New Zealand is a world leader in forensic palynology/pollen. The Forensic Group works in conjunction with a top UK forensic science provider to supply advice and Expert Witnesses services to Police Forces and intelligence agencies. We also undertake work as independent experts for criminal, civil, insurance and other companies and organisations.
Palynology is the study of pollen grains of seed plants and the spores of ferns. These microscopic particles (often referred to simply as “pollen”) are abundant in almost all environments, are very durable and may persist on surfaces and in soils for many years; some of the oldest known fossils are spores. Pollen grains are present in the air, they constantly settle on surfaces and they are a significant cause of hay fever.
Pollen is a form of trace evidence (trace material being that which is present in small but measurable amounts or that is microscopic in size – this may also include fibres, hair, glass, etc.). The main forensic application of pollen analysis is assisting to prove or disprove a link between people and objects with places or with other people.
One of the roles of a Palynologist (Pollen Expert) is to reconstruct the vegetation of an area by analysis of soil samples or other material containing pollen. Examples include:
- Soil on clothing and shoes analysed for pollen and compared with control soil samples from a crime scene;
- Identification of pollen grains in drugs and associated packaging may reveal whether or not illicit drugs material originated overseas;
- Pollen on a body and associated clothing/items may reveal whether an individual died at the location where they were discovered.
The Forensic Group is actively involved with increasing the awareness of palynology as a tool for the Police, Customs & Excise, insurance companies and other organisations.