. & Long D.G. 2013. A taxonomic revision of the Hedwigiaceae Schimp. from the Sino-Himalaya. Journal of Bryology 35(2): 96–111.

Long D. & Kungu E.M. 2015. Recording Bryophytes in Talla & Gameshope.

The Green Shed. Borders Forest Trust, December 2015.

Long D. & Kungu L.  2015. Meeting Report: BBS Annual Meeting and Conference 12–14 September 2014. Report on the 2014 Autumn Meeting held at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. Field Bryology. No. 114: 36–37.