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 Mabutt, 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?

Monday, 15 January 2018

BSBI New Year Plant Hunt on BBC Countryfile!

Leics. botanists ready to hunt plants in the rain!
New Year Plant Hunt 2018
Image: J. Clough
We're delighted to let you all know that BSBI's New Year Plant Hunt is going to be featured on BBC Countryfile this coming Sunday 21st January at 6.30pm!

The Countryfile team travelled up to Leicestershire ten days ago to film two Plant Hunts, one in the countryside and one in the city

Where do you think we found most species in bloom? 

It was in the city - but the reason why that might be is one of the things that the New Year Plant Hunt aims to discover. 


Ellen Goddard, PhD student at
Univ Loughborough & member of
New Year Plant Hunt Support Team
Image: C. Sugrue
We also want to know how our wildflowers across Britain and Ireland are responding to changes in long-term weather patterns.

And of course the New Year Plant Hunt is also about getting outdoors in the middle of winter, whether alone, with family and friends or with a local botany group, to brush up on ID skills, see what's in bloom and generally just enjoy being out and about.

Members of the Leicestershire botany group and the New Year Plant Hunt Support Team really enjoyed showing presenter Anita Rani and the rest of the Countryfile team some of the wild flowers that were in bloom, despite some pretty awful weather in the preceding weeks. 

First we visited Sence Valley Forest Park, where Ranger Alan showed us all how this site has been transformed in just twenty years from a former opencast mining site to a wildlife reserve


Richard Kelly, Anne, Rosie, Hannah and Mike
Did I mention that it was raining all day?
Image: C. Sugrue
We were joined by botanist Kevin Widdowson and his daughter Elizabeth, the official recorder of the biggest Shepherd's-purse plant in the world so far! Elizabeth found these particularly big plants while helping her father during the 2016 New Year Plant Hunt.

Then we headed into Leicester city centre where Assistant Nature Conservation Officer Richard Kelly and other local botanists managed to find a total of 43 species in bloom on two city-centre brownfield sites and surrounding streets.

We were helped by Brian 'Eagle-eyes' Laney from over the border in Northants - that's not cheating, Brian is such a keen botanist that no one county can contain him - he often joins Leics. botanists on plant hunts and recording for Atlas 2020.


Russell, Anita and more rain.
Image: J. Clough
Ciara and Ellen, who have done such amazing work behind the scenes on the New Year Plant Hunt Support Team, were able to show Anita and the film crew how our online recording form worked and how important social media is to get people taking part in the Hunt. 

Leicester botanist Richard Mabbutt, also on the Support Team, was able to tell Anita how going out with his local botany group has helped him manage a diagnosis of stress and anxiety, and showed her the cornflowers blooming in Leicester at New Year - yes, honestly!

Herbarium volunteer Russell also showed Anita the Austrian Chamomile in bloom and she picked a specimen to take up to the University of Leicester Herbarium for pressing. 

She was also due to meet Anna Farrell of Genebank55 fame and Prof Pat Heslop-Harrison at the Herbarium, to find out a bit about what herbaria are for (and why botanists love them so much!).


Anna and Anita in the Herbarium, Univ. Leicester
Image: P. Heslop-Harrison 
We hope that Anita also found time to hear about some of the fascinating work Pat is doing on genetic diversity, agricultural ditches as refugia for threatened wild plants, Dandelions... you could film a whole programme just in Pat's lab. 

Ooh Countryfile, there's a suggestion for you...

As the Countryfile team were preparing the programme, they needed to know about some of the other wildflowers recorded during the New Year Plant Hunt and to see photographs of them. 


Pat shows Anita some specimens
in the Herbarium at Univ Leicester
Image: T. Schwarzacher
So, many thanks to Ciara and Ellen again for pulling out some interesting records from the 9,539 records of 646 species submitted by more than 1000 botanists across Britain and Ireland.

Thanks also to BSBI members Rosemary Lincoln (in Suffolk) and Dave Steere (in Kent) for sharing their photographs.

Thanks also to BSBI Head of Science Dr Kevin Walker for carrying out his analysis in record time so that highlights can be included during the broadcast on Sunday.

So please put the date in your diary, Sunday 6.30pm, BBC1 for the New Year Plant Hunt on Countryfile. 

You'll also be able to catch it afterwards on iPlayer where the announcement is already live. Just in case you thought I was making this all up!  

Sunday, 14 January 2018

BSBI President and New Year Plant Hunt Support Team join the Hunt!

We estimate that more than 1000 people took part in this year's New Year Plant Hunt, from first-timers and beginner botanists to BSBI President Chris Metherell. Chris followed the Hunt on Twitter and the volunteers on the Plant Hunt Support Team were delighted to receive a message of support saying how much he appreciated our hard work!


Hannah and I were so pleased to find this
Lady's Bedstraw blooming in rainy Leicester!
Image: C. Sugrue
I asked Chris to tell us what he thought about this year's Hunt and he said:  

"I had a great time doing the New Year Plant Hunt this year. For the first time we went out on two consecutive days. Day one was just a walk round our village - 27 species. But on day two we went up the coast to Alnmouth expecting to see rather more plants in flower. Surprisingly the totals were almost the same - in fact just 24 for Alnmouth. However perhaps equally exciting was sitting in the warm with a glass of mulled wine when we got back and watching the results roll in and dots appearing on themap. Can't wait to see this year's analysis".

We hope to publish the analysis here very soon and members of the Support Team are just as keen as you are to find out what BSBI Head of Science Kevin Walker makes of it all! 

Ellen was delighted to get outdoors and find
Gorse in bloom after 4 days on the
New Year Plant Hunt enquiry desk!
Image: C. Sugrue
Ellen, who joined the Support Team this year, told me: "Working with the BSBI New Year Plant Hunt team this year has been a great experience! Seeing the amount of enthusiasm people had for finding wild flowers across Britain and Ireland has been really inspiring for me to get more involved in citizen science and outreach projects. 

"Helping on Twitter was really exciting, seeing how motivated people were and the range of people that got involved with the social media (from families joining for the first time to life-long botanists). There were even some cases of people battling the elements in order to complete their Plant Hunt - witnessing such dedication really inspired me to get out and join the Hunt too! We finally made it out on 5th January and found 7 species in bloom on our rural Hunt compared to 44 species in bloom in Leicester city centre - interesting contrast there which we hope Kevin's analysis will help explain!

Ciara had to look really hard to find
Hazel in bloom in Leicester at New Year!
Image: E. Goddard
"Volunteering behind the scenes on this year's New Year Plant Hunt has made me want to communicate with a wider plant community about how they can get involved with other research projects that BSBI is undertaking. Everyone on the Support Team and involved in the Hunt was so welcoming that it made volunteering with them a really fun experience!

"I hope to have the opportunity to get involved with them and the New Year Plant Hunt again next year and maybe help train up other volunteers? If more and more people keep joining the Hunt each year, we'll need more volunteers to support them!"

Ciara, now in her second year as a volunteer on the New Year Plant Hunt Support Team, is being interviewed about the Hunt today for the latest #wildflowerhour podcast so keep an eye on this page to hear Ciara's report.

And watch this space for some very exciting news about media coverage of the Hunt!

Friday, 12 January 2018

Mistletoe growing on Oak

Bunches of mistletoe on a tree
Image: J. Box
Readers of BSBI's monthly eNews for botanical recorders will have spotted a note in the January 2018 issue (downloadable from our publications page here) by ecologist John Box about Mistletoe growing on oak trees.

John told us:

"The earliest known report of mistletoe on oak in Britain is the poem attributed to the 13th century Scottish poet, Thomas the Rhymer, describing the mistletoe-oak at Errol in Perthshire. It’s a rare association and there were only eleven existing oak trees with mistletoe that I knew about in 1996-98 in Britain". 

Bunch of mistletoe hanging from a branch
Image: J. Box
BSBI recorders and local records centres gave John a huge amount of help to find those locations and he went on to publish a paper in Watsonia, then BSBI's scientific journal, in 2000. Now almost twenty years later, John is updating that paper and turned to BSBI recorders again for help finding out about new records of mistletoe on oak, hence the note in eNews. You can find John's original Watsonia paper here.

John said "Five new locations have already been reported. Definite identifications of oak trees with confirmed mistletoe should be sent please to john.box@knowlebox.co.uk

He also reassured us "Full descriptions of the locations of the oak trees with mistletoe will not be given in the short paper that I hope to publish. This is because there have been financial offers to reveal locations of oak trees with mistletoe in Britain, especially on English Oak Quercus robur and Pedunculate Oak Q. petraea - for which, you can thank Pliny the Elder and his account of Druids in Gaul collecting mistletoe on oak with a golden sickle".

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

New Year Plant Hunt 2018: Day Four

Gorse and one Sea Campion
Hartland Quay
Image: Sue Young
The fourth and final day of the New Year Plant Hunt and even though all the data are not through yet (the deadline for submission is midnight on Friday 5th January), we can already report:
  • 500+ species recorded so far (there were 529 last year).
  • 532 lists received so far compared to 462 last year.
  • 7,984 unique records logged so far compared to a total of 7,347 last year.
Ciara and Ellen are sifting through to remove any duplicates so these totals may change but already it looks as if at least 1,000 botanists took part!


          Crown Vetch spotted near Cardiff Bay
Image: Annie Irving
You can read first person accounts of what some plant hunters found in their blogposts. Check out Wendy's Uckfield Hunt, or Heather's report from Co. Durham, read what Steven found on Skye, what Sarah and Pete spotted in Lincs. or what Oli and David saw in Oxfordshire.

And we can announce a second New Year Plant Hunt prize-winner. Jessica Hamilton from Kerry won the prize on Saturday for the first flower spotted within minutes of the Plant Hunt starting. And today we decided to award the dedication prize to 13-year old naturalist Dara McAnulty who went out hunting with his family in really nasty weather in northern Ireland. They were all set to give up and record a nul count but they persevered and were rewarded with a bedraggled Hogweed and a drenched Daisy. Watch out for Jessica and Dara sharing their three botanical wishes for 2018 on these pages later this month.


Ladybirds expert Richard Comont keying out
plants in Malvern, with a little canine assistance
Image: Kate Ashbrook
There's still one local Plant Hunt to come - four of the eight members of the Plant Hunt support team (me, Ciara, Ellen and Richard) are based in Leics. and if we'd headed out to do our Hunt in the past four days, the enquiry desk would have been seriously under-staffed! 

So BSBI Head of Science Kevin Walker gave us special dispensation to postpone our Hunt until Friday.

Kevin is the eighth member of the support team but his role doesn't start until Saturday, when all the data are in and he can get going on his analysis.

We're actually doing two Hunts on Friday, one rural and one urban, and we're looking forward to seeing how the counts differ in both places.


          Ivy-leaved Toadflax in Derbyshire
Image: Alan Roe
What have we learned from the national results you've already sent in?

Well so far, all the Top Twenty most frequently recorded plants are either autumn stragglers, all-year-rounders or winter specialists and the Top Five this year is the same as last year and in the same order: Daisy, Groundsel, Dandelion, Annual Meadow-grass and Gorse.

There are very few records of Sweet Violets, Primroses or Lesser Celandines so this abundance of flowers in bloom does not herald an early spring!

The surprise is really how many plants we are finding in bloom, despite some pretty nasty weather in recent weeks - remember that textbooks from a few decades ago led us to believe that there were only 20 or 30 wildflowers we were likely to see in bloom in midwinter.


Butcher's-broom flowering in Norfolk
Image: Ian Woodward
So, were the textbooks wrong, or were we just not looking closely enough before, or do we have evidence of climate change?

We'll have to wait for our Head of Science to tell us once all the results are in and he's had a chance to analyse them - watch this space.

Can we just close for now by thanking every single one of you who went out plant hunting and took the time to send us your results.

If you haven't sent yours in yet, remember the deadline is midnight on Friday 5th January.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

New Year Plant Hunt 2018: Day Three

Leif, Sandy, Kath, Nell and Jo (in foreground)
Image: A. Crisp
A slow start to the BSBI Plant Hunt on New Year's Day compared to Days One and Two - presumably people had been celebrating the night before and fancied a lie-in! 

But several organised events had been planned in Somerset, Bristol, London, Dublin, Cambridge... so by lunchtime the records were flooding in again!

In London, a crack team of botanists who had met up and hatched their plans at the BSBI Exhibition Meeting back in November went out hunting at Hackney Marshes. 

Sandy Knapp, Head of the Algae, Fungi and Plants Division at the Natural History Museum, and her NHM colleagues Kath Castillo, Orchid Observers Project Officer, and Alisa Crisp, Interpretations Officer, hooked up with Orchid Hunter Leif Bersweden, Nell Jones (Head Gardener at the Chelsea Physic Garden) and archaeologist Jo Wright, who was part of the New Year Plant Hunt support team on Saturday and Sunday.

They found 29 species in bloom, including Black Horehound and three "mystery mustards" which of course they decided had to be taken to the pub and examined over a glass or three of mulled wine (on left).


Rue-leaved Saxifrage blooming in Co. Cork
Image: F. Moore
They decided they had found Hoary Mustard, Hedge Mustard and Black Mustard: we'll soon find out if Dr Tim Rich, BSBI's expert for this group of difficult plants, agrees.

Tim, who co-founded the New Year Plant Hunt back in 2012 with Dr Sarah Whild, has very kindly been helping with ID of the Brassicaceae throughout the Plant Hunt and we are extremely grateful to him. 

Ian Denholm, Chair of BSBI's Board of Trustees, has been advising on all other plant identifications but as Ian says, when it comes to Brassicaceae, Tim is "The Guv'nor"!


Glengarriff recorders
Image courtesy of C. Heardman
But we are of course the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland and in our other capital, Dublin, there was an organised Hunt for each of the four days of the Hunt.

58 species were spotted in the Ringsend area on New Year's Day by Brian Seales and his team, including  Cowslip, Stinking Tutsan, Rock Samphire, Buck's-horn Plantain and a hybrid Speedwell so esoteric that it doesn't even have an English name! They also found garden escapes including Pot Marigold, Snapdragon, Wallflower.


Cowberry flowering and fruiting
North York Moors
Image: C. Myers
On the other side of Ireland, recorders were out at Glengarriff Nature Reserve, Co. Cork, where County Recorder Claire Heardman and her team found 53 species in bloom, including Devil's-bit Scabious, Wild Thyme, Bell Heather, Parsley-piert, English Stonecrop, Slender Rush and Bristle Club-Rush. 

Also spotted in bloom were two Lusitanian species, Strawberry Tree and Portuguese Heath.

Navelwort was blooming in both Swanage & Co. Cork, but hasn't been reported in flower anywhere else yet. One specimen of Iris unguicularis was spotted in bloom on The Wirral, while Cowberry was recorded in fruit and in flower on the North York Moors.

Alan and the Cambs. botanists
Image: R. Horton
Individual recorders, families and small groups of friends were also out in locations from  Sidmouth to North Yorkshire, from the Isle of Skye to Norfolk to the Gower peninsula

Some longer lists started to come in from southern parts and from the Cambridge area, where 88 species were found in bloom by a Cambs. Natural History Society group led by County Recorder Alan Leslie.

Helena Crouch and fellow members of the Somerset Rare Plants Group found 74 species blooming at Clevedon, and 115 species were found in bloom in Cornwall by Ian Bennallick and fellow Cornish botanists - click on the links here to see what was found on some of these long lists.


Ox-eye daisy by the sea, Sidmouth
Image: K. Woolley
But as always, we were just as happy to receive single records from parts of the country where recent foul weather had hit our wildflowers hard.

It was actually quite heart-breaking to see people sharing photos taken from their sitting room windows of torrential rain and snow outdoors and hearing "So sorry, but we may not manage a Plant Hunt today". 

We reassured our lovely botanists that it was perfectly fine to stay at home in the warm and follow the action on social media

There's always tomorrow, the fourth and final day of the 2018 New Year Plant Hunt.