James Borrell is a biodiversity scientist and science communicator researching how people and nature can adapt to environmental change.

The Central Desert Botanic Expedition

“No man can live this life and emerge unchanged. He will carry, however faint, the imprint of the desert, the brand which marks the nomad; and he will have within him the yearning to return, weak or insistent according to his nature. For this cruel land can cast a spell which no temperate clime can match.” – Thesiger

For biologists, a baking hot desert must surely rank poorly in a list of exciting habitats to explore. That is, at least, what I assumed on my first visit to Oman. I was wonderfully and comprehensively wrong – is that not how all the best adventures start?

You only need to spend a night under the stars, to wake and find a myriad of tracks and prints telling their story in the sand. The desert is enchanting and full of life. Perhaps not in the same way as a rainforest, instead the desert rewards patience and simplicity. The slower you travel, the more it reveals.

Thanks to the support and generosity of the Anglo-Omani Society and Omani Botanic Gardens, this week I’m excited to be heading back. It’ll be a light and efficient expedition, aiming to document, map and collect specimens of a number of rare plants from a remote region of the central desert. The species don’t have common names and for most there aren’t even photographs – just a handful of fairly old museum specimens. We’re excited to help change that.

Most importantly, this is a collaborative and interdisciplinary expedition with International and Omani members aiming to learn just as much about each others’ cultures as the science. We are all guilty of harboring misconceptions for other parts of the world – not least the Middle East – but it is quite simply one of the most rewarding places I have ever traveled (go!). The expedition will, I hope, help contribute in some small way to the success of the Middle East’s first national botanic gardens – an organization to help protect and conserve Oman’s unique flora (and the fauna that depend on it!).

“For this was the real desert where differences of race and colour, of wealth and social standing, are almost meaningless; where coverings of pretence are stripped away and basic truths emerge.” – Thesiger

As always, we’ll be writing about the project here: Oman Botanic Expedition 2017