Wednesday, 22 May 2019

National Plant Monitoring Scheme: interview with Volunteer Manager Dr Rachel Murphy

Rachel applies a hand lens to help ID that plant
Wildflowers are bursting into bloom, the sun is shining and for hundreds of plant-lovers across the UK this is the time to start planning survey days for the National Plant Monitoring Scheme (NPMS). BSBI is proud to be a partner in this habitat-based plant monitoring scheme which aims to collect data to help us understand more about how our wild flower populations are changing year on year.

The NPMS recently appointed a new Volunteer Manager, Dr Rachel Murphy. I caught up with her to get her take on this important citizen science scheme.

LM: So Rachel, you were appointed last October and started in post in January. I bet your feet have hardly touched the ground since then! Before you tell us about the scheme and how you support the volunteer surveyors, can you tell us about yourself – what were you doing before you came to the NPMS?

Rachel in her previous role, with MARINElife
RM: Yes, it has been a real whirlwind over the last few months but I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the ins and outs of the scheme and of course the friendly and dedicated volunteers that make it possible.

Before starting with NPMS I spent five years as the Conservation Science Manager for MARINElife, a Dorset based marine conservation charity with a national and European reach. I coordinated and reported on a number of volunteer research programmes, including nationwide monthly ferry surveys, regional small boat programmes and public and partner driven photo-ID studies. All carried out with the support of hundreds of trained and enthusiastic volunteers, providing monitoring evidence and advocating the value of volunteer data for conservation and management. The main difference of course, we were monitoring cetaceans and seabirds, which have a habit of diving under the water or flying away when you’re trying to ID or count them!

Rachel keeping a firm grip on a seabird!
Flowers are much more obliging -
they stay still while you count them!
Prior to this I studied for my PhD in Population and Community Ecology at Leeds University, namely studying the behavioural ecology of seabirds. So I’m now very much enjoying bringing my experience in citizen science and volunteer management to this role, and getting stuck in to this exciting and important scheme. 

LM: Ah, so lots of opportunities to build up all those transferable skills you need in order to support the hundreds of NPMS volunteers! What would you say was the main thing that attracted you to your new role?

RM: I’m a huge advocate of the value of citizen science and volunteer data for monitoring, conservation and management. Together with the right methodologies, guidance and training, citizen scientists can make an excellent contribution to both society and scientific understanding, along with the importance of this work in public engagement and community pride in local natural history. I was incredibly impressed with not only the development of the scheme, with the partners and volunteers working together to create an accessible and inclusive scheme, which is very robust and maintains scientific rigour, but also the engagement and reach of the scheme which is still relatively young. There is clearly an appetite for volunteers wanting to share their experiences in a meaningful way and contribute to our knowledge and understand of national species trends and status.

One of many NPMS training sessions held
each year around the UK
Image: D. Price
LM: Can you remind readers what they need to do if they want to get involved in surveying for the NPMS, and how you support the volunteers at each of those stages?

RM: Its really easy for folk to get involved and hopefully start surveying with the NPMS. By going to the website you can find out about the scheme, take a look at the various resources and guidance on offer and then check the “Squares near you” map to see where there are currently scheme survey squares available for volunteers to adopt. There are currently almost 3,000 squares (1,300 still available) nationwide, so there is every likelihood there is a square awaiting allocation in your area. Registering to become an NPMS volunteer takes just five minutes and once signed up you can request an available square of your choice from the map. Allocated volunteers are then sent our survey and guidance pack by post. 

The NPMS survey and guidance pack
This contains a really helpful colour species identification guide book, survey guidance notes, a species list of those species we record within the scheme and recording forms so you can get started. Once you register there’s a whole host of great (free) training sessions you can sign up for nationwide, from an introduction to the scheme and methodologies, plot and survey set up to species and habitat specific field ID courses. There's also a network of mentors on hand to lend support along with of course myself, and the raft of resources and guidance available to volunteers on the website. At every stage, there’s support on offer to help you contribute, you don't need to be an expert to get involved – in fact beginners are very welcome!

LM: How about the role of social media? What support is available there for NPMS volunteers?

RM: The NPMS has a busy page on Facebook acting as a useful noticeboard showing the scheme’s activities and news,and at the end of last year we set up the NPMS support group on Facebook. It is a closed group of registered NPMS volunteers and mentors -  a friendly platform and point of contact between volunteers and a great space for sharing your experiences and advice. Membership of this group has tripled just since the launch of the spring season! There are plans afoot to set up an Instagram account for the NPMS and there’s also an active and friendly community of volunteers, mentors and partners on Twitter which you’ve been leading on, Louise – go on, tell the readers about that!

NPMS training session at Ranscombe Farm
Image E. Bramley
LM: It’s true, as part of BSBI’s partnership on the NPMS I’ve been helping out with the NPMS Twitter account. You can follow us @theNPMS and check out hashtags #NPMS or #NPMSvolunteers - you don’t need a Twitter account to see what people are talking about, you only need an account if you want to join the conversation. But let's get back to you Rachel: can you tell us how many people have signed up for the scheme this year, and how many NPMS surveyors are there in total across the UK?

RM: The scheme has a tremendous 1,344 volunteers currently allocated a square across the UK, each surveying between 1-5 squares. Over 1,500 1km2 survey squares are currently allocated to volunteers. It’s a huge effort! Just in the last year (since April 2018), over 1,300 volunteers have registered with the scheme and around 450 volunteers have been allocated a square in that time. Over 200 of these allocations have happened just since the start of January this year, really showing the building momentum and engagement in this scheme.

NPMS training session, Pewsey
LM: Are there any parts of the UK where you’d really like to see more people getting involved?  

RM: We would love to see greater uptake of volunteers and square coverage in Scotland, namely the West coast, South west Scotland and also the highlands. Unsurprisingly these areas shown as “blue” on the map comprise some remote and tricky terrain, so we have been building relationships with the likes of the Cairngorms National Park and the South West Scotland Environment Information Centre (SWSEIC), among others to help us to promote the scheme and train in these areas. Other regions include North East England, i.e. the North York Moors and Northumberland, Central Wales, Lincolnshire and Norfolk. We’re building great relationships on many of these areas with stakeholders and landowners such as the National Trust, the MoD and a number of the National Parks. So we’re all ready for new volunteer surveyors when they register!

Rachel uses the NPMS species ID guide and
Rose & O'Reilly's Wildflower Key
to identify the plants in her plot 
But we don’t just think about regions when it comes to increasing coverage. There are certain habitat types we would like to see better represented within the scheme, such as coastal habitats, bogs and fens and montane habitats.

LM: There are three different “levels” at which people can take part in the scheme, from ‘Wildflower’ level, where you are just looking for 25-30 species (all fairly easy to ID) and which is ideal for the less experienced botanist (taking part in the NPMS is actually a great way to build up your ID skills!) right up to ‘Inventory’ level – that’s where you record all the plants you can spot - which is maybe more suited to experienced botanists. Is there any other way that more experienced botanists can contribute to the scheme?

Marking out a 10m x 10m woodland plot
Image: H. New
RM: That’s right, the level system means that the scheme is inclusive and there are plenty of opportunities to learn and develop your skills. There are certainly other ways more experienced surveyors can help with the scheme also. Within the NPMS we have regional volunteer mentors offering advice to other, less experienced volunteers on anything from survey set up to species ID. This can be in the form of contributions to discussions on our Facebook group or by becoming a regional point of contact someone that volunteers in their area can contact with queries about their survey. While there is a raft of guidance and resources on the NPMS website, we appreciate that often it’s easier to just to talk to someone thorough your query. And while I’m more than happy to take queries via phone and email, I understand that sometimes a local perspective can be most helpful or a more experienced botanist is required for a particularly puzzling specimen! 

Marking out a 25m x 1m linear streamside plot
The mentor programme is something we are planning on developing this year, by filling regional gaps and offering more support to mentors and regional volunteer groups to really help build that volunteer community feel. We certainly don’t want volunteers to feel that they are carrying out their surveys in isolation, but are very much part of a bigger group working together. 

NPMS mentors will be really important in this aim, however much (or little!) time they may be able to contribute.

LM: What about when it comes to entering our data? Even if surveyors manage to find and identify the wildflowers in their square, uploading data can be a bit tricky for those of us who are not very tech-savvy! Is there help available for anyone who gets stuck? Fore-warned is fore-armed!

RM: I certainly wouldn’t be put off by online data entry. Once you’ve done it once you’ll know for future submissions. Plus, we have lots of help and support on this front -  our volunteers have made the effort to go out and record on their plots so we want to make sure they can submit that all important data so that it can be used! The resources page on our website has guidance as to how to set up plots on your online profile as well as how to submit data, including Youtube videos that walk you through the process. I think often watching it being done makes a real difference. Once at the point of data entry, the online forms themselves try to replicate the recording forms used in the field as much as possible, so that it’s just a case of transferring the information over. 

We also now have an NPMS mobile App available for download for both Apple and Android phones for those volunteers wishing to use one. This means that once your account and plots are set up on your desktop, you can record your survey data there and then in field. If you still have any trouble at all, we are here to offer help and support by email or phone. No question is too small!

LM: And what exactly happens to the NPMS data once it has been submitted?

Representatives of the NPMS partner organisations
back in 2013, testing the methodology.
Spot Oli Pescott (CEH), Pete Stroh & Bob
Ellis (BSBI) and Felicity Harris (Plantlife)
Image M. Pocock 
RM: Once data is submitted it goes through a clever automated verification process within the database and records are also shown on iRecord for regional verifiers. A volunteer can access their own submitted data via the website at any time. Each year the NPMS data will be made available via the NBN Gateway and published each year as a dataset via the NERC Environmental Information Data Centre. You can find out more about the dissemination of NPMS data by visiting our Data Access policy. NPMS data undergoes robust and reviewed analyses to assess trends in the abundance and diversity of plant species within communities in the United Kingdom, with the aim of providing an annual indication of change. This data helps to detect pressures on different habitats, which may include land use/management, nitrogen pollution, invasives and climate change.

LM: I know that later this year you’re planning to interview Kevin Walker, BSBI’s Head of Science, about the data and research aspects of the scheme, so we’ll find out more then. Meanwhile, how about any scientific papers already published?

RM: There are already a number of scientific papers and reports published about the scheme, including some in high impact journals. This includes our recent publication in PLoS ONE “The design, launch and assessment of a new volunteer-based plant monitoring scheme for the United Kingdom” which highlights the great collaborative effort in the scheme by the scheme partners, BSBI, Plantlife, CEH, JNCC and now Daera-NI, along with the volunteer surveyors. Like any long term monitoring project investigating trends, it requires a number of years of data, making this fifth year of the scheme a pivotal moment and surveys from the first four years are already providing much-needed data on the abundance of indicator species on a regional scale. You can find all our publications and reports to date on the Conservation & Research page of the NPMS website.

LM: Well it sounds like all bases are covered and there’s help on hand for NPMS surveyors at every stage. So, two questions to finish: firstly, if anyone is still wondering why it’s important to get involved in the NPMS, what would you say to them?

Marking out a 5m x 5m grassland plot
RM: Currently we still don’t have a good measure of changes in plant populations nationwide, yet as we know, plants are the foundation of our habitats and ecosystems. By taking this large and systematic approach with the help of volunteers across the country we can build a much better understanding about how our wild plants are changing and responding to different pressures. This is a key fact-finding exercise to help inform policy makers and conservation management decisions to help care for and protect our habitats and ecosystems. And of course beyond that, it is a way for our volunteers to “do their bit” and contribute valuable data while also becoming engaged with their local environments and of course develop their own plant ID skills and understanding of the wildflowers in their local area.

NPMS training session - learn how to
 set up your survey plots and meet
some of your fellow plant monitors
LM: And finally – do you have any goals you’ve set yourself for the year ahead? Would you like to see the scheme reach a certain number of volunteers registered, or squares allocated? When we get to the end of the season, what would make you sit back and think yes, job well done? Be honest now!

RM: I do have certain goals and aims regarding the number of squares allocated and volunteers registered of course, we want to see greater coverage. But truly, I strongly believe that the importance of supporting volunteers with adequate training, guidance, development opportunities and feedback is incredibly high, in keeping volunteers engaged, excited by our work and ensuring they are seeing results and outputs from the hard work and time they have invested. So for me, I’d like to see high levels of volunteer retention, repeat surveys and data submission for those allocated squares – all of which we are more able to quantify now as we hit our fifth year.

Rachel Murphy: all set to support NPMS surveyors
(she's really helpful and friendly!)
I’d also love to see the relationships we are already starting to develop with stakeholders continue to grow and for the NPMS to become part of other organisations’ monitoring programmes. 

LM: Rachel, thank you so much for talking to us about the NPMS, what it means to you and why we should all get involved. And for any readers who haven’t yet registered for the scheme, head over here now and join the NPMS community! 

Watch this space for more interviews with the people behind the NPMS: but coming up next, we follow a first-time NPMS volunteer as she gets to grips with setting up her plots and carrying out her very first NPMS survey.

Photographs on this page courtesy of Rachel Murphy/ NPMS unless otherwise stated.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

British & Irish Botany: issue 2 published

Taraxacum chlorofrugale in Cardiganshire
- this new species is described in
British & Irish Botany 1.2
Image: R. Pryce
The second issue of British & Irish Botany, BSBI's new open access, on-line scientific journal, has just been published. 

This latest issue is 114 pages long and features six papers by some well-known botanists, including dandelion expert John Richards; BSBI's Officer for England Pete Stroh; County Recorders from north Somerset (Helena Crouch) and Banffshire (Andy Amphlett); and Fred Rumsey from the Natural History Museum, alongside some less well-known names.

Editor-in-Chief Dr Ian Denholm said:

 "This issue includes six papers by professional and amateur botanists covering the ecology, systematics and conservation of the British and Irish flora. 

"The papers encompass diverse plant groups including grasses, sedges, rushes, orchids and composites (dandelions and mayweeds). 

Bolboschoenus laticarpus in Shropshire:
a paper in British & Irish Botany 1.2
asks if this plant is an overlooked native
 or a spreading neophyte
Image: H Crouch
"We extend huge thanks to our authors and welcome feedback on this novel approach to online scientific publishing that is free to contributors and free to anyone who wishes to read the papers online or download them to read at their leisure".

Check out the latest issue here and you can also view issue one here. If you like what you see, why not register as a reader to receive an alert every time a new issue is published? 

If you'd like to submit a manuscript for consideration, just register as an author as well as a reader, take a look at the house style guidelines and send us your submission. 

Or email us at to discuss your proposal. We'll look forward to hearing from you. 

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Wild thyme: controlling nightmares, flavouring honey and in Byron's Gin

Wild thyme
Image courtesy of John Crellin/ Floral Images
Wild thyme has historically been used as a culinary and medicinal herb. In the Outer Hebrides in the C19th, a decoction was commonly taken for dyspepsia. Flora Celtica tells us that wild thyme tea was widely used in the Highlands and on Shetland; it was "prized as a stimulant and for its alleged ability to control nightmares". It gives a distinctive flavour to Colonsay honey, where bees forage on the wildflowers of the machair, and it has even been used in herbal tobacco substitutes.

Clive Stace's New Flora of the British Isles 4th ed. lists five thymes recorded in the wild in Britain & Ireland. There's garden thyme Thymus vulgaris, with leaf margins curled backwards; lemon thyme T.x. carolipaui, with a distinct lemon scent; large thyme T. pulegioides which has a scattered distribution and can be identified by having hairs on all four angles of the lower stems; and T. serpyllum Breckland thyme, found in c22 sites in Suffolk and Norfolk. The species used in Byron's Gin is the more common wild thyme Thymus drucei, which can be identified by checking the lower part of the stems: it has hairs on two of the four faces, but the other two are hairless.

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Send us your pearlworts!

Sea pearlwort growing inland -
between brick paving
Image: M. Wilcox
In March we told you that Mike Wilcox wanted your ivy-leaved speedwells! He still does and it's not too late to send him specimens - many thanks to those who have already done so.

But now Mike wants your pearlworts. He told me "Sea pearlwort Sagina maritima  may be more frequent inland as a halophyte (a salt-tolerant plant). Road verges and or waste ground near roads etc. should be searched. Any plants rooting at the nodes will be the much more common procumbent pearlwort S. procumbens. However, in small rosette-like plants where they are not rooting at the nodes they could be either (some may be more upright). 

"As part of a study looking into useful characters for these two in difficult situations, please collect fresh voucher specimens and send to the address below – photos of the plant and close-ups of fruiting heads would be useful: 
Michael Wilcox: 43 Roundwood Glen, Greengates, Bradford, BD10 0HW. 
For S. maritima, any specimens from the usual (coastal) habitats would also be welcome".

Sea pearlwort has recently been found on two road-verges in Leicestershire - about as far from the coast as you can get! - so it could turn up anywhere: keep your eyes peeled and send those specimens to Mike.

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

BSBI News: April issue is published

This blogpost should have gone out hours ago but I made the mistake of opening up my advance copy of the latest issue of BSBI News - just so I could find out what was in there and report to all of you - and suddenly it's nearly midnight! 

There is just so much to read in the latest issue - 84 pages to delight botanists at all skill levels. Congratulations to editor Andrew Branson for doing such an amazing job.

The issue opens with an article by Simon Leach summarising recent amendments to the Red Data List for British plants -  which species have been added to the main list (this includes species new to Britain), which have been re-classified (Goldilocks Aster amended from Least Concern to Vulnerable, Diaphonous Bladder-fern makes the same journey in the opposite direction) and one very familiar species has been dropped from the Red List altogether...

Better not give away too many spoilers here! But it's probably a good time to remind readers that this latest issue of BSBI News is only available to BSBI members. It is one of the main perks of membership so if you haven't joined BSBI yet, head over here to read about some of the other benefits of membership and then here to subscribe. 

Your copy of BSBI News will be posted to you - along with a bumper welcome pack of delights - as soon as we've processed your subscription.

New Year Plant Hunters in Leicester
Image: L. Marsh
But BSBI News isn't just about Red Lists and new species, although Matt Berry's list of 'trending species' and new county records does make fascinating reading, as does the article by Andy Jones & Fred Rumsey about an over-looked species of Myosotis (forget-me-nots) which "seemed not to occur in Britain or Ireland" or Alexis Fitzgerald's note about the wool alien Toothed Fireweed making itself at home in Co. Dublin. 

This latest issue of BSBI News also has much to offer the beginner botanist or anyone with a more general interest in British and Irish wild flowers: there's an article on how to photograph wild flowers successfully; there's a note on how to "speak fern" which de-mystifies some of the jargon surrounding this lovely group of plants; and there's a summary of New Year Plant Hunt finds and how they correlate with changing weather patterns. 

Gagea bohemica
Find out more about this lovely plant in
the report from the BSBI Wales Officer
Image: B. Brown  
There are also round-ups from all four Country Officers, this issue's 'Introducing my vice-county' feature focuses on Montgomeryshire, and I haven't even mentioned the five short articles, the book reviews, the notes, such as the one about this year's BSBI Photographic Competition, the personal view on eradicating Himalayan Balsam, based on experiences in Angus... 

Oh did I tell you about all the flyers tucked inside the magazine, such as the pre-publication offer on the new Flora of Bute, exclusive to BSBI members? 

Or the mouth-watering colour photos of plants you just don't see every day...  

I could tell you more but if I'm honest I'd really like to get back to reading my copy of BSBI News now, so you'll just have to wait until your own copy arrives! 

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Herbarium Day for Somerset botanists

Jeanne Webb demonstrates pressing of specimens.
Image: G. Lavender
As regular readers will know, we are always keen on this blog - and across BSBI more generally - to big up anything to do with herbaria. Indeed our President Chris Metherell has made promoting herbaria rather a theme of his presidency! Check out the BSBI herbarium page set up by Chris.

So it was a pleasure to receive the below account by West Country botanists Graham Lavender and Simon Leach about the first meeting of the 2019 summer programme for the Somerset Rare Plants Group (SRPG). They showed exceptionally good taste by visiting their local herbarium!

Over to Graham and Simon:

"SRPG's summer programme started on 1st April with a meeting at the Somerset County Herbarium (TTN). This herbarium is based on material brought together originally by the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society and stored in the museum at Taunton Castle. It is now housed at the Somerset Heritage Centre, Taunton, and under the day-to-day care of the South West Heritage Trust.

Herbarium pressed specimen of
Taraxicum oxoniense
Image: G. Lavender
"The herbarium has five SRPG members who volunteer once a week to curate the collection; in recent months they have been busy re-organising the specimens to bring them into line with modern taxonomy and nomenclature, and with families, genera and species now ordered according to the 3rd edition of Clive Stace’s New Flora of the British Isles (2010). They have also been repairing old sheets, putting sheets in new folders, and mounting and adding large numbers of specimens that have been donated by botanists currently working in the county. Four members of the herbarium team were on hand to give guided tours of the collection.

There has been much work done recently on Somerset’s dandelion (Taraxacum) flora, and the herbarium now houses more than 350 sheets of dandelions, accounting for about 140 of the 150-odd species so far recorded in the county. This collection is of increasing regional and national importance, and includes some fine specimens of a number of taxa rarely collected in Britain such as Taraxacum subericinum, T. pachylobum and T. pietii-oosterveldii.

"The focus of this first ‘herbarium day’ was indeed Taraxacum, and after an introduction by Simon Leach (joint County Recorder for South Somerset VC5), there was a talk on dandelion taxonomy and identification by Graham Lavender – concentrating on the various ‘sections’ into which dandelions are grouped to aid identification". [Ed.: check out the crib notes on the various Taraxacum sections in the Plant Crib to find out which characters you need to look for when putting dandelions into sections.]

Liz McDonnell showing
Taunton Herbarium specimens
Image: G. Lavender

"Members then had an opportunity to peruse the herbarium collection of dandelions. After lunch, a visit to the grounds of the Somerset Heritage Centre (and nearby waste ground) provided plenty of fresh material for us to work on. We learnt about how to spot a ‘good specimen’, how to collect it, and (back indoors) Jeanne Webb explained how to prepare specimens for pressing and drying". [Ed.: there's a really useful guide, by the legendary Arthur Chater, to pressing and drying herbarium specimens - download your free copy from the Herbarium webpage!]

"We took several plants through the relevant keys, including not only the ‘sectional’ key at the front of the BSBI Handbook on Taraxacum, but also the detailed ‘Plant Crib 3’ keys available on the BSBI website. We were introduced to dandelion terminology too, where terms like ‘ligule’ and ‘bract’, for example, do not refer to the same structures as they do in most other plants. Several attendees took away plants for working on at home.

Chris Metherell gets up close and personal
with eyebright specimens in the
Natural History Museum's herbarium
Image: J. Mitchley
"Numbers are limited for any meeting at the herbarium, and it has already been necessary by popular demand to put a draft entry in the SRPG 2020 programme for a second visit, possibly to concentrate on another group, e.g. grasses or sedges. At our winter meetings we have regularly been given short updates on the herbarium, but this was the first time that members had been given an opportunity to see it ‘in the flesh’. With thanks to the South West Heritage Trust for providing our meeting venue and for allowing us privileged ‘behind-the-scenes’ access to what is becoming an increasingly valuable and interesting collection".

A second visit by popular demand? Proof, if it were needed, that herbaria are wonderful places to which all botanists will flock, given half a chance! If you'd like to follow in SRPG's footsteps and arrange a visit to your local herbarium, you'll find a regularly updated contacts list on the Herbarium page. You'll also find many other herbarium-related articles, resources, links, images... so do check it out!

P.S. When I showed this draft blogpost to BSBI President Chris Metherell, he said: "Another great example of how useful herbaria can be for botanists of all abilities. Herbaria are at risk in the 21st century and it could be a case of 'use it or lose it' for some local collections so it's fantastic to see one being used in such a positive fashion. More herbarium experiences please!"

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

BSBI's Irish Spring Conference 2019: Part Two

Getting ready to get to grips with Callitriche ID
Image: F. O'Neill
In the first part of Erin's report on this year's Irish Spring Conference, we left her heading off for lunch following the morning's talks, having just heard Maria's announcement about the forthcoming Aquatic Plants Project. Erin picks up the story again: 

"Following on with the aquatic theme, I opted for the workshop on Callitriche/water-starworts over the Spring Blossoms tour. Callitriche is a difficult genus, occurring in a wide variety of habitats terrestrial, aquatic and semi amphibious with variable vegetative features as a result. Here to help demystify Callitriche was Lynda Weekes from IT Tralee. In order to appeal to the beginners and intermediates in the audience, Lynda focused on a simplified list of features of leaves and fruit suitable for use in the field. 

Callitriche herbarium specimens
Image: E. Griffin
"There are seven known Callitriche species in Ireland, C. truncata, C. stagnalis, C. platycarpa, C. palustris, C. obtusangula, C. hermaphroditica and C. brutia. Lynda pointed out that although leaves are a good indicator of species, they are quite variable and can change with habitat/water level. For example, C. obtusangula has leaves rhomboidal in shape in still water and linear in flowing water. In this case, fruits (and pollen for subspecies) are needed for positive identification. For C. obtusangula the fruit would noticeably have no keel, the grooves of the fruit hardly present to almost flat and when ripe the fruit would be as long as it is wide. After Lynda’s presentation, members took a closer look at Callitriche using herbarium specimens kindly provided by the National Botanic Gardens.

David starts his quiz
Image: O. Duffy
"Next up was quiz time with David McNeill! With rounds of 'guess the plant from its distribution' or three seemingly unrelated pictures, to naming prominent BSBI members, David had the entire conference putting their heads together. A nice break-up from the talks and a good opportunity to get to know your team members.

"Flash talks was everything I hoped it would be: a diverse range of topics, cut into bite size chunks and delivered in short bursts of 5-10 minutes. Over the course of 45 mins I learned about an up and coming book, a missing plant rediscovered and an entirely novel use for Google street view.

"Up first was Roger Goodwillie (County Recorder for Kilkenny) offering a rare glimpse of the winter Burren, a landscape famed for its flowering season. Roger took the time to walk us through the winter Burren and point out the plants and rare sights we don’t see when the Burren is at full bloom. Some notable mentions are Sedum acre (biting stonecrop), Sedum album (white stonecrop), trees covered in Ivy and liverwort, and the important grazers such as horses and cattle.

Daniel starts his flash talk about black poplars
Image: C. Heardman
"Daniel Buckley (Conservation Ranger with the National Parks and Wildlife Service) maps on Ireland’s rarest tree, the black poplar. Through the use of Google street view, an unlikely tool, Daniel was able to locate these distinctly shaped trees. This method allowed him to quickly find and later identify the species onsite. Daniel was able to improve upon the existing studies on black poplar which were vague and lacked resolution and even confirmed the tree's presence in Kerry. He also propagated a representative sample of black poplar in his garden in the name of conservation.

John Conaghan (County Recorder for west Galway) detailed his rediscovery of Silene acaulis (moss campion), a rare montane species that has been missing for the past 120 years. First recorded in 1839 by Charles Moore and recorded last at Dunaff head in East  Donegal, growing in a place ‘where not many people would care to linger over’. Enlisting the help of the local County Recorders, Mairéad Crawford and Oisín Duffy, John was able to rediscover S. acaulis on the east side of Dunaff head.

Mairead captured Oisin & John hunting toothworts
 in the Botanic Gardens during the lunch-break!
Image: M. Crawford
"Up next, Fionnuala O’Neill (BEC Consultants) gave an update on the conservation status of six rare vascular plants as part of a rare plant monitoring survey. The six plants mentioned were Trichomanes speciosum (Killarney fern), Diphasiastrum alpinum (Alpine clubmoss), Saxifraga hirculus (marsh saxifrage), Lycopodium clavatum (Staghorn clubmoss), Lycopodium inundatum (marsh clubmoss) and Huperzia selago (Fir clubmoss). The clubmoss group have suffered loss of habitat with agricultural improvement and drainage, the most threatened clubmoss being the marsh clubmoss due to its lowland habitat. The Killarney fern is of least concern because all its attributes are in good condition and the marsh saxifrage is near threatened because of habitat loss.

"Joe Caffrey (Inland Fisheries Ireland) talked about his up and coming book ‘Photographic guide to aquatic and riparian plants in Ireland’. The book, aimed at the general botanist, has documented over 250 species. A sneak peek at the pages which are mainly photos, and we could see a concise profile of habitat, useful diagnostic features, distribution, flowering period, ecology and even the species name in Irish. A useful aid for any botanists wishing to become more familiar with aquatic species.

Paul's dead-nettle workshop was very popular!
Image: O. Duggan
"‘20 sites, 20 species’ by Mark O’Callaghan (OPW and NPWS Guide at multiple sites) discussed the conservation work in nature reserves across Ireland. Unfortunately, I can’t list the full 20 but some notable mentions were Salvelinus alpinus (arctic char) in Glenveagh to the Cygnus cygnus (whooper swan) at Coolepark, Filipendula ulmaria (meadowsweet) in the Burren and the Lagopus scotica (red grouse) in the Wicklow mountains. Mark emphasised the importance of the reserves to these species, while playing audio of the bird calls. A first at a BSBI conference!

"Finally, Noeleen Smyth (Botanist at the National Botanic Gardens) told the story of frankincense, a fascinating desert plant that has been heavily traded on the Arabian Peninsula for more than 6000 years, now a threatened species with poor regeneration. Typically used in embalming and religious ceremonies, frankincense became widespread through the silk trade and was once worth as much as gold in Rome. The trade has become largely uncontrolled and exploitative but thankfully the plant is soon to be listed within CITES. Noeleen passed some of the aromatic resin around the auditorium.

The master in action: Paul de-mystifying dead-nettles
Image: C. Heardman
"This was followed by a hands-on workshop with Paul Green (Country Recorder for Co. Wexford) on dead-nettles or a free slot to explore the gardens. Paul provided a key to dead-nettles and yellow archangels. The main dead-nettles in Ireland are Lamium album (White dead-nettle), Lamium maculatum (spotted dead-nettle), Lamium amplexicaule (Henbit dead-nettle), Lamium confertum (Northern Dead-nettle), Lamium purpureum (red dead-nettle) and Lamium hybridum (cut-leaved dead-nettle). The most difficult of these to differentiate are the cut-leaved, red and northern dead-nettle for their similar reddish-purple flower. Training your eye to the finer details is essential as the length of the calyx tube or slight differences between leaf veins can be all that separates you from proper identification. I really appreciated having an expert on-site to talk through the key and gained a greater appreciation for these workshops.

Happy botanists after a great conference!
Oonagh Duggan (Assistant Head of Advocacy
& Policy for BirdWatch Ireland)
takes a selfie with Ralph Sheppard,
County Recorder for West Donegal:
they are both birders as well as botanists! 
"To round off the day Maria Long announced the quiz results which crowned the team ‘The starworts’ (but with a star!) as the winners (not to be confused with the starworts without a star, which was my group!). Maria gave a special thanks to all the guest speakers and all who attended. The conference concluded with networking, food and drinks in the nearby pub.

"I really enjoyed attending my first BSBI conference. There was an aquatic theme throughout the event. It was really great to see the BSBI address this problem of under-recording and move forward with solutions. This is an excellent event for all levels of botanist, and as a newcomer I found the BSBI community very welcoming. The event allows plenty of time for networking and attracts a really great crowd. I am already looking forward to next year’s line-up. If you missed the conference, you can find many of the presentations on the conference webpage."

Many thanks to Erin for this report - we're delighted that she enjoyed her first BSBI Irish Conference!