Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Bookings now open for Training the Trainers

Training the Trainers 2014
Image: P. Gateley
If you are involved in botanical training, whether leading wild flower walks in your local area or teaching plant studies to undergraduates, you're going to want to know about this year's Training the Trainers

It's a one-day event, taking place on Wednesday 11th October at The Gateway in Shrewsbury, and running from 10am to 4pm.

Click here to find out more about Training the Trainers 2017, to download a programme and to book (you'll need to do this before Friday 6th October please). Speakers include Chris Metherell, Mark Duffell, Sarah Whild, Sue Townsend and Paul Ashton

There is a small cost to attend the event but it's only £15 per person and includes a buffet lunch, tea and coffee, all workshops and talks and all hand-outs, including a copy of the Training the Botanical Trainers Handbook.

See you in Shrewsbury on 11th October!

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Report on the Inaugural Grassland Conservation Conference: Day 2

A couple of weeks ago, we published Ashley Lyons' report on Day One of the first ever Grassland Conservation Conference. Now she's back to tell us about the second day. Over to Ashley:

"The second day of the inaugural Grassland Conservation Conference split into two very interesting field meetings.

Bill Grayson discussing grazing
calcareous grassland at Ingleborough NNR
Image: A. Lyons 
The Upland Calcareous Grassland Workshop was organised by Edge Hill University’s Ashley Lyons and kindly hosted by Natural England at Colt Park Barn, Ingleborough. The workshop set out to discuss the impacts of management of upland calcareous grassland on a range of taxa and to enable evidence based research findings to be disseminated to conservation practitioners and policy makers.

The workshop kicked off with results from Ashley’s completed PhD project which examined the impacts of contrasting grazing management on plants, spiders and carabid beetles in upland calcareous grasslands. Ashley explained the importance of maintaining a range of management treatments (including no grazing at all) across the landscape to ensure suitable habitat is available for declining carabid beetle and rare spider species. Interestingly, Ashley’s research showed that plant species composition, richness or structural complexity doesn’t differ between areas grazed by sheep or cattle as long as the stocking intensity is the same, a result also reflected by the invertebrates studied. Even the ungrazed calcareous grasslands had similar plant species richness, though the species composition of plants and invertebrates was different from grazed areas. If you’d like to read more about the study check out Ashley’s paper. 

Colin Newlands discusses grazing: behind the
net fence is ungrazed calcareous grassland
Image: A. Lyons
Colin Newlands, Natural England’s Senior Reserve Manager for Ingleborough, then talked about the management of the NNR and the importance of continuing research in informing management decisions. Colin also discussed the successful relationship built with Bill Grayson’s Morecambe Bay Conservation Grazing Company, a model which could surely benefit conservation elsewhere.

Bill Grayson gave an interesting overview of how his cattle are used in an organic system to graze a number of SSSIs across the North West of England, growing slowly on species rich semi-natural grasslands with the aims of helping conservation and producing quality beef from healthy animals. Bill explained that as his cattle mature at around 5 or 6 years old they are considered cull animals by the market and as such they aren’t sold as meat for the table. Rather, Bill’s beef goes to producing high quality baby food!

Limestone pavement on High Brae
Image: A. Lyons
The group then headed out to visit a site that featured in Ashley’s research and is grazed by Bill’s cattle. The group spent time in different parts of the 90 ha field discussing how cattle have helped with the establishment of plant species such as bird’s eye primrose and frog orchid. There was also discussion on how the structure of the vegetation, along with the spiders and beetles that live amongst it, are influenced by the disturbance of cattle. There was also an opportunity to see an area that has been ungrazed for over 20 years, the lack of scrub encroachment sparked interesting conversation. The ungrazed area is separated from the cattle grazed field by a sheep net fence, the side where the cattle graze has a number of young hazel saplings growing, whilst the ungrazed side of the fence has no such regeneration, a pattern Ashley has observed in several ungrazed areas of upland calcareous grassland. This probably occurs because when left without grazing the sward becomes dominated by grasses (usually blue moor grass) and develops a thick layer of thatch that together shade out other species. Despite this competitive advantage that may hinder the establishment of some plant species, Ashley pointed out that these ungrazed areas are a vitally important part of the landscape for some very rare spider species.

Wigan Flashes Meadow
Image: M. Allen
The workshop concluded with a discussion on proposed management recommendations made from the results of Ashley’s research, an evidence based document that will be presented to national nature conservation organisations with the aim of highlighting the importance of considering invertebrate responses, in addition to plant responses, to management when changing management practices in upland calcareous grasslands.

Those with an interest in lowland grassland conservation joined Edge Hill University’s Elizabeth Sullivan and the Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s Wigan Project Officer Mark Champion on a visit to Wigan Flashes, a site developed on ex colliery shale and Cutacre Pasture, a reserve created five years ago and managed now with a herd of longhorn cattle.

First Eyebright found on
Wigan Flashes
Image: Mark Champion
Discussion at Wigan Flashes centred on the botanical diversity of the meadows which are managed by annual cutting for hay, the urban location of the meadows means grazing isn’t possible. The meadows were created twenty years ago with a layer of topsoil over the colliery shale and addition of MG5 seed mix. After being abandoned for several years after sowing, the meadows became rank grassland. Mark’s intervention with mowing over the last 18 years has increased botanical diversity and led to a community close to Rodwell’s MG5 description. Interestingly, one of the five meadows has a different plant community compared to the rest despite having the same management since their creation. Suggestions from the group around soil conditions have prompted Mark to send some soil for analysis, something that revealed similar soil conditions among the meadows 18 years ago. It will be interesting to hear the result this time around. 

The meeting even found the first eyebright every recorded in the meadows along with blackening wax cap, a further reminder that nature doesn’t always require pristine countryside to thrive.

Whilst at Cutacre Pasture, an area a little on the wet side and grazed at a low intensity by cattle, the debate was about rush pasture versus grasslands such as MG8. Whilst each has their own botanical value broader management outcomes, such as habitat for breeding birds, drove the direction of the discussions.

The group at Wigan Flashes
Image: M. Allen
Mark Champion said of the conference “I have really enjoyed the discussions that have developed over the last couple of days at the Grassland Conservation Conference. The visit to Wigan Flashes and Cutacre Pasture led to some quite radical management recommendations that challenge the status quo and will be useful to management of the meadows going forward.”

Both field visits were undoubtedly very enjoyable and an excellent opportunity for academics, practitioners and farmers to discuss grassland conservation management. The visits rounded off an excellent couple of days and helped to achieve the aims of the Grassland Conservation Conference. 

If you would like more information about the Grassland Conservation Conference or would like to be involved in the next meeting (proposed for 2019) please visit or contact Ashley Lyons".

Monday, 18 September 2017

BSBI Ireland Autumn Meeting

Have you seen the programme for this weekend's BSBI Ireland Autumn Meeting? It's being held this year at Craigavon, Co. Armagh. 

On the menu: four talks, with speakers including BSBI President John Faulkner (talking about exploring Co. Louth) and Graham Day on coastal plants; a willow workshop with Dave Riley, County Recorder for Derry; reports from Irish County Recorders; a fieldtrip to Carlingford Lough to look at Atriplex and Salicornia with ace botanist Paul Green. There's also the BSBI Irish AGM...

It should be a fabulous weekend! More info here.  

Friday, 15 September 2017

Remembering Ted Lousley

It's always a pleasure to hear from Roy Vickery, former BSBI Vice-President and the man behind the excellent Plant-Lore website. He emailed yesterday with the note below:

"The South London Botanical Institute will be hosting a small exhibition about the work of J.E. (Ted) Lousley - a former president of the London Natural History Society, the BSBI and the SLBI - on Thursday 21 September from 2.30 to 5  p.m. This is part of the Institute's contribution to the Lambeth Heritage Festival, and marks the 110th anniversary of Ted's birth. All are welcome, and although the exhibition opens at 2.20, the Institute will be open from 10 a.m. (Please note that due to cabinet restoration the herbarium is currently inaccessible)".

Thanks Roy!

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Last and Least - Water-lily, that is!

Image: D. Wrench
Great to hear from BSBI member Mags Cousins about a recent trip to find Least Water-Lily Nuphar pumila at Cole Mere SSSI. 

Over to Mags:

"This lovely little lily (on right) is on the England Red List as Critically Endangered. Cole Mere, in Shropshire, is the only remaining site in England".

[LM: You can download the England Red List free of charge from this page.] 

"The next nearest populations are in Scotland, which raises the question, why is there nothing in between, could it simply be a doomed glacial relic? 

Image: D. Wrench
"Apart from its isolation, another significant risk is that it can hybridise with the Yellow Water-lily Nuphar lutea. Both lilies can be found at Cole Mere: are they hybridising already? 

"The species can be distinguished by the shape of the stigmatic disks which is wavy edged or lobed in N. pumila (on left) and smooth edged in N. lutea (below right). 

"This and other features such as leaf morphology can be intermediate in hybrids.

Image: D. Wrench
"Cole Mere is not exactly a pristine location for this rarity as it is a lowland eutrophic mere which suffers from serious algal blooms in most years. N. pumila used to occur in three parts of the mere. 

"There are now only two colonies remaining but these are thought to have expanded recently in response to tree felling on the shoreline that reduced the degree of shading. 

"Could re-establishment occur in other parts of the mere naturally through seed or rhizome fragments? Rhizomes are regularly dislodged and are washed to the shore but did not seem to be rooting again and it was not known if the plants were actually producing viable seed. The image below left shows the uprooted rhizomes, probably uprooted by Mute Swans feeding on the submerged "lettuce leaves!

Image: S. Miles
"With so many questions it was time to get some experts together to find some answers and come up with a conservation plan.

"Natural England, Royal Botanic Gardens (RBG) Kew, Richard Lansdown (Chair IUCN SSC Freshwater Plant Specialist Group), Shropshire Council (the site owners) and the Shropshire Botanical Society set about a review of the status and ecology; the seed and rhizome viability and DNA analysis of the Least Water-lily at Cole Mere.  

Image: R. Lansdown
"We were ably helped by the Colemere Sailing Club who provided transport in the way they know best and the Inner Space Dive Club (on right) who just love any excuse to get underwater, even if the botanical remit was a bit different to their usual excursions: “Please can you count the number of petioles extending from the rhizomes?”

"Great fun was had by all and some really useful findings emerged which will be reported and published in full in due course".

[LM: Mags proposes submitting the manuscript to New Journal of Botany - hurrah!]

"Even better, after lots of intensive care, some brand new seedlings emerged from seed which are being nurtured by the team at Kew and will form the basis for a collection for conservation, public display and education at Kew Gardens". 

Many thanks to Mags for telling us about the Least Water-Lily!

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Happy 20th Birthday to Somerset Rare Plants Group

Docks & Knotweeds workshop: a recent SRPG
meeting. Somerset County Recorders Simon Leach
 & Helena Crouch (sitting); Ro Fitzgerald (standing)
Image: Liz McDonnell 
Liz McDonnell has been in touch with news of a 20th birthday party for Somerset Rare Plants Group (SRPG). Over to Liz:

"Somerset Rare Plants Group is 20 years old this year. We are celebrating with an Anniversary Conference to be held on Sunday October 8th 2017 at Monkton Heathfield, near Taunton. 

"We have some really good talks lined up from distinguished and inspirational outside speakers and some of our own very knowledgeable members, and it will be a very informative and enjoyable day. It is a great opportunity to meet up with other members of SRPG and to share in the birthday celebrations with a buffet lunch and birthday tea. We are also inviting botanical colleagues from neighbouring counties, so it will be an interesting SW botanists gathering, but any BSBI members are very welcome. 

"Take a look at the flyer here; if you'd like to join us for the SRPG 20th birthday party, you can download and fill out this booking form and send it to to book your place and to let us know of any dietary needs for the buffet lunch. Further information about the conference programme and venue will be sent to you when you have booked your place". 

Friday, 8 September 2017

The Orchid Hunter tells his story...

Lady's Slipper Orchid
Image: L. Bersweden
There's been quite a buzz recently on social media around 'The Orchid Hunter', a book by Leif Bersweden which is due out next month. So I asked Leif to tell us what it's all about and this is what he said: 

"I have been hunting for plants almost as long as I can remember: in fields and woods, in bogs, up mountains, in rivers and even occasionally at school. When I was nineteen, I took a year out before going to university. For most people this might entail travelling around the world or carrying out volunteer work in a foreign country. Rarely, if ever, would it involve British plants. And yet I decided to spend the summer of 2013 searching for orchids.

Lindisfarne Helleborine
Image: L. Bersweden
"There are more than fifty species of orchid native to Britain and Ireland that flower every year all over the country. Many people have seen them all (with the exception of the enigmatic ghost orchid, Epipogium aphyllum) but often it takes decades to get photos of the full set. 

"To complete such a feat you would have to visit the remote mountainsides and wind-battered sand dunes of the North, the rolling hillsides of the South Downs and the beautifully barren landscapes of the west coast of Ireland. You would have to travel as far as Jersey to see loose-flowered orchid Anacamptis laxiflora, up to Holy Island to see Lindisfarne helleborine Epipactis sancta, not to mention going in search of the lady’s slipper Cypripedium calceolus, one of the country’s rarest plants.

"My challenge, then, was to become the first person to see and photograph them all in one summer. As you can imagine, this was easier said than done. Each orchid comes into flower at a specific time of year, remains at its peak for as little as three or four days and in many cases can only be found at a mere handful of sites. This means that seeing them all in one growing season, ideally in good condition, was nothing short of an organisational nightmare. 

Loose-flowered Orchid
Image: L. Bersweden
"Throughout the summer I was heavily reliant on the help of amateur botanists and BSBI County Recorders around the country. They assisted with site information and updated me on when certain species were coming into flower.

"I learnt about genetics, evolution, British plant-hunting history, human obsession and the vagaries of the British climate. From beginning to end I drove nearly 10,000 miles, took in excess of 50,000 photographs, visited 48 counties and went through two cars. 

"In the first week of July alone I went from Wiltshire to Wales, across to Kent, back to Gloucestershire and ended up on the Outer Hebrides three days later. It was, if nothing else, a wonderful way to see the country.

"If you want to read more about my summer in search of orchids, I’ve written a book, The Orchid Hunter, which is due out on 5th October 2017. It will be in all major bookshops and is currently available for pre-order online by clicking this link."

Many thanks to Leif for telling us all about his orchidaceous peregrinations and thanks also to all the BSBI members who helped him track down these iconic plants!