Tuesday, 25 July 2017

New on the BSBI's News page

Chris in the Herbarium at Univ Leicester
Image: L. Marsh
If you haven't taken a look at the News page on the BSBI website recently, you may have missed some of the links we've been sharing to recently published papers and conferences.  

Here are a few recent items which may be of interest:

The future for biological surveys: BSBI members are invited to attend a forthcoming Linnean Society Symposium titled ‘What is the Future for Biological Surveys? Are specialists for key taxa at risk of becoming extinct?' One of the speakers will be Chris Metherell, BSBI's incoming President. The Symposium takes place on 7th September, 11am – 4.30pm, in the Linnean Society’s Meeting Room in Burlington House, Piccadilly, London. More here.

How will climate change affect our wild flowers? BSBI's Head of Science Dr Kevin Walker is a co-author on a newly published paper in the journal Biological Conservation which assesses the impact of climate change on the distribution of over 3,000 British plants and animals across 17 taxonomic groups. Click here to download the paper in full.

Gunnera tinctoria: an ornanmental
species naturalised on Benbecula
Image: F. Donald 
Vegetation monitoring: Click here to download 'Long-term vegetation monitoring in Great Britain - the Countryside Survey 1978-2007 and beyond'.

Garden plants and invasive species: In 2015, BSBI members contributed to a survey aimed at trying to identify garden plants likely to become invasive in future. The authors have now published a paper based on the data collected. You can read 'Integrating invasive species policies across ornamental horticulture supply chains to prevent plant invasions' in full by clicking here.

Are Beech trees native to Scotland? According to researchers at the University of Sterling - yes they are! More here or go straight to the abstract. The full paper appears in the latest issue of Journal of Biogeography.

If you hear of any forthcoming conferences or symposia, or spot any new papers which may interest fellow botanists, please let me know so we can share them on the News page.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Ely Wildspace survey

Branched Bur-reed
Image: M. Frisch
Last time we heard from Cambridge botanist Monica Frisch, she was at the Cambridge Conversazione reporting on the various botanical exhibits, but a few days later she was back out in the field again. Here's her latest report: 

"On Saturday 15th July 2017 the Cambridge Flora Group surveyed Ely Wildspace. This included Ely Common, Roswell Pits and various meadows alongside the River Ouse, all now part of the Ely Pits and Meadows SSSI. This area, about 85 hectares (though we did not explore all of them), includes parts designated for their geological importance and for their breeding birds. But there was plenty of interest to occupy eleven botanists, including some of Cambridgeshire’s most experienced:  Alan Leslie and Jonathan Shanklin, the County Recorders, Chris Preston, Mark Hill and Owen Mountford who is working on a Fenland Flora.

"Guided by local expert Tim Inskipp, we started looking at the eastern part of Ely Common, which was the more diverse part when surveyed by Tanner & Vejakob (Nature in Cambridgeshire, 2014). It is mainly rough grassland but improved as a result of the addition of hay from nearby Chettisham Meadow. One benefit was the appearance, earlier this year, of Green-winged Orchid. That was over but we did see one of the patches of Adder’s-tongue Fern Ophioglossum vulgatum. There was lots of Hoary Ragwort Senecio erucifolius growing tall and lush.

Image: M. Frisch
"Having more or less circumnavigated the common we meandered down and along the wooded banks of the western edge of Roswell Pits, stopping to debate the differences between the two yellow-flowered melilots and concluding that the one that we were finding was Tall Melilot Melilotus altissimus. There was plenty of Purple-loosestrife Lythrum salicaria, a plant I consider looks particularly attractive silhouetted against water, masses of Teasel, mostly at the stage where not all the flowers had opened, resulting in bands of blue on the inflorescence. There was plenty of Upright Hedge Parsley Torilis japonica the more delicate successor to Cow Parsley and surprising amounts, to me, of Stone Parsley Sison amomum though most of us could not smell the nutmeg as well as petrol which some books say are meant to characterise the species.

"Tim Inskipp was able to let us into a meadow closed off, apparently for safety reasons, to the general public, though the danger of falling into the watery pit seemed no greater there than elsewhere. We looked at the brambles, with Alan Leslie concluding one was probably close to a hybrid of Rubus caesius x ulmifolius. I enjoyed seeing lots of bright pink Centaury Centaurium erythraea and it was a pleasant spot to stop and eat our lunch.

Rumex maritimus (on left), R. conglomeratus
 (on right); in between: R. x knafii
Image: M. Frisch 
"Most of the afternoon was spent exploring the meadows alongside the River Great Ouse where the experts debated about carices and studied the docks, finding three different hybrids amongst the mass of species: Rumex x schulzei (R. crispus x conglomeratus) which had been previously recorded, in 2007,  Rumex x knafii (R. conglomeratus x maritimus) and Rumex x pratensis (R. crispusobtusifolius). Easier to recognise was Orange Foxtail Alopecurus aequalis living up to its name. This was an exciting record as it hadn't been seen in the hectad since 1855. Also fairly distinctive, for an umbellifer, was Tubular Water-dropwort Oenanthe fistulosa.

"For me other highlights were the Branched Bur-reed Sparganium erectum subsp. neglectum showing flowers and fruits at different stages, seeing Sweet Flag Acorus calamus for the first time and in flower, some unexpected seaside plants on a road verge, and a new crucifer: Bastard Mustard Rapistrum rugosum on the verge of Lisle Lane.

"All in all, an enjoyable and successful day, which added about 50 species to the list for Ely Wildspace, as well as helping with recording for the Fenland Flora". 

Thanks Monica! We're always keen to share what botanists are seeing out in the field - just send a short report like Monica's to louise.marsh@bsbi.org and we'll be delighted to publish it on these pages. 

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

BSBI Training Grants helping botanists in 2017: Part One

Sedges collected and displayed by Lynda
Image: S. Brien
Another year, another round of BSBI training grants awarded to budding botanists keen to improve their skills

The first of this year's grant recipients, keen to tell readers about the course they were able to attend thanks to that BSBI training grant, is Shane. Last time we heard from him, he was volunteering with BSBI Irish Officer Maria Long. Now he's brushing up his sedge ID skills. 

Over to Shane:  

"I took it upon myself to attend a course on the “Introduction to sedges” with the National Biodiversity Data Centre (NBDC) in Co. Waterford. I was highly interested and enthusiastic in learning more for this group, the different structures, how to key them to species level, and ID tips that may help in the field. Also, when I heard Lynda Weekes was teaching it (after her amazing talk on rushes at the Irish BSBI conference 2017), I put my name on the list instantly.

Schoenus nigricans, one of the "other sedges"
Image: S. Brien
"The morning session involved a slideshow presentation on the differences between sedges, rushes, and grasses (the saying I was taught before this course, “sedges have edges; rushes are round; grasses have nodes right to the ground). It can be confusing to a person learning this group for the first time, but once shown the different characteristics of sedges first hand it becomes engrained in the mind afterward. Sounds simple from a presentation than an actual specimen.

"The next segment looked at the number of different species found in Ireland. Mainly observing the differences between other sedge and true sedge groups. This interesting part involved looking at some specimens that were brought in (thanks to Lynda), which were held up in bottles and arranged per habitat type. We worked in pairs, due to the limitation of handouts, using draft copies of the sedges & rushes book being devised by the NBDC that will have a similar format to the grass guide (Fitzpatricket al., 2014). The other sedge specimens brought in for the day included Eleocharis palustris, Schoenus nigricans, Schoenoplectus lacustris, Trichophorum germanicum, Eriophorum angustifolium & Bolboschoensis maritimus. After looking at these specimens, everyone dispersed for lunch as the afternoon session started the true sedge (Carex) fun.

Carex otrubae, one of the "true sedges"
Image: S. Brien
"I found the afternoon session very helpful when trying to distinguish Carex species that looked very similar in the field, it only takes a bit of practice to figure things out eventually. It started off with some of the more notable species such as Carex pulicaris and C. otrubae, with the obvious inflorescence they both possess. The key was needed for the next specimens which possessed an inflorescence of the terminal spike on top and other spikes on the stem below (appressed or hanging). Everyone struggled at the first obstacle in the key with “are the utricles flat?”, and most answers being “maybe”, “possibly”, “I don’t know”. Lynda said “they shouldn’t be” then grabbed another specimen to show us the flat utricles in comparison to the specimen we were keying out. 

Groups looking at and keying out sedges
Image: S. Brien
"She boosted our confidence after that to work from there on, having each pair work at their own accords or collectively as a working group. I and my partner worked through the specimens quite well but stumbled from time to time. One specimen (C. laevigata) we worked with was slightly immature which made it difficult to key. Lynda was extremely helpful in pointing that out and highlighted the need to look at several specimens when in the field.

"The final part involved a walkabout around the data centre in search of a few sedges in the overgrown grassland area and Waterford IT campus. Carex sylvatica and C. pendula weren’t picked purposely because Lynda wanted the pairs to find them in the field and see how different sedges looked in the field aspect. 

"I found this course extremely useful and would like to thank the BSBI grant scheme for funding this. I have already put my knowledge gained into practice. The BSBI Dublin group went to Clogherhead, Co. Louth where I pointed out C. distans and C. otrubae while scanning through the sand dunes, salt marshes, and rocky areas".

Many thanks to Shane for telling us about the course he was able to attend, thanks to a BSBI training grant.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Training sessions for the NPMS

How are you getting on with your monitoring your plot for the National Plant Monitoring Scheme?

If everything is going swimmingly - thank you for taking part!

If you feel that you need a bit more support - have you checked out all this year's free training sessions available only to people who have already registered for the Scheme? The image above right shows a recent training session on ferns, led by top botanist Nick Law. Find out about the 2017 programme of training sessions, which are held across the country, here.

There are still lots more squares to survey, so if you haven't registered yet, you can check here to see what squares are available in your area.

And if you'd like to find out more about the data collected so far, click here for the NPMS dataset 2015-6. 

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Botany at the Cambridge Conversazione

Vince has his eye on Roger's live specimen!
Image: R Horton 
Cambridge botanist Monica Frisch has been in touch to tell us about the botanical exhibits on display at last month's Conversazione.

Over to Monica:

"The Cambridge Natural History Society’s annual Conversazione on 16th & 17th June 2017 attracted, as usual, a wide variety of displays on many aspects of natural history, including plants, from local organisations and individuals.

"Trees were the main feature for three displays:

"Roger Horton put together a display about Black Poplars, often called “Britain’s rarest tree” which reported on his efforts to refind Black Poplars in the Cambridge area. As well as maps and photos he even had a small Black Poplar which he is growing.

Roger was tweeting from the Conversazione:

16/6 Vince looks at my P. nigra betulifolia poster! : He wants to plant my live specimen!

Gwenda Kyd with her display about
Bountiful Birches
Image: M. Frisch
"Another CNHS member had recorded an A-Z of trees – mostly planted – on the Science Park on the edge of Cambridge. 

"From Apple to Zelkova (a genus related to Elms) he had pictures and brief descriptions of trees for almost every letter of the alphabet. X was an exception (excuse puns) though it was suggested Xylem could justifiably be included. 

"Gwenda Kyd focused on Birches and their many uses, with a display including products made from birch bark, bottled birch sap, which could be tasted, and birch wine (which was being saved for a special occasion).

A tank of Floating Pennywort
 with the Cam Valley Forum display
 about this invasive weed
Image: M. Frisch
"Invasive species were part of the displays of the Cam Valley Forum, who had a tank of Floating Pennywort extracted from the Cam, from which they are trying to eradicate it, while Cambridge Conservation Volunteers had a large specimen of Himalayan Balsam.

"Pam Butler and Sandra Chapman, from NIAB, had a display about seeds, including information about the history of seed testing in the UK.

"Many other displays made passing mention of plants, from the Bird Cherry trees which have been infested with Ermine Moth caterpillars, to the species found during the CNHS field surveys of sites around Cambridge.

"Photos of many of the displays are in the Conversazione 2017 album on the CNHS Facebook page here." 

Many thanks to Monica for telling us about this year's Conversazione in Cambridge.

Friday, 30 June 2017

BSBI Summer Meeting: typing up the recording cards

John Faulkner, BSBI President (on right) &
David Morris, County Recorder for Oxfordshire
at the BSBI Summer Meeting 2017
Image: P. Spencer-Vellacott
As we heard yesterday in Shane's post about digitising biological records, wherever there are botanists in the field, recording cards are sure to follow, and the BSBI Annual Summer Meeting (ASM) was no different! 

Over to organiser Jon Shanklin, now back in Cambridge:

"The hard part of the ASM has started and I'm about half way through typing up the record cards that I have. So far I've typed in 1468 records from ten sheets, and most cards have had new post 2000 hectad records. Quite a few have included plants rare in the county, and there have been some new post 2000 county records. Prize in this respect so far goes to my group which had the nice day at the seaside, with eight.

Gronant Dunes, one of the field excursions
 during the BSBI Summer Meeting 2017
Image: L. Gravestock 
"However I only have post 2000 county records on my computer, so it remains to be seen how many new species we've actually found. I've also had quite a lot of help from other recorders who between them have already typed in a couple of thousand records and there are more to come. Thank you! Once the typing is complete the records will be sent to the county recorder for verification and incorporation in the BSBI DDb.

"Some of the records are probably artifacts - I was quite surprised to find Carex caryophylla and Helianthemum numularium as new to Graig Fawr, but perhaps the records were never submitted. Some finds were quite strange, for example Convollaria majalis on the dunes - there are only two other locations in the county shown in the Flora.

"I suspect that it will take me at least another week to finish the typing as I am now back in my vice-county Cambridgeshire, where I am one of two County Recorders. So in the diary for the next few days are: a Cambridge Natural History Society meeting; the CNHS Conversazione; an astronomy talk on Saturday; and an outing with Cambridgeshire Flora Group. As always, in my 'spare time' I’ll be out recording in spare moments for Atlas2020!" 

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Volunteers I: supporting BSBI in Ireland

The words 'volunteering with the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland' might conjure up days out in the field, recording wildflowers for Atlas 2020 or monitoring a patch for the National Plant Monitoring Scheme. That's exactly what many of our amazing volunteers do, but there's also a lot of essential work to be done indoors throughout the year and BSBI is also very grateful to volunteers who help behind the scenes. 

Shane's work set-up
Image: S. Brien
One such volunteer is Shane, who has been assisting BSBI Irish Officer Maria Long. Here Shane tells us what he's been doing - and why! 

"It is hard to believe that I contacted Maria Long over a year ago to discuss possible volunteering options. I came up with this initiative as part of my academic studies in trying to further promote my botanical skills, network, and gain that much-needed experience in the area I wish to pursue. After my masters, I have not had much joy of finding work placement but I still carrying on volunteering for the BSBI when I can. 

"Maria has been nothing but supportive whenever I have asked her questions about botany or ecology. She has given me such joyous and interesting tasks to undertake during my time volunteering. My main tasks usually involve data entry, which may seem tedious and long winded but someone must do it and I always find it interesting to see what people found & where. 

Old records of Co. Westmeath
Image: S. Brien
"Recently, I entered Maria’s record cards from the Kerry recording event which I was unable to attend. Reading through some of the plant records they stumbled upon and the wonderful scenery of Kerry, I was quite jealous. 

"However, it was great to hear of what they found, the new attendees to BSBI events, and the number of plants records over the five days. My primary task has been digitising Co. Westmeath (VC H23) pre. 2000 records mainly from Con Breen (Vice County Recorder). 

"There is a lot of records (I mean A LOT) to enter into Excel format, but this particular task requires me to act as a sort of botanical detective. The maps and GPS devices that many people would use nowadays, weren’t as available then. Townland names and a description of the area recorded were the next best thing and being eager botanists, as members in the BSBI would be, a lot of ground was covered in a day or two. The record card would be assigned a grid reference at hectad, or if we are lucky, tetrad level, after searching through both old & new maps, and referred to Con for changes or confirmation. 

Shane out with the Dublin BSBI group -
he's the one in the purple hat.
Image courtesy of A. Murphy
"The use of Stace (2010) acts as my trusty sidekick whenever old names need to be updated to the current botanical names, providing less confusion for new eager botanist’s in the future. It can be laborious at times, Con’s wealth of knowledge (especially with Carex species) can put down nearly 200 plant species on one record card, and typing them out takes a bit of time. Sometimes at the end of the day, I feel like an encyclopaedia for botanical names in Westmeath.

"Taking in this experience from the voluntary work helps me remember botanical names in the field, usually because people still use the old name of a species. The best way to learn any of these species off is to go out with other enthusiastic botanists and help with the valiant effort BSBI recorders do every season toward Atlas 2020. Maria and the Irish vice county recorders encourage others to go out and learn to increase their botanical knowledge. 

"I have been on a couple of outings across the country and encourage others to partake in upcoming BSBI events".

Many thanks to Shane for telling us about his volunteering experience with BSBI, and for all the volunteer hours he's already given to our society. If you'd like to find out more about volunteering opportunities with BSBI, please email us here