Botanist who studied and recorded Orkney plant life for 60 years:

Born: 1915; Died: August 10, 2011.

DR ELAINE R Bullard, who has died aged 96, was the London-born botanist whose work in her adopted Orkney led to new awareness of the importance of conserving one of Scotland’s richer wild plant collections.

What differentiated Dr Bullard from botanical academia was that she was entirely self-taught, through books and from direct experience in the field. She had been fascinated by plants and the accurate naming of them from the age of 10, once saying “If you can’t name a thing accurately, how can you go back to it again and tell somebody else anything about it?”

This was the legacy that saw the 31-year-old Londoner arrive in Orkney in 1946 as a milk recorder, and eventually undertake and complete a lifetime study of the islands’ natural life, to the extent that her work has provided inspiration for two generations of visiting academics as well as students and teachers arriving in Orkney to enrich their knowledge and understanding of botany in a northern climate.

Dr Bullard targeted some of her earliest work on the Scottish primrose, with one particular study of primula scotica involving visiting marked locations several times a year for 16 years. Such professional devotion had outlets in several papers and treatises, with her chapter on vegetation in The Natural History of Orkney remaining a standard work.

Elaine’s work was carried on outdoors at all times of the year, in some of the most testing conditions in the British Isles. Her ingenuity provided an almost comic touch, for her mobile headquarters was a three-wheeled Reliant Robin incongruously sporting a tent-like addition on the roof.

This she employed on day trips and nights away, covering the 39 islands of Orkney (land masses larger than 37 acres) as well as many of the islets and holms within the archipelago, detailing the richly varied plant life of Orkney through a lifetime of exploration, scrupulously visiting every habitat of geo, gully, cliff, scarp, bog, marsh, inlet, loch and meadow.

Her professional love for and botanical expertise concerning Orkney endured for more than 60 years. When she was appointed botanical recorder for the Botanical Society of the British Isles in 1963, her imprint was already firmly on the islands she had made her home, for in 1959, she had founded Orkney Field Club, still flourishing today. She retained her recording role for the BSBI for a remarkable 46 years until retiring at 93.

Professor Robert Crawford of St Andrews University said: “The fact that she had no training in botanical science is in her case irrelevant.” Her painstaking field studies went beyond simply noting and locating species, to include the recording and assessment of change over many visits. “This aspect of her work has assumed ever-greater importance in recent times,” added Prof Crawford, “as changes in land-use and climate variation repeatedly present problems for conservation and biodiversity”. Emeritus Professor Sam Berry of University College, London, termed her simply the “doyenne of Orkney naturalists”.

The value of Elaine Bullard’s meticulous findings saw her made an MBE in 1981, with the further recognition of an honorary doctorate from Heriot-Watt University in 2007. Her work was recognised by the Scottish Parliament last month through Orkney MSP Liam McArthur lodging a motion in her memory.

In acclaiming her “extraordinary legacy”, Mr McArthur said: “Her work in the study of her beloved primula scotica has left an important and lasting legacy.

“Her painstaking research and dedication to cataloguing the flora of Orkney has provided us with an invaluable record of our islands’ botanical heritage and the importance of its conservation.”

Dr Bullard was an honoured guest at the 50th anniversary celebration of Orkney Field Club two years ago, an evening which centred on original, interesting and unusual specimens found in the islands.

Inevitably her own primula scotica received top mention, as did Alpine bearberry, purple ramping fumitory, the oyster plant, and St Kilda hookmoss, and trees including three remaining native hazels and a dozen native aspens.