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Re-publication of 'Flora of Northumberland and Durham' (1831): A dramatic account of change

The classical treatise "Flora of Northumberland and Durham" by N. J. Winch is re-published through the innovative Advanced Books platform as an example of combining modern information technology together with historical scholarship to create a new sort of resource and data re-use

The classical treatise "Flora of Northumberland and Durham" by Nathaniel John Winch is re-published through the innovative Advanced Books platform as an example of combining modern information technology together with historical scholarship to create a new sort of resource and data re-use. This publication will be supporting ongoing research on the botany of the region, which can be seen as a model for other regions in Europe. The on-line semantically enriched re-publication marries the meticulous detail of old books with the interconnectedness of the internet bringing advantages of the digitization and markup efforts such as data extraction and collation, distribution and re-use of content, archiving of different data elements in relevant repositories and so on. "Historic biodiversity literature is not just of cultural interest, it can be used to chart biogeographic change and help us understand the impacts of environmental change on biodiversity. Even if we are trying to predict future scenarios for biodiversity, understanding the changes of the past will help understand the changes we should expect in the future" said Dr Quentin Groom from the Meise Botanical Garden, Belgium, who initiated the project and marked up the original text. The North-east of England has seen many changes since the publication of Winch's Flora. In the 19th Century the area was a powerhouse of the industrial revolution. It was an important coal mining area and significant for the production of iron and steel. It was also a centre for industries such as shipbuilding and engineering. In contrast the uplands in the west of the region were some of the most isolated areas in England, covered in blanket bog and rarely visited. The extensive efforts of Quentin Groom from the Botanic Garden Meise and editor of this re-publication combined with the cutting-edge technologies for semantic enhancements used by Pensoft's Advanced Books platform, have resulted in additional details including links to the original citations and coordinates of the mentioned localities. In some cases the habitat that Winch described for a locality differs dramatically from what can be found in the same location nowadays. The flora, for example, frequently mentions Prestwick Carr, an area of lowland bog, once full of rare species. Sadly it was largely drained just thirty years after the publication of the flora. Yet in recent years the Northumberland Wildlife Trust has been working to restore the bog to its former glory. "When reading Winch's flora, it is easy to see what has been lost, but more importantly what remains to be conserved", comments Groom. The re-publication of Winch's flora is just one step towards fully understanding all the impacts on wild plants of all the environmental changes that have occurred since the 19th century. Nevertheless, digitization of this flora not only tells us about plants but also about the history of science. Between the lines of this flora one can see a rudimentary understanding of ecology and the beginnings of research on phytogeography. The re-publication is supported by the FP7 funded EU project European Biodiversity Observation Network (EU BON). Original Source: Winch N (2014) Flora of Northumberland and Durham. Advanced Books: e4002. doi: 10.3897/ab.e4002

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