Wednesday, 12 December 2018

BSBI Training Grants Helping Botanists in 2018: Fern

Botanists get the best views!
Image: F. Carroll-Smith
In September, we heard from botanists Julie and Sharon about the limestone flora course they were able to undertake thanks to a BSBI Training Grant. 

Today we hear from horticulturist Fern about her experience of Identiplant, the online plant ID course, which she was able to undertake thanks to - you guessed it - another BSBI Training Grant! 

Over to Fern to tell us more:

Not a member of the Buttercup
family Ranunculaceae
(can you see why?) but,
as the name suggests,
it bears some resemblance:
Baldellia ranunculoides
Image: F. Carroll-Smith
"I was sitting by the side of a footpath on the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall, waiting for my colleague to finish her work, when I finally spotted it: the last of the four Ranunculus species I needed to complete the set. In this case, the species I spotted was Ranunculus flammula (Lesser Spearwort). 

"Combined with Ranunculus acris (Meadow Buttercup) and Ranunculus repens (Creeping Buttercup) (both of which I found around my home), and Ranunculus bulbosus (Bulbous buttercup), (which I found on the golf course at Rock) I had enough species to write my mini-key. This was a great start to the day! 

"Unfortunately, we had managed to choose the only day in our whole glorious summer when the heavens opened. We got soaked to the skin. Still, sat dripping in the Kynance Cove tea room at the end of the day, I couldn’t stop smiling. Successful plant hunting will do that!

"I was looking for these Ranunculus species for Unit 5 of Identiplant. This course is supported by the FSC and BSBI and is aimed at ‘beginners in serious botany’. The course can be completed in one or two years and runs from February to August each year. There is an information sheet and question sheet for each unit, and you are supported by a tutor throughout the course. 

R. omiophyllus
Image: F. Carroll-Smith
"My tutor, Hilary Marshall, was incredibly helpful when answering my questions and very patient with me filling her inbox full of photographs of plants. The cost of the course is only £300 for the [up to] two years, and BSBI very generously provided a bursary to pay for a large part of my course fees.

"The Ranunculaceae family provided another highlight of the course for me. This time it was hunting for a Water-crowfoot (Ranuculus subgenus Batrachium). This year was tricky: we experienced snow in March which is very unusual in Cornwall, and after that the temperature ramped up and the rain all but ceased. This made it very difficult to find my target plant, the puddle-loving Ranunculus omiophyllus (Round-leaved Water-crowfoot). 

"My partner and I spent the morning searching some bogs and moorland close to our home, where we knew some standing water still lingered. 

Finally finding R. omiophyllus
Image: F. Carroll-Smith
"There was no sign of any Water-crowfoots and after a [short] disagreement I convinced him that the habitat just didn’t ‘feel right’ and that we would definitely find it if we drove the 20 miles to Bodmin Moor. When we got there the grass was parched and every divot usually full of water was dry. We walked miles around the granite outcrops of Stowes hill, finding only one stagnant pond full of cattle cooling off. 

"Then, as we walked along the stone sleepers of an old railway track, in the shadow of a disused quarry, we found it; the last puddle on Bodmin Moor, and inside, several plants of Ranunculus omiophyllus (Round-leaved Crowfoot), not in flower, but recognisable from the distinctive shape of their leaves.

Daucus carota (Wild Carrot): another plant
Fern can now ID with confidence!
Image: F. Carroll-Smith
"My background is in horticulture; I have a BSc in Horticulture and have run the seed bank at the Eden Project for the last four years. Before the course my plant knowledge was generally good, but with no formal training in surveying or using keys, I would often have to start at square one again and again, making the identification of almost any species a long and drawn out process. 

"Additionally, I was unsure of any identification I completed, and wouldn’t have been confident using my identifications to provide data for any kind of surveying or monitoring. 

"Now, thanks to Identiplant, I am confident with my identification skills, and am much faster in completing the identification process.

"Since starting the Identiplant course I have: attended a short course on using Poland & Clement’s Vegetative Key, joined BSBI, and signed up to take part in the National Plant Monitoring Scheme. Additionally, I have been able to use the Wildflower Key with work experience students and apprentices to teach them more about floral morphology, the British flora, and to encourage them to look closer at plants they see in nature. 

Keying out Silene flos-cuculi
Image: F. Carroll-Smith
"I’ve heard ‘There’s more than one kind of buttercup?’ exclaimed more than once, and I love the spark of realisation in people’s eyes when I show them the differences between each species, and the request for book recommendations afterwards. 

"I wouldn’t be able to do these things without having completed Identiplant, so let me say thank you to BSBI for supporting the course and providing the funding for me to undertake it".

Thank you to Fern for sharing her story! If Fern's account has whetted your appetite and you are now thinking of signing up for Identiplant, you'd better hurry: bookings opened on 1st December and spaces fill up really quickly so if you are interested, head over to the BSBI Training page now to find out more. The Training page also has details of a range of short botany courses and info on all the botanical grants we know about. 

The next round of BSBI Training Grants, Plant Study Grants and Science & Research Grants doesn't open until 1st January and all these grants get snapped up really quickly, but you can apply now for four different kinds of grants from the Wild Flower Society (some for training, some for research) and from the Botanical Research Fund (for research only). Liks to all of these ca be found on the Training page. Good luck!

Friday, 7 December 2018

Ornamental plants: our future invaders?

Tomos next to his poster at the
2018 BSBI Exhibition Meeting
Image courtesy of T. Jones
Earlier this year, botanist Tomos Jones appeared on these pages and in BSBI News, reaching out to BSBI County Recorders on the subject of 'Garden plants: a threat to the environment due to climate change?'.

Tomos was at last month's BSBI Exhibition Meeting; he's now in the next phase of his research and wants to reach out to gardeners across Britain and Ireland. Over to Tomos to tell us more:

"It was great to meet many of you at the recent BSBI Exhibition Meeting, where I had a poster on my PhD research. I’m based at the University of Reading and my research aims to identify which ornamental (garden) plants have the potential to naturalise or become invasive in the future.

"Are you a gardener? If so, you can now help me identify problematic ornamental plants by completing this (very) short survey. See the September issue of BSBI News (p.51) on past research conducted by Katharina Dehnen-Schmutz and Judith Conroy. The plants resulting from the survey will be investigated further with a species distribution model. This can project probabilities of occurrence or identify climatic suitability for the future, allowing me to measure their naturalisation and/or invasive potential.

The beautiful Edge Hill campus: location
of the 2018 BSBI Exhibition Meeting
Image: T. Jones
"This research is a CASE PhD jointly supervised at the University of Reading and the Royal Horticultural Society under the NERC SCENARIO Doctoral Training Programme. It’s part of a broader interest that Reading and the RHS share on the potential impact of climate change on gardens and grew out of work done for the report ‘Gardening in a Changing Climate’ published in 2017.

"Earlier in the year, I had a survey for the County Recorders. Thanks to all of you who participated in this: some of the results were shown at the Exhibition Meeting. I’m now focusing on gardens, as a source of future invaders, because gardeners can be the first to observe plants showing ‘invasive characteristics’.

"The aim of this approach in combining citizen science with species distribution modelling, is to identify invasive potential early in the naturalisation-invasion process. This is widely regarded to be both ecologically and economically preferable to having to manage plants which have already become invasive in the wider environment.

"The survey is open to all gardeners in Britain and Ireland until the end of the year.
Twitter: @TomosJones92

Many thanks to Tomos for telling us more about his research - I hope that lots of you will take a few minutes to take part in Tomos' survey and help him identify any ornamental plants that may become problematic in the future.

Saturday, 1 December 2018

New Year Plant Hunt 2019: invitation to take part

Three-cornered leek flowering in Ireland
New Year Plant Hunt 2018
Image: Paul Green 
For the eighth consecutive year, you are cordially invited to take part in BSBI's New Year Plant Hunt

We encourage plant lovers across Britain and Ireland to go out and record any wild flowers you can find in bloom over the New Year holiday.

Here's a reminder of how to take part using our online recording form:

1. Pick one day between Saturday 29th December 2018 and Tuesday 1st January 2019, when the weather is decent enough to record in.

2. Record wild and naturalised plants (but not planted or garden species) in flower. Please check plants are actually flowering – that catkins are open, that grasses have open florets, stigmas or anthers on show etc. 

Gorse blooming by the sea in Devon
New Year Plant Hunt 2018
Image: Sue Young
3. Record for up to 3 hours (you can “stop the clock” for tea-breaks, lunch and comfort stops!). You can contribute as many different lists as you like from different areas as long as you don’t exceed the 3 hour limit for each new list.

4. Send us details of what you saw, with photos if possible please: tell us which species you recorded (we can help with identification if you are stuck!), what your name is, and where and when you saw the plants in flower. 

You can either record while out in the field using your smartphone or wait until you get home and access the online recording form on your computer. 

Ivy-leaved toadflax blooming in Derbyshire
New Year Plant Hunt 2018
Image: Alan Roe

You'll be able to follow everyone's results in real time as they come in on our interactive map here, via daily reports on this News & Views blog and you can also follow the action on social media.

There's a team of people on hand to support you throughout and you can contact us at

Find out more - and see results from previous years - on the New Year Plant Hunt webpage here.

Happy hunting!

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Aspen: in poetry, in folklore and in Byron's Gin

Aspen catkin
Image courtesy of John Crellin/ Floral Images
You might not immediately think of a tree whose timber is the number one choice for the manufacture of packing cases also being an ingredient in a rather exclusive artisan gin! But there's more to aspen (Populus tremula) than meets the eye - or the ear... 

Flora Celtica tells us that the timber has been used for making milk pails, herring barrels and all manner of furniture - and especially packing cases - and also that a yellow dye could be made from the leaves.

Less prosaically, the distinctive sight and sound of aspen leaves ruffled by the wind has inspired poets through the ages. William Faulkner's 'A Poplar' rather disturbingly likens the tree with its trembling leaves to a young girl "whose clothing has been forcibly taken away from her". But the most famous aspen poem is probably Gerard Manley Hopkins' 'Binsey Poplars', arguably one of the first poems with a modern nature conservation theme. The poet mourns the felling of his "aspens dear" and the "strokes of havoc" which caused the destruction of a "sweet especial rural scene". 

Aspen leaves
Image courtesy of John Crellin/ Floral Images
A more humorous, if less politically correct, association comes from the folklore of Roxburghshire, where Flora Celtica tells us that aspen was known as "old wives' tongues" because the leaves were constantly moving! 

Apparently the people of South Uist believed that the aspen was a cursed tree because Christ was crucified on a cross made from its wood, and that it trembled its leaves out of everlasting shame, although in other parts of Europe elder is believed to have played that role. Flora Celtica also notes that, for the same reason, an old aspen growing near the head of Loch Shiel "was visited every Good Friday for a thorough dressing down by the local people". It's hard not to feel sorry for that poor tree!

Aspen is reasonably easy to identify by its trembling leaves but the other poplars (Populus spp.) are much more difficult. There's a BSBI Handbook just for Willows and Poplars - wherever there's a BSBI Handbook for a group of plants, you know it's because they are tricky to ID! 

But there's no difficulty in identifying the delicious Melancholy Thistle expression of Byron's Gin: just look for a picture of the poet on the label. 

And don't forget, for every bottle of Byron's Gin sold, a donation will be made towards BSBI's Training 
programme so we can keep supporting the next generation of botanists. Slainte!  

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

QGIS and biological recorders

Jerry Clough talks about QGIS at the
BSBI Recorders' Conference 2018
Image: D. Alston
One of the most popular talks at the recent BSBI Recorders' Conference was Jerry Clough's talk 'Introducing QGIS for botanical recorders'. It was so popular that Jerry had to concede to requests for an impromptu and informal drop-in session straight afterwards. We managed to squeeze Jerry and several botanists in to the bar area as we already had workshops running in all the classrooms!

With so much interest in QGIS, it seemed very fortuitous when FSC's Rich Burkmar - Mr. QGIS himself! - contacted me to ask if BSBI botanists would like to collaborate with FSC in promoting a consultation they are running on the FSC Plugin for QGIS. I accepted on your behalf, so over to Rich to tell us more: 

"At the last NFBR conference at Preston Montford, Shropshire - a conference aimed squarely at biological recorders - I was surprised how many attendees, particularly those of younger generations, considered GIS to be central to their biological recording skillset. 

Jerry's QGIS workshop: participants included
(from left): Jon Shanklin (BSBI Field Meetings
Secretary), Dave Barlow (joint BSBI County
Recorder, NE Yorks.) & Chris Metherell
 (BSBI President)
Image: D. Alston 
"I'm really the last person that should be surprised by this - I can't imagine pursuing my own interest in biological recording without tools to spatially represent and analyse biological records - but many biological recorders of my generation pursue fulfilling interests in biological recording without going near GIS - that's something they leave for other people.

"This generational shift must be influenced by a number of things, for example it is likely that a higher proportion of younger biological recorders want to pursue related careers where GIS skills are highly sought-after. Another influence must be the increasing exposure of younger generations to all sorts of digital technology, including GIS, from an early age and the increasing accessibility of high-quality GIS tools. 

Screenshot of QGIS showing
the FSC plugin on the right
"Over recent years, QGIS has been a real game-changer in respect of making high-quality GIS more accessible. QGIS started life over 15 years ago and has since become the world's leading open-source desktop GIS. It started life as 'Quantum GIS' but the 'Quantum' part has officially been dropped in favour of a simple enigmatic 'Q'! Like scientific names of plants, it doesn't really matter how you pronounce QGIS, as long as you say it with confidence! (Personally I favour 'kew-jiss'.)

The FSC QGIS plugin
"Not only is QGIS freely available, but it supports a wide range of operating systems including Windows, Mac OS X, Linux and Unix. There is even an Android version under development. This means that choice of hardware and operating system is unlikely to restrict access to QGIS.  One of the best features of QGIS is its extensibility: it is possible for any programmer with the requisite skills to contribute a QGIS 'plugin' that extends the functionality of QGIS to carry out particular tasks more efficiently. That's exactly what we did when we created the 'FSC QGIS plugin' (also known as the 'TomBio plugin') for biological recorders as part of the FSC's Tomorrow's Biodiversity project.

The FSC team picking up the CIEEM
 'Best Practice Award for Knowledge Sharing'
in 2017 from Baroness Young
"The plugin plugs the gaps (pun intended) in QGIS when it comes to dealing with biological records - particularly those geocoded with Ordnance Survey grid references - as well as providing a number of other utilities for UK biological recorders, e.g. easy access to NBN Atlas data from within QGIS. The plugin has proved popular with over 31,000 downloads since its release in November 2014. The last release for version 2 of QGIS (version 2.8.0 of the plugin) has had over 5,800 downloads and our recent new release for version 3 of QGIS (version 3.0.0 of the plugin) has been downloaded over 1,600 times. The plugin was the winner of the 2017 CIEEM 'Best Practice Award for Knowledge Sharing'.

What other QGIS gaps could the FSC QGIS plugin fill?
"When the FSC Tomorrow's Biodiversity project came to an end, we were thrilled to be able to roll our support for the plugin forward into the new FSC BioLinks project. This means that FSC plans to support the maintenance and development of the plugin until, at least, the end of 2022. The release of version 3.0.0 of the plugin was an early result of its adoption by the FSC BioLinks project, requiring major reworking to accommodate the new architecture of QGIS 3. The FSC QGIS Plugin was amongst the first to be 'ported' to QGIS version 3. But support from BioLinks will mean much more than simple maintenance of the current toolset.

Jerry in full flow!
Image: O. Pescott
"We want to hear your ideas about what functionality you would like us to add to the plugin. For example one idea is to provide a direct link to MapMate so that records can be mapped directly from a local MapMate database without having to extract them first. Another is to be able to quickly generated distribution maps divided into date classes.  But what would you like to see? We're interested in hearing your ideas - however simple or outlandish! We've created a short online consultation where you can give us feedback on which of the current tools in the plugin you find most useful; what works and what doesn't and what new features, if any, you'd like to see.

"To have your say, please participate in the short online consultation hereThe consultation will be open until we carry out our next round of development on the plugin (likely in second quarter 2019). The more responses we get, the more likely it is that the next phase of development of the plugin will meet the needs of our biological recording community, so please pass the link on to anyone that you believe might be interested in expressing their ideas and opinions. Here's to the next five years of the FSC QGIS plugin!"

Many thanks to Rich for sharing the above. Please use this link if you'd like to take part in the consultation. And do check out all the other great resources from FSC.

Monday, 12 November 2018

BSBI welcomes a new Welsh Officer!

BSBI is delighted to welcome our new Welsh Officer, Barbara Brown. You can find her contact details on the BSBI Wales page and we asked her to tell us a little bit about herself. Over to Barbara:

"I am stepping into the role of Welsh Officer for the BSBI though it is hard to follow the great work done by my predecessors Paul Green and Polly Spencer-Vellacott. I have lived in Wales, on and off, for over a decade now, having first been sent here as an Information Officer to RSPB South Stack in 1998. This was followed by a stint at RSPB Ynys hir and a role first as Tutor and then Senior Tutor for FSC Rhyd y creuau at Betws y Coed. I was pleased to have the chance to come back to Wales as OPAL Community Scientist for South Wales where I helped a wide range of audiences learn more about the natural environment and take part in citizen science surveys on everything from earthworms and lichens to tree diseases.

"Most recently I have been working for the Radnorshire Wildlife Trust at Gilfach Nature Reserve where I worked with and trained up volunteer plant surveyors, obtained NRW consent for the collection of Vicia orobus (Wood Bitter Vetch) and Trollius europeaus (Globeflower) seeds as well as developing a range of species distribution maps using a QGIS map of the reserve which I created. I also tried my hand at short film making, and may do so again if a field trip is both sunny and picturesque!

"In my spare time I have been taking part in Plantlife’s Cennad apprentice scheme which has helped me to learn a lot more about lichen and biological recording. As well as enjoying both planning and leading walks for various hillwalking groups across Wales’ great countryside, I usually spend holidays in the Pyrenees where observations of locally common species have helped me to recognise and record more unusual species in Wales. Living in Rhayader, I hope to be in relatively easy reach of most of the County Recorders and will be in touch with you shortly to listen to your plans for next year, talk about data flows and exchange ideas about identification courses".

I'm sure you'll all want to join me in extending a very warm welcome to Barbara, and if you're coming to the BSBI Annual Exhibition Meeting on Saturday, you will be able to meet her in person. 

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Botanical anachronism #1

Last weekend Jonathan Shanklin, BSBI's Field Meetings Secretary and joint County Recorder for Cambridgeshire, was in Edinburgh for the Scottish Botanists' Conference. Relaxing in his hotel room afterwards, Jonathan decided to watch a little television and opted for ITV's Grantchester, set in 1950s Cambridgeshire. 

Jonathan was only eight minutes into the programme when he spotted a botanical anachronism - and again twelve minutes in - and again fifteen minutes in - and a minute before the end of the programme! Characters were shown by the River Cam at Grantchester and there in the river behind them were rafts of Floating Pennywort. 

BSBI distribution maps, which show where plants are recorded over time across Britain and Ireland, will explain why Jonathan immediately called this a botanical anachronism. The first map shows distribution of Floating Pennywort up to 1969 and the second shows the same plant's distribution now. That's right - there was no Floating Pennywort in the Cam in the 1950s! This invasive plant was not recorded in the county until 2003. Jonathan's photo (above right) was taken at almost the same place that the TV programme was filmed - click on it to enlarge and see those rafts of Floating Pennywort.

Have you spotted any botanical anachronisms on TV or in films? If so, please let us know. This could be the start of an occasional series of wildflower howlers!