This is the study of the plant life of the past as preserved in the fossil record, including the spore/pollen record.

Plant biodiversity is very sensitive to environmental change, especially climate change. The study of vegetation history is a powerful tool for revealing how our world has changed through time.

The fossil record also helps us understand the evolutionary history of plant life, and the relationships between different groups of plants. Such work therefore complements the study of modern plant biodiversity, giving it the fourth dimension of time.

The Section focuses on the vegetation during the two most recent times in Earth's history when there was substantial polar ice: late Carboniferous and early Permian times (310-290 million years ago) and Pleistocene and modern times (about the last 2 million years). The fossil history of plant life from these two time intervals is particularly well represented in Wales.

Reconstructed view of late Carboniferous coal swamps of South Wales.  Artwork by A. Townsend.
Reconstructed view of late Carboniferous coal swamps of South Wales. Artwork by A. Townsend.