Thursday, 16 June 2022

Meeting up with fellow botanists - at last! June report by BSBI President Lynne Farrell

Last month saw BSBI President Lynne Farrell enjoying bluebells, orchids and bird's-eye primrose in Cumbria, where she is based. 

Then last week, at long last, our first face-to-face post-Covid national field meeting was held and Lynne was there to enjoy it. 

Over to Lynne to tell us more:  

"It has taken a long time, but it has now begun to warm up and, more importantly to me, I have been able to get out into the field and meet botanists again. 

The Wales Annual Meeting and AGM, held at Bangor, Caernarvonshire from 10th to 12th June, had a good attendance, and it was a delight to be able to share plants and visit places with others. 

"We explored a variety of habitats from botanic gardens, to mountains, saltmarsh, dunes, meadows and wet patches.  

"Treborth Botanic Garden, situated on the coast near the Menai Bridge, is being restored by a group of enthusiastic people following on from the retirement of Nigel Brown, who cared for the Garden for many years and who is now continuing to enjoy life as joint BSBI County Recorder for Anglesey.

"The images this month are from a recent coastal visit in Cumbria, where some species such as Sea Bindweed Calystegia soldnalella (image above right), are easy to identify but we needed to get down on our hands and knees with the books (image above left) to be sure of Variegated Horsetail Equisetum variegatumFortunately, we had Mike Porter, co-author of the BSBI Handbook on Violas, with us to pronounce on the coastal ecotype of Wild Pansy Viola tricolor coastal ecotype (image below).

Thursday, 9 June 2022

British & Irish Botany: issue 4.2 published

Sword-leaved Helleborine
growing under oak and holly
 in Knapdale, Argyll
Image: P. Batty

The latest issue of British & Irish Botany has just been published and features nine papers or short notes which range across time and space to grab your botanical attention, whether your interest lies in trees or grasses, gorgeous orchids or challenging apomicts!

There are two papers for orchid-lovers, investigating long-term changes in their abundance and distribution, so it seems fitting to ask Editor-in-Chief Prof. Ian Denholm to say something about them, as he is also one of our expert referees on orchids

Over to Ian: 

"Dave Trudgill follows up on his paper in our last issue, once again using data extracted from BSBI’s Distribution Database, but this time he is comparing the current ranges in Britain of 20 orchid species with those recorded four decades previously. Emphasis on northern and southern geographical limits provides insights into likely impacts of climate change on the distributions of individual taxa. In our second orchid paper, Patricia Batty reports on systematic monitoring of four Scottish colonies of Sword-leaved Helleborine, Cephalanthera longifolia, following the size, flowering success and longevity of individual plants over a 22-year period". 

Birches at Holme Fen
Image: S. McAdam

From Scotland to Holme Fen, Cambridgeshire, for our next paper, but staying with the theme of long-term observation, Anthony Davy and John Gill report on growth trajectories of a stand of birch trees over a 38-year period; then we stay with trees but head over to Wales, where Martin Lepsi and Tim Rich focus on two endemic Welsh whitebeams, Sorbus cambrensis and S. stenophylla

Next we go back in time, for a report by Jim Bevan on the 16 species of hawkweed Hieracium that were known in 1821 and the nomenclatural problems which still exist.

Brambles are as tricky to identify as hawkweeds and it doesn't help when they change their names, but the new name proposed by Muhammad Idrees and Julian Shaw for the species formerly known as the Rubus rubicundiflorus is both snappier and honours a much-loved botanist, the late Peter Sell

This issue also features notes on Atriplex species and hybrids by Mike Wilcox; a conspectus of, and key to, the world's species of Vulpia by Clive Stace; and a discussion by Diulio Iamonico on the typification of the Linnean name Papaver medium in Flora Anglica (1754). 

We hope that you enjoy your whistle-stop tour across the decades and countries with this latest issue of British & Irish Botany, which as always is completely free, both for you to read and for our authors to publish in: happy reading! 

Wednesday, 8 June 2022

Botanical heatmaps will ensure 'Right Tree, Right Place' - thanks to BSBI's volunteer recorders

BSBI volunteer recorders identifying
 and recording the plants they spot
Image: M.Crittenden
At BSBI, we are sometimes asked - by those who are new to the Society and our work - how exactly the botanical records that our volunteer members collect help us to fulfil our goal of addressing biodiversity loss and climate change (one of the three goals in our strategic plan). Well, today we can tell you more about one recent initiative which uses the plant records in the BSBI Database to help protect both our wildlife and the sites on which we rely for carbon sequestration. 

This initiative - botanical heatmaps - has been developed by BSBI in partnership Natural England, and I asked BSBI Head of Science Kevin Walker to tell us more.    

LM: So Kevin, what exactly is a botanical value map/ heatmap?

BSBI's Kevin Walker recording sedges
Image: P. Stroh
KW: “The ‘heatmaps’ are basically coincidence maps that summarise of all the amazing botanical records that BSBI volunteers collect. In the case of the tree-planting maps, these summarise the coincidence of rare, scarce, threatened species as well as habitat specialists that indicate the presence of good quality habitat on the ground. 

"We have produced a number of maps for the ‘Right Tree, Right Place work’: maps for rare, scarce and threatened species at 100 x 100 m resolution, habitat indicators at 1 x 1 km resolution and an overall ‘botanical value’ map which combines all these datasets”.

LM: What should a landowner do if they are thinking of planting trees on their land and want to make sure they are going to end up with the right tree in the right place?

Tree-planting was due to take place on this
 species-rich peatbog in Cumbria, which
 supports sundews and cranberry
Image: K. Watson  
KW: “These maps will help landowners to see if their land is likely to have open habitats of interest that should not be planted on. These might include species-rich grassland or blanket bog with deep peat. From July the ‘botanical value’ maps will be free to access online – these will indicate if the 1-km within which a planting site is located has species of conservation interest. The more detailed data-layers will be available to organisations that are likely to be involved in planting proposals such as Woodland Trust and Forestry Commission”.

LM: How did the idea for the heatmaps come about?

Botanical heatmap showing
priority plant species
(yellow = high priority)
KW: “The UK government’s ambitious tree-planting targets have unfortunately led to some planting of trees on open habitats rich in wildlife and/or important for carbon sequestration. In some cases, it was apparent that BSBI held data which could have been used to avoid such damage and so we worked closely with Natural England and the Woodland Trust to see how these data could be most effectively used. 

"The heatmaps are the product of this work and have taken about 18 months to produce, working in partnership with colleagues in Natural England, the Woodland Trust and the Forestry Commission. The most recent development has been funded by Defra, through the Natural Capital and Ecosystem Assessment (NCEA) programme".

LM: As you mentioned before, the data underpinning the heatmaps comprises all the plant records that have been collected over the years by our wonderful BSBI volunteer recorders. How many records are currently held in the BSBI database? 

KW: "As of today, the BSBI database contains a staggering 50,688,285 records, mainly collected by our amazing volunteer recorders, who go out in all weathers across Britain and Ireland and submit their records to the BSBI Distribution Database. In recent years this total has been augmented by about a million more records each year, and all these records are being increasingly used for nature conservation and scientific research".

Aspens silhouetted against the skyline:
the right tree in the right place!
Image: P. Smith
LM: That's impressive Kevin, and three cheers for all our wonderful volunteer recorders. Final question, if BSBI members and supporters want to find out more about the heatmaps, where should they look? 

KW: "We produced a great summary in our membership newsletter, BSBI News – and we've made the article freely available here so non-members can read it too. On the Natural England website, there's also a technical report and a blogpost about the heatmaps". 

LM: Thanks Kevin, readers can download a copy of the technical report by following the link on this page

Many thanks to Kevin for telling us about the botanical heatmaps and for all the hard work that he and our partners at Natural England, the Woodland Trust and the Forestry Commission have put in over the past 18 months to launch this exciting new initiative. And of course, thanks again to our fabulous volunteer recorders, without whom those botanical heatmaps would be completely empty! 

Finally, a call-out to any readers who haven't yet tried botanical recording but are inspired by hearing about the botanical heatmaps - there's lots of help and support on offer if you want to get involved: Check out these helpful hints to get you started, these resources to help you identify the wildflowers you spot and then try using the form on this page to submit your first ever plant record. 

Monday, 6 June 2022

BSBI Finance Manager running to support members in hardship

In the last couple of years, we've heard from several long-term BSBI members experiencing financial difficulties; we put our heads together to find a way to help them and we've created the BSBI Hardship Fund. One of our staff members, BSBI Finance Manager Julie Etherington (that's her on the right) is so keen to support the Hardship Fund that she is preparing to go the extra mile - in fact the extra 21 km. - to raise money towards the Fund. 

I caught up with Julie to find out more but first of all, over to BSBI Fundraising Manager Sarah Woods to tell us how the Hardship Fund idea came about:

Sarah: "The Hardship Fund has come around thanks to a number of groups and individuals at BSBI (including Julie herself) and an overarching belief that short-term financial issues should not mean people are excluded from something they care about – particularly where they might have been part of the fabric of BSBI for years. I think it is a principle that many will agree with, and for many years much has been done to try and keep all members connected with the Society, regardless of circumstances, but the time was right to formalise this slightly more into what has become the Hardship Fund".

Louise: What impact has the Hardship Fund had so far, and have many people benefited? 

Sarah: "I’m happy to say that we’ve been able to approach a number of individuals who’d let us know that they had had to consider their membership in 2022 for exactly the reasons the Fund was created, and we’ve been able to help them bridge the cost of membership and remain with the Society. Given the wider economic picture at the moment, it feels necessary and right that we have been able to put this in place, especially given the contribution so many members give to the life of the Society through volunteering, recording and engaging with our work".

Louise: Our members certainly make amazing contributions to botanical recording and scientific understanding, so anything we can do to support them gets my vote! 

Now, over to you Julie: How long have you been running and have you ever attempted a half-marathon before? 

Julie: "I’ve always been an on / off runner, however, in 2019, I took it up with much more interest in a bid to get fit before turning 50. To me, running is not only to get fit but but now also an opportunity to free my mind for an hour or two, to relax, have fun and a great excuse to get outdoors. I normally don’t take it too seriously & choose not to check times or distances so I surprised myself by spontaneously entering a 10k race in my village in September last year. I loved the buzz of the event so when my running buddy Kate suggested doing a half marathon, the seed had already been planted to believe I could go further … and here I am, running my very first half marathon".

Louise: Wow, so you're really starting to get serious about your running! But have you ever done any kind of sponsored run before? 

Julie: "Although I’ve raised money running before, such as for the well-known Cancer Research Race For Life, I know that smaller charities can sometimes get overlooked so this time seemed the perfect opportunity to support a new and important cause close to my heart - BSBI’s Hardship Fund". 

Louise: We're really glad that you are supporting the Fund, both with this half marathon and by championing the idea over the past few years. And I see that you've had a lovely BSBI T-shirt printed (image above right) to wear on the day! So, what have you been doing to get in training?

Julie: "All sorts of things! Every Monday for the last couple of months, Kate tells me how far we need to run in the week ahead; now in excess of 30km per week. Unfortunately, I have very little discipline when it comes to following a training plan so I tend to instead make it up as I go along. Last month, for example, I did a HIIT session, yoga, ran a little and climbed Helvellyn over Striding Edge (image above left) with a friend on a rare and gloriously blue Lake District day; a perfect & memorable experience".

Louise: That sounds intense! So once the run is over and all the donations have been collected and gone into the Hardship Fund, how will you be relaxing? 

Julie: "Straight after the race - which is on Father’s Day, Sunday 19th June - probably one of the first things I’ll do is to phone my lovely Dad to give him the news of whether I made it over the finish line. He’s given me special dispensation to miss visiting him on Father’s Day this year so I will definitely want to talk to him instead.

Longer term, I will definitely continue to run. I feel very lucky to live in a lovely part of West Lancashire where there are so many quiet lanes, hills and beautiful views to enjoy. Whether I do another half marathon after this remains to be seen, though I suspect I have "the bug" now!" 

Louise: Good luck Julie! If anybody would like to sponsor Julie and help support the BSBI Hardship Fund, here is Julie's Just Giving page. Keep an eye on this page to find out how she got on and how much money was raised for the Fund. And if you are a BSBI member experiencing financial difficulties, take a look at the Hardship Fund webpage where you can find out about the criteria and how to apply.

Monday, 16 May 2022

Greenwings giveaway: the answer

Swallowtail on Milk-parsley
Image: A. Hunter
Our Greenwings giveaway competition has now closed, all entries anonymised and put into the randomiser, and the winner notified. 

The correct answer to the competition question 'What is the main food plant of the Swallowtail butterfly' was Milk-parsley Peucedanum palustre.

Here is the plant's distribution map, based on locations where it has been recorded over the years by BSBI's volunteer members. 

Although other food plants have been recorded in this country for migrants of the continental race of Swallowtails, the Milk Parsley is the only food plant for the native British race.

Many thanks to everyone who entered the competition via Twitter or Instagram and huge thanks to Greenwings for this great offer which celebrates their joining the growing list of BSBI's corporate supporters.  

Friday, 13 May 2022

Greenwings giveaway: win a one-day wildlife holiday in the Norfolk Broads

Swallowtail on its main food plant
Image: A. Hunter
In ecology, everything is connected and interdependent - the flower relies on its pollinator, the butterfly relies on its food plant - and for natural history organisations such as the BSBI, the same principle applies: by working together, we can all achieve much, much more than soldiering on alone. 

But what, you are wondering, does this have to do with the great giveaway we are offering? Well, we are celebrating a new close relationship between the BSBI and Greenwings Wildlife Holidays, who have recently joined the growing list of BSBI's corporate supporters - they will be donating 10% of the proceeds of botanical wildlife holidays to BSBI, to help fund our research, training and outreach programmes. 

Southern Marsh-orchid
and Marsh Fern
Image: A. Hunter
BSBI Fundraising Manager Sarah Woods said “It is fantastic to be working with Greenwings to celebrate botany and the knowledge and enthusiasm of those who lead botanical tours. It is especially welcome to us that their botanical holidays will now also advance the knowledge, understanding and enjoyment of our own native flora, and help in its protection and conservation.”

Greenwings already has a similar relationship with our friends at Butterfly Conservation and are specialists in moth- and butterfly-watching holidays. Understanding the need for plants that support our iconic native butterflies, they are offering one lucky BSBI follower a free space on a £100 one-day wildlife holiday

You will join naturalist Patrick Barkham and co-leader Alice Hunter in the Norfolk Broads on 7th June to look for Swallowtails and their food plants, plus Marsh Harriers, Bearded Tits, Norfolk Hawker dragonflies, and plants including Fen Orchids and Marsh Peas. Here's a report of the last time this team visited the Broads looking for Swallowtails, to give you an idea of what to expect. 

Swallowtail on a Marsh Orchid
Image: J. Dowding

Appetite well and truly whetted? Then here's how to enter:

1. You'll need to be on social media - either Instagram or Twitter - and you'll need to follow both BSBI and Greenwings. BSBI is on Twitter here and on Instagram here; Greenwings is on Twitter here and on Instagram here.      

2. You'll need to answer this question correctly: What is the main food-plant of the Swallowtail butterfly? (Top tip: our friends at the Field Studies Council do a great fold-out guide to caterpillars of all 60 species of British and Irish butterflies, and it lists the various food plants too.) 

3. You'll need to post your answer on Twitter or Instagram, tagging both BSBI and Greenwings. 

The winner will be chosen at random from correct entries after the competition has closed.  

Here are the Terms & Conditions: 

  1. One entry per account. Entrants may enter on both Instagram and Twitter.
  2. There is no entry fee and no purchase necessary to enter this giveaway.
  3. The competition will run from 12 noon (BST) on Friday 13th May to 12 noon on Monday 16th May.
  4. The winner will be chosen at random from received and verified entries and will be notified by Direct Message within 5 days of the closing date. If the winner cannot be contacted or does not claim the prize within 10 days of notification, we reserve the right to withdraw the prize from the winner and chose a replacement winner.
  5. Any personal data relating to the winner or any other entrants will be used solely in accordance with current UK data protection legislation and will not be disclosed to a third party without the entrant’s prior consent.
  6. Decisions in respect of all matters to do with the competition will be final and no correspondence will be entered into.
  7. By entering this competition, an entrant is indicating their agreement to be bound by these terms and conditions.
  8. The prize is as stated and no cash or other alternatives will be offered. The prize is not transferable and is subject to availability. Please note that travel costs to the holiday, entry fees to reserves, drinks and any other personal items are not included in the prize.
  9. Greenwings and BSBI reserve the right to cancel or amend the competition and these terms and conditions without notice in the event of unforeseen circumstances

Good luck - we'll post the answer to the question on this News & Views blog next week.

Thursday, 12 May 2022

Bluebells, orchids and Bird's-eye Primrose: May report from BSBI President Lynne Farrell

Last month saw BSBI President Lynne Farrell looking at alpines and Pasque flowers (very fitting, as it was Easter). 

So, what has she been up to since then? 

Over to Lynne:

"I have to start this note with the emblem of BSBI, our native Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta as the flower show has been spectacular over the past few weeks. It is difficult to obtain the right shade of blue in a photograph and convey the lovely scent which wafts across on the breeze when walking through a blue woodland. 

"Here, on one of the Cumbria Wildlife Trust nature reserves (image above right), there has been extensive storm damage with many mature Oak trees flattened and branches torn off. Many of these fallen giants have been left deliberately as long as they are not a danger to visitors, and the gaps that have been created in the woodland will allow many of the young Oak saplings to grow and replace their parents.

"It reminded me of being in a tropical jungle where a fallen giant creates the light and space for other species to take advantage. 

"A quick reminder here that if you are looking at a Bluebell and you aren't sure if it's a native bluebell or a garden hybrid, there are some helpful links and illustrations on this page.

"At Gait Barrows NNR in Lancashire, clearing to benefit another species, Bird’s-eye Primrose Primula farinosa (image above left) has taken place over the past few years. Creating bare patches in the marl around Little Haweswater with subsequent cattle grazing, has provided the right habitat for this small and beautiful plant to thrive. 

"It seems to be flowering early this spring and there are many small rosettes surrounding the flowering plants, so the future of what was a declining population due to closing up of the sward is now assured.

"Also just into Lancashire, the National Trust carried out their annual count of Early Purple Orchids Orchis mascula and Green-winged Orchids Anacamptis morio (image on right) which grow together in a large field near the coast. Despite it being a wet morning, a record number of flowering plants of both species were recorded. 

"It seems to have been a good year up here for early flowering species, not just orchids. I hope that you also have been able to enjoy the colourful shows throughout Britain and Ireland".