Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Jessica's New Year Plant Hunt & 3 botanical wishes for 2018

In the first of our New Year Plant Hunt prizes, we offer Jessica Hamilton, the leading light behind the BSBI Kerry group and the recorder of the first flower in the New Year Plant Hunt (on right), a chance to tell us about her Hunt and her three botanical wishes for 2018.

Over to Jessica:

"Two years ago, I had very limited botanical knowledge and wouldn’t have even been able to point out any wildflowers or plants bar the more common species such as a buttercup or the humble daisy. So what got me into botany?

"Two years ago was also when as part of my course (Wildlife Biology ITTralee), we had botany as a module. These included fieldtrips to places like the Burren, National Botanic Gardens and the local Ballyseedy Woods where had a go at keying out spring flowers like Wood Anemone and Wild Garlic. 

"As it was one of my first times using any botanical key, I remember flicking back and forth multiple times to the glossary at the back to de-jargonify the key steps so I would have some hope of getting the plant out! From then on my love of botany has continued to grow and to now be co-leader of county Kerry’s local group (BSBI Kerry, photo above) is such a great experience.         

"I want to give a mention to Therese Higgins who was my botany lecturer and is my 4th year project supervisor. She without a doubt helped ignite the botanical flame in me and her never ending passion for the subject is inspiring! 

"My appreciation is extended indeed to all staff involved in the course as to see people so passionate about their chosen disciplines, in combination with the small staff to student ratio within the college, further enhances the overall college experience.

"First off I kicked off my New Year Plant Hunt of 2018 on the 30th December in my home range of Ballyheigue with a quick saunter into the garden at midnight to see what my front garden had for me and I was quickly rewarded with the two old reliables, Daisy Bellis perennis and Groundsel Senecio vulgaris.

"Later that day [Day One] after a few hours kip, it was time for BSBI Kerry to head to Killarney to see what we could find in flower on the Muckross Peninsula in the National Park, led by the botanical force that is Rory Hodd
"We covered an area of ground upwards of 7km and recorded a very respectable list of 43 plants in flower including species that we were expecting (e.g. Ficaria verna), and others, (Lonicera periclymenum) which might not have necessarily been on our radars. Our hunt started around in the grounds of Muckross Carpark followed by a quick dash around the arboretum and then off into the woods taking in the views of Muckross Lake.

"We steadily ticked off species such as Lathyrus linifolius (on right), one of my favourite wildflowers. That said, as Rory pointed out, many species were a lot harder to find in comparison to previous years.

"Two notable examples of this were Rubus fruticose agg. and Arbutus unedo (on left), the latter a particularly a well-known species associated with the Muckross Peninsula and, in previous years, a reliable species to be found with more ease. 

"With some searching, both were found in flower, although I think the Bramble flower required a bit of scrambling over the thorny plant by Rory- persistence always pays off!
We sauntered on for another bit and added more species to our list slowly but steadily including species such as Juncus tenuis, an introduced species of rush.

"The clock was paused while we had a quick break for lunch at Muckross Abbey (on right) and added another ten or so species to the list including Alliaria petiolata, and Fragaria vesca.

"As our time for hunting down plants came to close, a few last minute additions such as Cerastium fontanum were ticked off. This was one species we were looking out for intently as until then, the specimens found were about to open, but not enough to be counted.

"On Day Two, I stayed in Ballyheigue covered the same areas as I did last year and got a slightly lower number of species this year (19) compared to last year which was around 24 species. As usual I had my two trusty canine companions Lilly and Benny by my side, they’ve now perfected the “Mum has stopped to look at another plant” stance (on left).

"At first, the weather looked promising and the brief period of sunshine gave rise to me ticking the dainty Anagallis arvensis off the list. Into the nearby graveyard and I crossed off species such as Sticky mouse ear, F.verna, and a barely there fumitory along with more common species such as Dandelions, prickly sow thistles and Chickweed.

"Then we headed to the Beach (on right) and had a quick walk around the dunes hoping to find Kidney Vetch like I did last year but no joy. I did however find the Rayless Ragwort which dominates areas of the dunes come late summer.

"To conclude our walk and as daylight faded, myself and the pups took in the views of Ballyheigue Beach, a view I never get tired of.

My Three Botanical Wishes for 2018:

1. As others have previously expressed for their first wish, I would like to express my uttermost gratitude for the general nature and community spirit within the BSBI. Every person I have met has welcomed me with open arms and has happily answered any questions for me. 

Only a little over a year ago I went on my first ever BSBI outing to search for the rare and protected Lycopodiella inundata (Marsh Clubmoss) at Lough Mask Co.Mayo (on left) and I first became acquainted with Maria Long (BSBI Irish Officer) and Rory, both of whom I would like to give an extra nod of thanks to as they have both been a wealth of knowledge, from both a botanical point of view and getting BSBI Kerry up and running, so thank you! J

2. With the evolution of the BSBI Kerry group, I am really looking forward to seeing the group grow from strength to strength. When you first dip your hand into botany all the Latin names and terminology can be quite overwhelming but the best way to start off is, getting out into the field and sitting on the side of the ditch or wherever said plant is and practice keying and making mistakes. Once you’ve gone to the effort getting the correct ID, it’s very unlikely you’ll forget it. 

So if as a group, BSBI Kerry can ignite a few flames and people come away with a few more plant names to their repertoire then I’d call that a success. Last year we visited Killarney National Park, Blennerville and Glanageenty for our first three outings. 

"There are some nice outings in the pipeline for this year so I cannot wait for the 2018 season and I hope the group continues to grow.

3. The third wish was an interesting one for me to ponder over. I live in the coastal village of Ballyheigue (on left) and it is here where I really got to improve my botanical skills while rambling with my canine companions. I would love it if I could spark a love of wildflowers within my own local community. 

"Our most well-known feature is our fantastic beach so if people took a few moments to notice the flowers and plants that they walk by or over, it would be great. 

"Another one of my passions is photography, particular nature/plants and invertebrates and I’m currently working on my new website where I can display the hundreds of images of the various species over the past few years. [LM: all the images on this page are by Jessica so you can see how good a photographer she is!]

"It’s going to be more of a collection and online “recording notebook” in a sense for myself but if a few people see it and want to then go out and search for biodiversity, it will be worth all the finicky editing that’s currently underway. So I look forward to completing that over the coming months and adding new species to it as I see them. Thanks, Jessica".

LM: It's typical of Jessica that she's interpreted 'what are your three wishes?' not as 'here's what I want for myself' but as thanking people who've helped her and wishing that other people could enjoy botany as much as she does herself!

We'll be keeping you posted on Jessica's botanical adventures this year and will share the link to her new website as soon as it goes live. Many thanks to Jessica for all she is doing to promote botany in Ireland, and to Maria, Therese and Rory for supporting and encouraging her! 

Monday, 12 February 2018

New on the BSBI Ireland webpage...

If you haven't taken a look at the BSBI Ireland page on our website recently, you may have missed:
  • The latest issue of the Irish BSBI Newsletter - 16 pages of botanical news from across Ireland, including much that's also of interest to British botanists. 
  • A link to an article about the New Year Plant Hunt in Ireland from The Irish Mirror, courtesy  of freelance journalist Lynne Kelleher.
  • Another article about the Hunt by Lynne, this time from the Irish Mail on Sunday - see image on right.   
  • Some stats about the New Year Plant Hunt in Ireland, including the most floriferous place, how many species were recorded there and how many species were in bloom across Ireland at New Year. 
Coming soon to the BSBI Ireland page - more info about this year's programme of field meetings across Ireland.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Win a copy of The Book of Seeds

The Book of Seeds has just been published, a beautifully illustrated guide to 600 species from around the world, and we've teamed up with publishers Ivy Press to offer News & Views readers the chance to take part in a mini-quiz and win one of three copies of the book.

First, an extract from The Book of Seeds: 

"Seeds are travellers in space and time—small packages of DNA, protein, and starch that can move over long distances and remain viable for hundreds of years. These packages have everything they need not only to survive, but also to grow into a plant when they encounter the right conditions.

"Seeds have developed a wide range of shapes and sizes in order to maximize their chances of survival, in particular through adaptation for the two most important stages of their development—dispersal and germination. 

"Wind-dispersed seeds, for example, may be very small and light (such as those of orchids), or they may develop wings or other appendages that enable them to fly or float on air currents for long distances (such as those of birches and sycamore. Waterborne seeds, such as the coconut, have a thick, impermeable seed coat enabling them to float on water. 

Animal- or bird-dispersed seeds - have a variety of adaptations that enable them to hitch a ride with their dispersers. These include hooks or grapples on their seed coats that stick to fur or feathers (for instance, those of Wood Avens Geum urbanum; tasty, often brightly coloured seed arils that are attached to the seed and picked up, carried away and eaten, leaving the fertile part of the seed to germinate (as, for example, in the Bird of Paradise); and a hard, resistant seed coat enclosed in a sweet, juicy fruit that enables the seed to pass through the gut of an animal or bird and emerge intact and ready to germinate (for example, the seeds of the Grape).

"A seed’s size, shape, and composition are also critical to a plant’s particular germination strategy. As a rule, large seeds (those the size of an acorn or larger) are programmed to germinate rapidly. Their seeds are not designed to last for very long or become dormant. In seed banks, such seeds are referred to as “recalcitrant” because they don’t store well. They are generally sensitive to drying and, due to their comparatively high water content, they can’t be frozen. 

"Around 20–25 percent of seed-bearing species produce recalcitrant seeds, but the proportion is much higher (more than 50 percent) in wetter habitats such as rainforests, because in those conditions it makes sense for seeds to germinate rapidly and send out a root and shoot as quickly as possible to gain the water, minerals, and light the plant needs to outcompete others around it. To do this, a seed needs to have a comparatively large reservoir of food to draw on before it starts to photosynthesize. For this reason, recalcitrant seeds are larger than their “orthodox” counterparts. 

"Plants that grow in water-limited habitats will die if they germinate immediately and the rain fails to arrive. For these species, it makes more sense to persist in a dormant state until the conditions are right. Here, being small and desiccation-tolerant is an advantage. It is also unnecessary for a seed to have a large food store if light is not a limitation in its habitat, because the shoots it puts up won’t be fighting for light with its competitors. 

"For many plants, there are trade-offs between their dispersal and germination strategies. For example, if a species’ dispersal strategy is being carried on the wind, then the plant can’t produce heavy seeds with large food stores. A particularly extreme example of such a trade-off that has led to the demise of the species is the Coco de Mer, which produces the largest seed in the world. This double coconut, with its enormous food-storage organs, can survive on its seed reserves for months, enabling it to establish in difficult conditions. 

"However, due to its size and weight, this island-bound species doesn’t float, severely restricting its ability to disperse, unlike its cousin, the Coconut."

Paul Smith, author of The Book of Seeds (published by Ivy Press, RRP £30) has set the five quiz questions below. 

If you'd like to win one of the three free copies, all you have to do to enter is email the correct answers to the following questions to  
Entries close on the 28th February and winners will be contacted for address details the following day.

Good luck! Here are the five questions:
  • What family do Daffodils belong to?
  • Meadow Crane’s-Bill is a herbaceous perennial plant with striking blue and violet flowers. What colour are its veins?
  • Canola is thought to be a hybrid between Wild Cabbage and which other species?
  • How many seeds are there in each segment of a Wild Cabbage silique?
  • Wolf’s Bane is an extremely toxic plant. What is the name of the poison it contains?

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Byron's Gin is launched!

Melancholy Thistle
Image: P. Stroh
Last month saw a new venture for BSBI: the launch of Byron's Gin, which is now the society's official gin. For every bottle sold, Speyside Distillery, producers of Byron's Gin, will be making a contribution to help fund BSBI's training programme to help support our next generation of botanists.

Byron's Gin came about thanks to Andy Amphlett, BSBI's County Recorder for Banffshire, following a botanical survey Andy carried out in the area around Speyside Distillery in the Cairngorms National Park. Andy went on to work with distillery manager Sandy Jamieson to craft two separate gins, each with a distinct flavour thanks to the botanicals used. 

Speyside Distillery CEO John Harvey McDonough said, “The result is two very unique and different gin expressions that will be loved by sophisticated palates. The gins capture both the taste of the Cairngorms National Park and the decades of shared knowledge and passion by two experts in their respective fields.

“We have wanted to add to our portfolio of premium spirits for some time and with all these wonderful botanicals on our doorstep, we saw an opportunity to create something a world away from our single malt whisky.”

Byron's Gin: Bird Cherry
and Melancholy Thistle
Image: A. Amphlett
Those botanicals were sustainably collected from the distillery gardens and environs, with the exception of Juniper, an essential ingredient of gin but which is no longer abundant enough in the area to allow for sustainable collection. 

We'll be able to tell you more about these botanicals in a series of monthly blogposts about Byron's Gin. But for now, we can tell you that:  
  • Bird Cherry gin includes Lemon-scented fern, Lady’s-bedstraw, Rowan, Wild Thyme, Juniper and Blaeberry. 
  • Melancholy Thistle gin includes Sweet vernal-grass, Scots pine, Juniper, Rowan, Downy Birch and Aspen.
Distillery manager Sandy Jamieson said “This has been a very exciting project to be involved in, and we are extremely lucky to have had Andy on board. His knowledge of botanicals is second to none and it was truly inspiring to work with him.”

You can read more about the flora of the Cairngorms National Park on Andy's Banffshire webpage.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

January issue of BSBI News is out!

It's always exciting to hear from Membership Secretary Gwynn Ellis that the latest issue of BSBI News has been mailed out but this time it's twice as exciting as usual! The January issue, which Gwynn mailed out to all BSBI members yesterday, is the first one which Gwynn has not edited himself with the assistance of Receiving Editor Trevor James. They have handed over the editorial reins to Andrew Branson of British Wildlife fame and I for one can't wait to see what changes Andrew has made.

The image on the left shows the front cover which does look quite different. The featured plant, a Henbane, was one of the winners in the BSBI Photographic Competition.

Andrew was kind enough to allow me a peek at the table of contents, so here are a few of the items members can look forward to:

Four features including two already covered on these pages: Kevin, Pete and Bob from the BSBI Science Team on their new Threatened Plants book, and Richard Lansdown, Mags Cousins et al. on the Least Water-lily in Shropshire. But then there are two features exclusive to BSBI News: Fred Rumsey on Teucrium chamaedrys and Clive Chatters on British saltmarshes.

Then there are ten articles on subjects raging from Northern Dock to host plants for Dodder in Guernsey by way of Early Orache, Convergent Stonewort and hybrid helleborines.

There's a new 'Beginner's Corner' feature - this first one has an article by Andrew himself on choosing and using hand lenses - an identification section, where John Poland reports on identifying woody plants in winter, five articles in the 'Adventives and Aliens' section, country round-ups from across Britain and Ireland, reviews, obituaries, short notes... 

BSBI members will be salivating and fanning themselves by now but if you are not yet a member, I'm afraid you'll just have to join now so you can see the new-look BSBI News in all its finery. 

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Catch up with New Year Plant Hunt on BBC Countryfile

Anita, Ciara & Ellen
Image: A. Rani
If you missed BSBI's New Year Plant Hunt on BBC Countryfile earlier this evening, you can catch it on iPlayer here

Five minutes of footage at the beginning of the programme features our two New Year Plant Hunts in Leicestershire, one in the countryside and one in the city. 

This section shows plant-hunters including nine-year old Elizabeth Widdowson, who still holds the record as the finder of the biggest Shepherd's-Purse plant in Europe; Jack Riggall who spots male and female hazel flowers; Richard Mabbutt, who talks about how plant hunting helps him deal with stress and anxiety; and Russell Parry, herbarium volunteer and one of Leicestershire's County Recorders, who reminds us how important it is to take specimens of interesting plants and preserve them in herbaria.

Ready to botanise!
Image: J. Clough
Presenter Anita Rani also talks to Ciara Sugrue and Ellen Goddard from the New Year Plant Hunt Support Team and sees some of the other unusual finds that plant hunters across the country spotted and shared via social media. This section starts at 2:15 and ends at 7:10.

The next botanical section starts at 54:15 and ends at 58:10 It features a few more shots from the two New Year Plant Hunts leading in to presenter Anita Rani's visit to the Herbarium at the University of Leicester with the specimen she collected earlier that day with Russell. This leads into a section with Pat Heslop-Harrison showing Anita how to press her specimen and Anna Farrell talking about Genebank55

Read more about this section of the programme on the BotanyOne blog here.

The analysis of all your New Year Plant Hunt records (almost 10,000 of them) by Kevin Walker, BSBI Head of Science, will be published here tomorrow 22nd January. 

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Improving your plant ID skills - and grants to help you!

Students on one of Faith Anstey's ID workshops
held each year across Scotland
Image courtesy of F. Anstey
If you enjoyed taking part in the BSBI New Year Plant Hunt, if you're a regular contributor to #wildflowerhour every Sunday evening 8-9pm and/ or you made a New Year resolution to sharpen up your plant identification skills this year: you're going to want to check out BSBI Training Grants

Grants went live earlier this month and you can apply for up to £250 from BSBI's Training Team towards the cost of a botany course. 

The Training page gives details of how to apply for a grant and also has a helpful list of all the providers of short botany courses that we know about. 

Just click on the links to find out about courses on offer from organisations such as the Field Studies Council, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, the Species Recovery Trust and the Education Group of the Ashmolean Natural History Society

Potamogeton praelongus seen during
an aquatics course for more advanced botanists
Image: D. Wallace
There are also training workshops planned in Dumfries and Aberdeen this year - details will be posted on the BSBI's Scotland page as soon as they are available.    

You can also check out some of last year's guest blogposts from grant recipients who shared with us their thoughts on the courses they were able to attend thanks to a BSBI Training Grant. Click here, herehere and here for a few examples. 

If you'd like to brush up your ID skills but don't quite fancy a training course just yet, how about heading along to a BSBI field meeting with a training theme? Head over to the meetings page to see details of meetings across Britain and Ireland - just scroll down to see what's on offer. We've flagged all the meetings as Training, General, Recording or Specialist to help you decide which would work best for you. If you're in any doubt at all about whether a particular meeting is right for you, just email the organiser before you book, or drop me an email and I'll be able to advise you. 

One of Mark Duffell's ID courses for
the Field Studies Council
Image: R. Mabbutt
And if you can't get to any of the national meetings, why not check out your local botany group and see what they are up to this year? They are a great way to pick up identification tips from botanists in your local area. 

One of the best things about these national and local meetings is that they are absolutely free so you won't even need to apply for a grant! This obviously doesn't include residential meetings, and there may be the occasional one-day indoor meeting where there is a small cost to cover tea and coffee, or venue hire, but these (very low) costs are made clear on the meetings page. 

You don't usually need to be a BSBI member to attend one of these local or national meetings - in fact they are a great way to try out what BSBI has to offer and see if it's for you. 

Whether you're an absolute beginner, a bit rusty at plant ID, or you're already a pretty good botanist who wants to improve in a particular area, why not let BSBI help you sharpen your wild flower ID skills in 2018?