Thursday, 21 June 2018

Leicestershire botanists don hard hats to visit gypsum plant

Callum uses a hand-lens to examine a specimen
Image: L. Marsh
BSBI botanists are visiting all sorts of sites in pursuit of records for Atlas 2020: from sand dunes on the Kent coast to the draw-down zone of a Yorkshire lake; from moors and quarries to road verges, from Welsh woodlands to a suburban nature reserve just outside Dublin

Not to be outdone, eleven Leicestershire botanists donned hard hats, hi-vis jackets, steel toe-capped boots and safety goggles last Saturday to record the plants at British Gypsum's Barrow Works.

The introductory Health & Safety talk - essential when touring an active industrial site - was considerably sweetened by the Kit-Kats handed out by our host, Luke Menzel, the plant's Environmental Co-ordinator. 

Steve (joint County Recorder) points out the
diagnostic characters on a tricky Dandelion lookalike
Image: L Marsh
Luke informed us that Kit-Kats contain food-grade gypsum - we're still not entirely sure if he was pulling our legs! 

Once kitted up, we headed out to start recording and - typical botanists - it took us almost an hour to get more than 100m from the car park! 

The first two verges we came to were very rich, with plants typical of old mesotrophic and calcareous grassland.

These included Lathyrus nissolia (Grass vetchling), Catapodium rigidum (Fern-grass), Leontodon hispidus (Rough Hawkbit), Centaurium erythraea (Common centaury), Bromus secalinus (Rye brome), Hordeum secalinum (Meadow Barley), Centaurea scabiosa (Greater knapweed), Knautia arvensis (Field scabious), Pilosella officinarum (Mouse-ear hawkweed), Plantago media (Hoary plantain), Arenaria serpyllifolia (Thyme-leaved sandwort), Trisetum flavescens (Yellow oat-grass)...

Botanising in the shadow of the plaster plant
Image: R Mabbutt
This was not what we'd expected! 

An adjacent ditch yielded a charophyte (probably Chara vulgata but the specimen is still being checked) and a rose with conspicuous gland-tipped red hairs which keyed out as Rosa micrantha using Roger Maskew's key. 

Luke borrowed a hand-lens to examine those hairs and had to admit that yes, they were pretty impressive! 

Another notable find was Sison amomum (Stone parsley), an unassuming little plant but scarce enough in Leicestershire and Rutland (VC55) to be listed on the county’s Rare Plant Register

Dactylorhiza x grandis
Image: S. Barrell
Our next verge yielded Dactylorhiza praetermissa (Southern Marsh Orchid), D. fuchsii (Common Spotted Orchid) and a magnificent 'swarm' of D. x grandis, the hybrid between them. 

A specimen was taken on the same verge of what appeared to be Crepis biennis (Rough hawk's-beard), another RPR species so this one is also being checked.

Then on to a pond and another ditch where it was time to get the grapnels out for Apium nodiflorum (Fool's water-cress) growing - as though ironically -  next to Nasturtium officinale (genuine Water-cress)! 

Botanists in hard hats admiring the hybrid orchids
Image: S. Barrell
A sandy area at the rear of the Works yielded Linum bienne (Pale Flax), Sherardia arvensis (Field Madder), Vulpia myuros (Rat's-tail fescue), Filago vulgaris (Common cudweed) and Anthyllis vulneraria (Kidney vetch).

All these plants are unusual enough in VC55 to elicit a few squeals of delight whenever you see them!

We also found what we think is Euphorbia stricta (Upright Spurge). It would be the first 21st century record for this plant in Leicestershire so again, it's being checked carefully.

Linum bienne (Pale Flax)
Photographed at the Barrow Works
by Dave Nicholls for NatureSpot
More than 200 species were recorded across the site and there were enough surprises on the list to ensure that the visit to British Gypsum's Barrow Works enters the annals of VC55 field excursions under the heading 'a Grand Day Out'. 

Huge thanks to British Gypsum for hosting us and especially to Luke who looked after us so well all day. 

But back to those Kit-Kats - do they really contain gypsum? 

Answers on a postcard please....  

Monday, 18 June 2018

Eyebright Handbook launched at NHM London

Fred (on left) & Chris with copies of the Handbook
Image: Jonathan Mitchley
Today saw the culmination of six years of hard work, as the latest BSBI Handbook Eyebrights of Britain and Ireland was launched at the Natural History Museum, London

Authors Chris Metherell (who wrote the text) and Fred Rumsey (who focused on the illustrations) welcomed their guests at noon on Eyebright Day! 

Those guests included some very well-known and highly respected names in botany, including Prof Mick Crawley, Emeritus Professor of Plant Ecology at Imperial College, London, and a BSBI trustee; John Swindells, President of the Wild Flower Society and a BSBI Council member; Squadron Leader Martin Godfrey, President of the British Bryological Society and another member of BSBI Council; Dr Jonathan Mitchley, Associate Professor in Field Botany at Univ. Reading; and Dr Helena Crouch, joint County Recorder for North Somerset and Secretary to BSBI Council

Botanists at the launch examine herbarium 
sheets & drawings for the Handbook
Image: Jonathan Mitchley
Also present were some of the next generation of top botanists: Alex Twyford, NERC Research Fellow at Univ. Edinburgh and Max Brown, who is currently doing a PhD at Univ. Edinburgh on British Euphrasia

And we were delighted that designer Helen Baker of LTD Design Consultants was able to come along - thanks to Helen, the new Handbook is as attractive as it is useful!   

The programme kicked off with a short welcome address by Dr Sandra Knapp, Head of the Algae, Fungi and Plants Division at the Natural History Museum.

Chris & Martin examine one of the oldest 
eyebright specimens in the NHM collection
Image: Alex Twyford
Then there was a presentation 'After the Handbook: what's happening next in Euphrasia research'. 

After lunch, there was a workshop in the Angela Marmont Centre and a herbarium tour, offering attendees a chance to see Euphrasia type specimens held in the world-famous British & Irish herbarium

Everyone was delighted to have a chance to look as well at some of the earliest British Euphrasia specimens held in the Historical Collections Room. 

Sandy Knapp shares a joke with the Euphrasiologists
Image: Jonathan Mitchley 
Fred informed the attendees that the possible E. pseudokerneri collected by Buddle [who died in 1715] would, if confirmed, push the first date for this species back by 120 years compared to the date given in David Pearman's The Discovery of the Native Flora of Britain & Ireland

People also enjoyed seeing some of the hybrids collected during BSBI-funded research trips for the Handbook, including the ‘new to science’ E. pseudokerneri x arcticaFred had brought in his preparatory sketches for the Handbook and he also offered attendees a chance to see a display on the little known Section Atlanticae Azorean endemics, some of the world’s most threatened eyebrights.

Kevin & David trial the Handbook on Colonsay
Image: Pete Stroh
The celebrations for Eyebright Day extended beyond the Natural History Museum - botanists across Britain and Ireland took part via social media! 

Chris had visited herbaria across Britain and Ireland during the research process for the Handbook and so today herbarium curators in locations such as Cardiff, Liverpool and RHS Wisley tweeted photographs of some of the herbarium specimens Chris had examined while preparing the keys for the Handbook.

Botanists also took to social media to share photographs of eyebrights from locations extending across the whole of BSBI's range - from Fair Isle, Shetland to the Isle of Wight, from The Burren to Northumberland, from Co. Mayo to the Gower peninsula to Warwickshire... one Canadian botanist even tweeted a photo of E. wettsteinii from Nunavut!

Eyebright specimens held in
 the herbarium at Cardiff

Image courtesy of 
National Museum, Cardiff
Meanwhile, up on the Isle of Colonsay, BSBI Head of Science Dr Kevin Walker and former BSBI President David Pearman were trying out the Handbook on some Hebridean eyebrights.

Check out the #EyebrightDay hashtag on Twitter to see the many photographs and comments shared during the day! 

So, Eyebright Day was a resounding success: thanks go to the Natural History Museum for hosting the launch, to all the guests who travelled to London for the day, to all the botanists and herbarium curators across Britain and Ireland who took part via social media and of course to Fred and Chris themselves. 

If you'd like to get your hands on the new Eyebrights Handbook, you can order a copy now from Summerfield Books

Scroll down to see some sample pages (and to admire the beautiful design work by LTD Design Consultants!).

Use the Comments box below to let us know how you get on using the new Handbook in the field. We think you will find eyebright identification, notoriously one of British and Irish botany's biggest challenges, much less daunting than ever before, thanks to Chris and Fred and their wonderful new BSBI Handbook!

Front cover and sample pages
Image courtesy of LTD Design Consultants

Sunday, 17 June 2018

BSBI in the news

Killarney Fern
Image: Rory Hodd
By a curious coincidence, yesterday (16th June) BSBI appeared in both the Irish Times and The Times of London.

Michael Viney's article in the Irish Times mentions the "intrepid Irish botanists" who make up the celebrated Rough Crew, led by Rory Hodd. The article talks about the discovery of new locations for the rare Killarney Fern and links to the Irish Conference webpage, where you can find a report by Rory about the Killarney Fern gametophyte.

Jerome Starkey is the Countryside Correspondent for The Times of London and his article is about the most bio-diverse place in Britain. One 10 x 10km square in Dorset - grid ref SY98 -  boasts more mammals than anywhere else and it turns out the same square also has more plant records than anywhere else - a whopping 1,517 species. Check out the BSBI distribution maps page, type in a plant name and zoom in to SY98 (or any other grid square) and see if your plant is growing there. The article in The Times is behind a paywall but you can read it here

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Charophyte workshops in Ireland

Hunting charophytes I: Lough Sewdy, Westmeath
Image: Hui Murphy
Two very successful two-day charophyte ID courses were held in Co. Westmeath last month, organised by BSBI Irish Officer Maria Long and supported by NPWS. Charophyte experts Nick Stewart and Cillian Roden led the courses which combined indoor workshops with outdoor sessions to practice those newly-acquired ID skills. 

We asked participants to tell us what happened and offer some feedback about the workshops.  

BSBI member Kate said: "I came to the workshop having previously attempted to work through charophyte keys and given up in frustration, not being confident that I was seeing the relevant features, and not having verified specimens to compare anything against. It was wonderful to be able to work through these issues in the workshop with Cillian and Nicks excellent guidance. I got a much better feel for the field characteristics, relative size and 'jizz', and key microscopic features of the most commonly encountered species, and I feel much more confident that I'll be able to correctly identify them in the future! The fact there were two days allocated meant that we had time to consider the aspects of identification that were most challenging for us, and revisit them, so we were not leaving the workshop confused or with unanswered questions. Cillian and Nick's passion and enthusiasm for this group made the workshop fun and relaxed yet still highly educational".

Learning about Ireland's 29 charophyte species
Image: Hui Murphy
Finbarr Wallace, joint County Recorder for East Cork, attended the course and said: "Thanks to all involved in organising and delivering this event. It certainly dispelled some of the myths about the difficulty in identifying members of this group. A great venue with great facilitators. Also great to have the opportunity to see vascular plant species not known from this neck of the woods, especially Cicuta virosa."

Áine from NPWS said: “Huge thanks to the BSBI for organising and participating in the excellent charophyte training course. The level of aquatic expertise from trainers and trainees was highly impressive. Many thanks also to IFI for providing the superb venue of the Lough Owel angling centre.”

Hunting charophytes II: Lough Sewdy, Westmeath
Image: Hui Murphy
Flicking through the feedback forms, other comments received included: “Excellent workshop, very well done!”; “I am glad that I went and learned a lot!”; “It was great to have time to look at so many specimens and figure out what we were looking at and attempt to key the species out. Nick and Cilian were so patient with us which was much appreciated. Having the course run over two days allowed (for me!) the information to linger in my head and get processed before the second day so that it felt as if I was building on a base of information on the second day.”

We always like to offer a balanced view so we trawled through all the feedback forms looking for some negative comments but - sorry, we could't find any! Another triumph for Maria and her fellow Irish botanists!

Friday, 8 June 2018

Nominations open for NBN Awards for Biological Recording & Information Sharing

Biological recorders
Image by BSBI member Natalie Harmsworth,
Organiser of the BSBI Photographic Competition
Building on the success of the previous three years, the National Biodiversity Network, the National Forum for Biological Recording and the Biological Records Centre are launching the fourth UK Awards for Biological Recording and Information Sharing. 

Nominations have now  opened for this year's awards - who will you nominate? Do you know any botanical recorders who have made an outstanding contribution?

The Awards recognise and celebrate the outstanding contributions made by individual adults and young people as well as by groups, to biological recording – which is helping to improve our understanding of the UK’s wildlife. 

These contributions can include anything from a significant number of records made in a year, the number of participants at a BioBlitz, plugging of gaps in knowledge in a specific area of the UK, through to the number of datasets available for download, technical innovation in recording wildlife or encouraging participation through the development of apps or games etc.

Evan Potter
Image by Jenny Potter
There are six categories of awards: 
  • Gilbert White Youth Award for recording terrestrial and freshwater wildlife
  • Gilbert White Adult Award for recording terrestrial and freshwater wildlife
  • David Robertson Youth Award for recording marine and coastal wildlife
  • David Robertson Adult Award for recording marine and coastal wildlife
  • Lynne Farrell Group Award for recording wildlife in any environment – group members may be of all ages. This award is named after BSBI's own Lynne Farrell, County Recorder for Mid Ebudes, BSBI Hon Gen Sec 2010-2014 and co-author of the Vascular Plant Red Data List for Great Britain
  • Adult Newcomer Award for recording wildlife
Nominating someone for an award couldn’t be simpler - you can even nominate yourself! Just complete the appropriate Awards nomination form and return it to the National Biodiversity Network Trust by 31 July 2018.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

BSBI Eyebright Handbook: interview with author Chris Metherell

Chris leading an eyebright workshop
 at BSBI Recorders' Conference 2016
Image: S. Townsend
They say that good things come to those who wait: after six years the publication of BSBI Handbook #18 Eyebrights of Britain and Ireland is only a few weeks away. I caught up with lead author Chris Metherell - no easy feat as Chris is also BSBI President and an incredibly busy man! I'm very grateful to Chris for agreeing to answer a few questions about the new  Handbook so we can all get a glimpse into some of the work that went on behind the scenes to bring this latest BSBI publication to press.

LM: So Chris, the Eyebright Handbook is finally almost here – can you remind us when you started working on it?

CM: "I think I first put this forward to BSBI Publications Committee in early 2012. At that stage I was intending to merely be the facilitator! But it didn't quite work out like that and I ended up writing the words (and becoming BSBI's Eyebright expert referee en passant) and Fred Rumsey (Natural History Museum) did the illustrations".

Euphrasia salisburgensis
Image courtesy of John Crellin/ Floral Images
LM: You’ve visited a lot of locations during the research phase – including many herbaria across Britain and Ireland. Are there any that stand out in your memory? 

CM: "Fred and I visited many corners of the UK and Ireland while working on this handbook, although I was the only one lucky enough to get to Shetland! Four days spent on Foula was pretty exceptional, dodging the bonxies being the main hazard, apart from a force eight gale. 

"Sunny days with Fred and our guide Helena Crouch [County Recorder for Somerset] on the north coast of Cornwall were pretty good too. In fact almost everywhere we went the sun came out, even on Lewis looking at Euphrasia campbelliae. Much of the fieldwork was funded by grants from BSBI Science and Research Committee. We wouldn't have managed it otherwise".

Chris and Helena looking at
eyebrights in the West Country
Image: F Rumsey
LM: You’ve also led a lot of workshops at conferences and training events in herbaria – I guess the feedback you got from fellow botanists proved really valuable here?

CM: "Yes, early on we decided to run workshops in order to drum up support and also to test the keys and descriptions. We'd taken the unusual step of asking County Recorders what they wanted from the Handbook and the feedback was very useful. So we just expanded on that theme. 

"The late Eric Meek was particularly helpful but perhaps it's invidious to pick out any one person. All the attendees contributed to the process. I think I must have rewritten the keys scores of times. It was the suggestion of having regional keys which really made a difference. But I can't now remember whose suggestion it was!"

LM: Did you find visits to herbaria very helpful while researching the Handbook?

Chris working in the herbarium at Univ. Reading
Image: A. Culham
CM: "Without herbaria to consult, the process would have been impossible. Of course there's no substitute for field work but we couldn't go everywhere and herbaria are so useful for capturing the degree of variation in the species because one can look at hundreds of specimens for a particular plant. And I did! 

"And having written the species descriptions, these were tested in herbaria to check that they allowed for that variation appropriately. My main base was E [the herbarium at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh] whose staff  were extremely helpful in obtaining specimens from other herbaria for me to work on and I must single out RNG [the herbarium at University of Reading] for their encouragement. The fact that I'm a Reading graduate has nothing to do with it! One of the highlights was finding a lost type specimen at SLBI [the herbarium at the South London Botanical Institute] on my first trip there". 

LM: Illustrations are an important part of any BSBI Handbook – who provided the line drawings and the photographs?

Euphrasia tetraquetra
Image courtesy of John Crellin/ Floral Images
CM: "Fred Rumsey did the drawings and was the main photographer on our field trips but Helena Crouch, John Crossley, Alex Twyford, Nick Sturt, Jenny Seawright, John O'Reilly and Jeremy Roberts all provided images".

LM: I hear that there will be a launch event for the Handbook – can you give us details please? Where is it being held and when, who can attend and how do we book for the event?

CM: "We are having a launch at the Natural History Museum on Monday 18th June. I'll be able to give News & Views readers full details in the next day or two".

LM: Ooh thanks for the scoop Mr. President! In the meantime, I guess the priority is to let people know how they will be able to get hold of a copy:

Chris with a herbarium sheet of
pressed, mounted specimens of -
you guessed it - eyebrights!
Image: L. Marsh
  • BSBI members can take advantage of the members-only special offer and pre-order their copy now at a discounted price (saving themselves £5.50). If you're a BSBI member, just head over to the members-only area of the BSI website and have your password ready. If you've forgotten your password, email and we'll be able to help you.
  • Non-members will be able to buy a copy later in June from Summerfield Books and other natural history book-sellers, although they won't benefit from the full discount. 
So, huge thanks to Chris and Fred for putting this new BSBI Handbook together. Watch this space for details of the launch, which will be covered on these pages for anyone who can't attend in person. We’ll also keep you all posted on initial sales, how the Handbook is received and whether it outsells the previous BSBI Handbook on Violas

You can find a list of all the BSBI Handbooks on the BSBI Publications page, where there are links to information about each title on the Summerfield Books website.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Killiney Hill Park - Sunshine and Some Irish Botanical Rarities

View of Killiney Bay from Killiney Hill
Image: Kate-Marie O’Connor
The Dublin/East Coast BSBI Local Group had their first botanical “outdoors” outing of the year to Killiney Hill Park in Co. Dublin on Sunday the 6th May. 

Kate-Marie O'Connor sent us this report: 

"It proved to be a very enjoyable day with sunny skies, pleasant company and of course lots of interesting plants. 

"Killiney Hill is a lovely park located between the coastal suburbs of Killiney and Dalkey in South Co. Dublin, with spectacular view of both Dublin and Killiney Bay, Dalkey Island and the Wicklow and Dublin Mountains. 

Primula veris in bloom on a path
towards the old Dalkey Quarry
Image: Kate-Marie O’Connor
"Killiney Hill Park is a designated nature reserve, with notable flora and fauna, and is protected under Irish legislation. 

"During the summer months, the striking yellow flowers of gorse Ulex europeaus against the deep blue of the Irish sea is a well-known and cherished sight to visitors of the park and on Sunday’s visit, this was no exception.

"The seven attendees were eager to get started and began their recording journey along the path towards the old Dalkey quarry, noting typical grassy verge species along the way, such as Stellaria holostea, Sisymbrium officinale and Galium verum as well as Allium vineale, which was tasted to confirm identification! 

"En route, a Sorbus hibernica species was spotted with its leaves just about to fully open. This species is endemic to Ireland and, according to Webb et al. (the trusty Irish flora that no botanist is without!), is typically found in the centre of the country. Sorbus aria was also recorded in the Park.
Examining a Sorbus species
Image: Colm Clarke
"We encountered lots of other lovely plants in full bloom, including Primula veris, which never fails to impress with its dainty yellow flowers, and the striking Pentaglottis sempervirens with its vibrant blue flowers and somewhat bristly leaves.

"From the quarry path, we climbed numerous steps up towards the old aerial building, dipping in and out of areas of scrub and scattered trees, which included Corylus avellana, Sorbus aucuparia and  Taxus baccata, and then down through a coniferous wooded area with some scattered Ilex aquifolium.

"From there, we made our way through a beech woodland where we came across a Ficaria verna subsp. bulbilifer plant with a pair of very impressive tubers present on its leaf axils. 

"Other typical woodland species recorded on the day included Oxalis acetosella, Sanicula europaea, Glechoma hederacea and Hyacinthoides non-scripta with its creamy yellow-coloured anthers and pleasant smell and the hybrid Hyacinthoides x massartiana with its blue-coloured anthers.

Examining Ceratocapnos claviculata
Image: Clíona Byrne
"En route to the Obelisk, the location of which marks the highest point in the park of 153m, we veered off the path and up on to some rocky outcrops surrounded by Ulex europeaus where we spotted our first record of Ceratocapnos claviculata of the day, while in the midst of keying out Sedum anglicum

"This delicate, scrambling plant with its pale yellow, tubular flowers was a delight to see. 

"According to Webb et al., this species is considered rare in Ireland, generally found along the the south-east and south centre coast of the country. 

Ceratocapnos claviculata up close
Image: Clíona Byrne
"It was previously recorded in the Park over eight years ago, so it was with particular satisfaction that it was noted again. We were lucky enough to spot this plant at another location, just west of the Obelisk.

"Nearing the end of the day, the eagle eyes of BSBI's Irish Officer Maria Long spotted another Irish rarity - the very tiny Trifolium ornithopodioides, on a patch of well-trampled ground on a slope, growing alongside common species Lolium perenne, Poa annua, Plantago major, Bellis perennis and Trifolium repens

"This plant species has also a very restricted distribution in Ireland, known only in the south and east coasts of the country (Webb et al.). 

"Trifolium ornithopodioides has a very small white flower, no greater than 1cm in length, which could be easily missed.

Trifolium ornithopodioides
Image: Maria Long
"After a successful day of recording, we treated ourselves to some well deserved coffee and cake at the local café in the park and enjoyed the remaining afternoon sunshine.

If you’d like to join us on our upcoming outings, which include visits to Castletown Estate and Parklands in Celbridge, Co. Kildare, Ballynafagh Lake in Co. Kildare and Phoenix Park in Dublin to name but a few, please drop us an email at

Hope to see you at one of our outings sometime soon!"

Many thanks to Kate-Marie for sending us this report.