I have spent many years researching and
writing about the uses people make of plants. This work developed following my postgraduate research into the importance of manioc (Manihot esculenta) to Matsigenka communities of the Peruvian Amazon and my study of Amerindian languages and culture at St Andrews University, and an ethnobotanical survey of medicinal plants undertaken for the Rio Mazan project in Ecuador in 1986.

I’m probably best known as the author of two editions of ‘Plants For People’ – a comprehensive study of the ways in which products from plants support our daily lives - first written at the invitation of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and published in 1990. Valued as a teaching resource for students of economic botany and described by Tim Smit as ‘a complete inspiration to the Eden Project’, I revised and up-dated the book for publication by Transworld/ Eden Project books in 2003.

In 2018 my latest book Birch', about the cultural significance of birch trees (Betula spp.) was published by Reaktion Books. In 2017, during the research for and writing of "Birch", I also travelled to India with David Morley of Bite Media productions to make two radio programmes 'The Tree Spirits' for the BBC's World Service about two species of fig (Ficus religiosa & F. benghalensis) sacred to millions of Buddhists and Hindus.

For the first three months of 2015 I worked on a project for Kew researching and writing about spices for the Full of Spice Festival.

In 2014 I completed an adventure story for children 'The Plant People' as well as proposals for several other projects designed to present undereported aspects of our usage of and relationship with the plants that support us.

A revised and updated edition of 'Ancient Trees' was published by Anova Books in 2012.

My earlier work includes seven educational books about rainforests and their peoples for children including the ‘Wayland Atlas of Rainforests’ and ‘Antonio’s Rainforest’, which describes the lives of rubber tappers in the remote Brazilian Amazon and ‘Ancient Trees – Trees that live for 1,000 years’, a celebration of some of the world’s longest-lived tree species and their importance to people. I’ve also written many reports and articles on the diverse uses of plants for a range of magazines and other publications.

In 2006 I founded ‘RushWorks’, as a community project involving local schools, in order to revive the craft of rush cutting and rushwork as traditionally practised along the River Stour in north Dorset. I am keen to reconnect people with useful plants and traditional skills and continue to teach rushwork.

In 2000 I appeared as ethnobotanist in the first four programmes of the popular BBC2 TV series ‘Rough Science’ presented by Kate Humble. As a consultant on plant use and Latin American indigenous issues I have advised or collaborated with major environmental organizations including WWF, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Oxford University Botanic Garden, the Eden Project, the Woodland Trust and the Chelsea Physic Garden, as well as the British Government in Brazil, where I accepted the post of Assistant to Secretary of State for the Environment, Jose Lutzenberger.

In both Brazil and Chile I’ve had the privilege of carrying out ethnobotanical research and of assessing environmental projects for funding, and in Peru, I was the Administrator of the Cusichaca Project - an archaeological excavation and rehabilitation project, then comprising 50 British & Peruvian volunteers.

As an environmental campaigner I’m deeply concerned about the major issues affecting us today, from the privatisation and genetic modification of our basic food crops to the social and environmental repercussions of our dependence on commodities such as African oil palm.

There is a description of my first visit to the Amazon and how my interest in the importance of plants to people developed here.