Margaret is a nationally renowned botanist, well known for her work in plant conservation.  Since the 1950’s she has devoted much of her professional career to the study and conservation of the rare plants in Upper Teesdale, an area she has called home for much of her life.

A force of nature Margaret brings a positive mental attitude to everything she does and is an inspiration to everyone who knows her.



Click the link for an article by Sophie Yeo on ‘The legendary botanist’ Margaret Bradshaw who ‘has spent 70 years studying Teesdale’s special flowers.’

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Margaret’s life and work in Teesdale and beyond

Margaret was born into a farming family in the Wolds of the East Riding of Yorkshire. This farming background gave her a solid, practical understanding of land management and how it affects plant populations. Margaret often says ‘I have farming in my blood’. 

She is not sure where her interest in plants came from, as it was not something that any family member introduced her to. But she had a keen interest in learning about the natural world from a young age. She remembers being frustrated when studying biology at school in Bridlington, that the teacher never took them outside. And when her own teacher was ill for a term and the class decamped to Hull, she did have an inspirational biology teacher there.

First Inspiration

After completing her teacher training in Leeds Margaret’s first post was in Derbyshire; before moving to Bishop Auckland in order to be within reach of Upper Teesdale and its special plants, which had captured her imagination, although she had not yet visited the area.

Then Awareness

Margaret’s interest in Teesdale is not confined to its special plants. Through her teaching and publications she has inculcated a greater awareness of just how special the dale is in terms of it geology, geomorphology, landscape history, vegetation communities, unusual plant assemblages, as well as its special plant species.

Shortly after moving to County Durham, Margaret met the renowned botanist Dr. Max Walters, who suggested that she study the Lady’s-mantle Alchemilla vulgaris agg. group of plants, as Upper Teesdale supported more species than any other part of Britain. Margaret began regular field visits to Teesdale and Weardale, cycling and walking for miles studying and mapping the Lady’s-mantles and other rare plants. 

On her first day looking for Lady’s-Mantles in Upper Weardale, she found an enormous population of the rare starry Lady’s-mantle Alchemilla acutiloba growing on the face of the recently constructed dam of Burnhope Reservoir. At the time nobody knew that this species was common in Weardale. In 1951, she was the first person to discover the very rare, large-toothed Lady’s-mantle Alchemilla subcrenata in Britain in fields near Newbiggin in Teesdale

As her knowledge of botany grew, Margaret attended Durham University for her doctorate studies where she was awarded a PhD in 1959 for her research into the morphology and cytology of Lady’s-mantles. Her interest in these plants continues to the present day and for many years she has been the national referee for the genus for the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI). Margaret continued at Durham University from 1962 to 1983, teaching botany and environmental science in the Department of Extra-Mural Studies. 

Her work came to national significance in the late 60’s with her involvement in the campaign to save areas supporting significant populations of rare plants from destruction due to the proposed Cow Green Reservoir. Although the campaign did not succeed in stopping the reservoir, the importance of the unique Upper Teesdale flora became more widely understood by botanists in other parts of Britain and by the general public, due largely to Margaret’s efforts. She organised teams of visiting botanists to study and document the rare plants of the sugar limestone habitats on Widdybank Fell in more detail that had ever been done before, or has ever been done since then. The current project is repeating some of this work in similar detail.

In 1983 Margaret resettled in Devon and became a sheep farmer. Her botanical research carried on there, including studying the rare plants of Devon for the Nature Conservancy Council (NCC). She discovered a species of whitebeam that was new to science on the Devon coast. This was eventually named ‘Margaret’s whitebeam’ Sorbus margaretae after her. 

Returning to Upper Teesdale in 1998, Margaret resumed the long-term annual plant population studies of several of the rare species at permanently-marked plots on Widdybank and Cronkley Fells that she began in the 1970s. She continues with this research to this day using a horse to make the trek up onto Cronkley Fell these days.

She has trained several volunteers to work with her and carry on with the plant population dynamics work in the future. The data from these detailed studies are now of great significance, clearly demonstrating recent declines in important rare species. It was largely these results that prompted Margaret to set up this project.

On her return to Teesdale she also trained volunteers to help her undertake a comprehensive re-survey of the rare Lady’s-mantle species in road verges and along Public Rights of Way through meadows in Teesdale and Weardale. Sadly, this study also showed a big decline in the extent of the populations compared to her 1950s surveys.


Margaret is passionate about teaching and her teaching activities may be her most important work. She has run many plant identification workshops for field staff from nature conservation agencies. Many of these workshops have covered some of the more difficult-to-identify groups of plants such as grasses, sedges and Lady’-mantles. She continues to organise and teach a weekly botany class for her Upper Teesdale Botany Group.


Margaret has published many journal articles, books and educational leaflets. Recently she contributed to the revised edition of the Natural History of Upper Teesdale. She has authored a comprehensive new book on the rare plants of Upper Teesdale, which will be published shortly.


A life dedicated to special flora

Over five decades of research have earned Dr Bradshaw the praise of the scientific community. The contribution she has made to the understanding of the flora of Upper Teesdale is unsurpassed.

Dr Margaret Bradshaw MBE

In 1977 Margaret was awarded an MBE for her services to botany and conservation. 

Honorary member of BSBI

In 2010 Margaret was made an Honorary member of Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI).   

Marsh Botany Award

Awarded to Margaret in 2012 this prestigious award recognises her outstanding contributions to botanical research and conservation.

The Pendlebury Award

More recently, she was the first winner of the North Pennines AONB Partnership’s Pendlebury award, which recognises remarkable individuals who have put their heart and soul into looking after the North Pennines.

Teesdale Special Flora Trust

Upper Teesdale’s unique assembly of special flora is in crisis. This group of 100 rare and threatened plant species includes the Teesdale Assemblage; a unique community of 12 rare and endangered arctic-alpine plants. Recent survey demonstrated average declines of 54% since the 1970s. 28 species are threatened with extinction. Dr M.E. Bradshaw’s Teesdale Special Flora Research and Conservation Trust (Teesdale Special Flora Trust) works to survey and protect these rare arctic-alpine species such as the iconic blue Spring Gentian.   

Great North Run 2008

After a heart attack in 2008, Margaret entered the Great North Run half marathon for the first time. Her fund raising has supported several charities close to her heart, including the British Heart Foundation and the Air Ambulance.

Great North Run 2015

In 2015, nearing her ninetieth birthday, Margaret completed the race for a fourth time; raising over £6,000.  This was donated to Teesdale and Weardale Search & Mountain Rescue Team and also Upper Teesdale Agricultural Support Services (UTASS).

Upper Teesdale Quarter Marathon

In the last few years she established an annual quarter marathon walk in Upper Teesdale to encourage better health in people over 55. 

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