Happy Birthday Bryan Hamlin! [UPDATED 5/25]

The Board of Directors of the Friends of the Middlesex Fells Reservation wishes to salute Dr. Bryan Hamlin, an extraordinary botanist and citizen, as he turns 80 years old on May 18, 2020.

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For many years, members of the Friends as well as local students and the general public have seen Bryan’s joyful and unreserved dedication to the forest, his ability to teach others how to love plants in their natural setting, and his leadership in protecting the unique Middlesex Fells.

After moving to Medford in 2003 with his wife, Anne, Bryan discovered in the nearby woods an astonishing number of plants that were indicative of a healthy ecosystem. Surprised to find such botanical vigor so close to Boston, he set about investigating what he saw. A native of England, Bryan had earned a doctorate in microbial biochemistry from Hull University, followed by a long career in international conflict resolution – where he met American Anne – yet never lost his love of wildflowers, the delicate and surprising plants he noticed and catalogued even as a young boy roaming about southwest England, first by foot and then on motorbike with a collecting box on the back.

Huckleberry flower by Bryan Hamlin

“When he moved to Medford, he re-found both his love of nature and his science expertise in the Fells, especially through the Friends of the Fells,” said Anne recently. “His interest in botany, the environment, and concern about climate change all found a new means of expression.”

But it was an unexpected discovery. As Bryan recalled in 2015, “I was very snooty on my first walk into the woods thinking that this close to downtown Boston the woods would be degraded with not much in the way of interesting native plants. Was I in for a surprise! For example – Striped Wintergreen! So I began to make a list of the plants I found on walks in the Fells.”

That list became a team effort organized by Bryan, ultimately resulting in the 2012 publication of an award-winning article in Rhodora, the publication of the New England Botanical Club, of which Bryan was vice-president. “Changes in the Vascular Flora of the Middlesex Fells Reservation, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, from 1895 To 2011” was based on an exhaustive survey by Bryan with Walter Kittredge and others over a seven-year period. Beautifully written, it describes the history of the Fells woodland and compares today’s plants with those recorded in unique historical data from as early as 1895. A total of 902 species of vascular plants were found.

“Such a high number is a measure both of the health of the Fells, and also its amazing ecological variety from the big reservoirs to vernal pools, swamps, marshes, streams, different types of woodlands and lots of rocky outcrops,” wrote Bryan in 2015. “We are so fortunate to have this amazing wild forest reservation right within the metropolitan area of Boston.” A digital file of the Rhodora article may be obtained by emailing the Friends office, jesse.macdonald@fells.org.

In addition to his extensive work in the field, Bryan was a member of the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Fells for fifteen years and chair of the Board from 2011-2015. He maintains an illustrated website, foundinthefells.com, that chronicles some of the wildflowers which might be discovered by a curious explorer in every season. In addition, he has led dozens of nature walks for the Friends, focused in recent years on the need to recognize and control invasive plants that have taken hold in the forest, including oriental bittersweet, black swallow-wort, and Japanese knotweed, among others.

From 2008-2010 Bryan also taught at Medford High School as a substitute teacher. Initially assigned wherever he was needed, his immense knowledge and gift for teaching were quickly recognized by the school, and he became a long-term substitute in the biology and history departments. Bryan even brought his students into the Fells near the school.

In the past few years, Bryan has been one of the leading voices on the issue of invasive plants in the Fells, and on the urgent threat that many of these species poses to the ecology of our forest.  His leadership, expertise, and passionate advocacy efforts have had meaningful impacts on both the attention given to this issue by the relevant policymakers, and directly on the volunteer work of the Friends of the Fells.  As a result, invasive control has become one of the primary focuses of our on-site volunteer efforts.

“Bryan now enjoys walking and exploring in the Fells whenever he can, and going with him is like doing visits to old friends he has known for years,” says his wife Anne. “He is delighted that our children and grandchildren, who live in central Massachusetts and coastal Maine, seem to be carrying on his love of the natural world.”

In recognition of Bryan’s 80th birthday and his immeasurable contributions to the Fells over the years, the Friends of the Fells Board of Directors has committed to making donations to the Friends’ operating fund in his name.  If you would like to join this effort, you can visit our Facebook page to make a donation.

Happy Birthday, Dr. Bryan Hamlin, and thank you from the muddy bottoms of all our hearts.