Monday, 20 January 2020

New Year Plant Hunt 2020: analysis of results

New Year Plant Hunters in
Glengarriff, West Cork
Image: C. Heardman 
The analysis of BSBI's ninth New Year Plant Hunt has now been published and is available to download here. The analysis includes a summary and there's also a press release here which went out this morning to all our media contacts. 

1,714 people participated in the Hunt between 1st and 4th January, either individually, with family and friends or on group hunts, often organised by local botanical recording groups. That's an increase of 16% compared to last year. 20 people (mainly in northern/ upland areas) also contributed to our understanding of what was flowering where by emailing us locations of where they had hunted but found nothing in bloom. Many people also made casual observations on social media but didn’t email us or upload their records so we haven’t included them in our totals. 

We'd like to thank all of you who took part, a fantastic effort! You braved the cold and went out hunting from Shetland to Guernsey, from Donegal to Anglesey to Norfolk, from west Cork to Pembrokeshire to London to the Kent coast. 

Plant hunters out in London
on New Year's Day
Image: Jo Wright
You submitted a grand total of 778 lists comprising 14,724 records of 615 species in bloom across Britain and Ireland.

All your records were checked and analysed by Dr Kevin Walker, BSBI's Head of Science. Here are some of his key findings:
  • 53% of the records were of species which normally flower after midsummer and had managed to carry on flowering. These include ‘Autumn Stragglers’ such as Yarrow, Ragwort and Hogweed. This figure is slightly lower than last year's 58% - perhaps as a result of all the wet weather many of us experienced last autumn? 
  • Only 24% were ‘Springtime Specialists’ like Primrose and Lesser Celandine, so there is no indication of an early spring. This proportion is roughly similar to previous years. 
  • 23% of the records submitted were of species we might reasonably expect to flower at New Year, or species which we cannot easily be categorised as either ‘early’ or ‘late’. These include typical ‘All Year Rounders’ such as Shepherd’s-purse as well as ‘Winter Specialists’ such as Winter Heliotrope. Again, this proportion is roughly similar to previous years.
  • The top five species were Daisy, Groundsel, Dandelion, Annual Meadow-grass, and Common Chickweed – identical to last year’s list and all (native) plants we would expect to be flowering at this time of year.
  • 36% of species recorded were non-natives. This includes plants from warmer climates that have escaped from gardens or cultivation, become naturalised in the wild and were able to extend their flowering into the winter months.

Examining pavement plants in Heaton during the
North-east New Year Plant Hunt-Off
Image: James Common
As in previous years, urban areas tended to have more non-native species in flower than rural areas, as there are more sheltered and disturbed places with warm microclimates where alien plants can thrive. The milder south and west of Britain and Ireland had the highest numbers of species in flower – 115 in Swanage – a similar number to 2019 but nowhere near the 2016 top total of 162 species recorded in Berkshire by Prof Mick Crawley. 

Strawberry tree blooming in Killarney
Image: Jessica Hamilton
Kevin compared the results with meteorological data and said “2020 appears to have been an average year in terms of winter flowering in comparison to previous years. New Year Plant Hunt data from the past six years shows that there were fewer species in flower this year than in 2015, 2016 and 2019 but more than in 2017 and 2018. The reason for this seems clear – temperatures in the two months preceding this year’s Hunt were only a degree above average compared to 2015, 2016 and 2019, when the combined temperature anomalies were much higher. This was largely due to the cold and wet conditions experienced across much of the country in late 2019, especially in November when the Midlands and Northern England experienced widespread flooding”.

If you'd like to compare this year's results with those of previous years, please use the preceding links to access data from 2017-9 and to compare Kevin's analyses for each year, please visit our New Year Plant Hunt archive page.

BSBI President Lynne Farrell and friend
hunting in the Lake District
Image courtesy of L. Farrell
In conclusion, Kevin said “We can’t yet prove that more species are flowering in mid-winter nowadays, rather than in the past, but NYPH has shown that in milder winters, more plants flower because of warmer temperatures and fewer frosts. We don’t yet know what the implications of this are for plants and associated insects - but what we do know is that weather patterns are changing and that plants are responding”.

Two guest blogposts coming soon in response to Kevin's comment: one about pollinators in winter - what impact might changes in flowering times have on our pollinators? And one about a citizen science project run by colleagues which aims to help scientists track the effects of weather on our wildlife. Watch this space and thanks again to everyone who has helped us build up a clearer picture of which plants are blooming in midwinter!

Sunday, 19 January 2020

New Year Plant Hunt 2020 in the media: Part One

Many thanks to journalist Joe Shute for his feature in yesterday's Daily Telegraph about the New Year Plant Hunt. The feature appears in the print edition but not online, so Joe has very kindly given us permission to reprint it here. Please click on the image on the right to enlarge it and view the feature in full.

A reminder that an analysis by Dr Kevin Walker, BSBI Head of Science, of all the results you submitted as part of the New Year Plant Hunt will be published on these pages tomorrow 20th January. There are more than 14,700 records so it has taken us a while to check, validate and analyse all of them, and compare them with the results from previous years

We'd like once again to thank everyone who took part in the 2020 New Year Plant Hunt. You are helping us find out more about how flowering times for our wild and naturalised plants are changing in response to changes in autumn and winter weather patterns across Britain and Ireland, and what this might mean for the rest of our wildlife.  

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

New Year Plant Hunt 2020: Day Four

Thyme-leaved sandwort, Aberdeenshire
Image: A. Peaker
As the sun set on the fourth and final day of the 2020 New Year Plant Hunt, the last few Group Hunts were taking place in Kirkcudbrightshire and Co. Galway, in Exmouth and Somerset, Hampshire, Norfolk, Warks., Yorkshire, Co. Durham, Denbighshire... and the last few weary botanists were heading home. 

Interesting and/ or unexpected species had been spotted, such as thyme-leaved sandwort found by Alison in Aberdeenshire or the fern-leaved beggarticks spotted by Wendy in Uckfield.

The members of the New Year Plant Hunt Support Team were all looking slightly the worse for wear after four solid days on the Help Desk, answering enquiries, helping with IDs and consoling people who had failed to find anything in bloom. 

As we kept reassuring people, those nil records were important too!

Plant hunting at Staveley NR, SW Yorks.
Image: C. Pinches
Kevin Walker, BSBI Head of Science, was out leading a group hunt at Staveley Nature Reserve in SW Yorkshire with Clare Pinches and Harrogate Nats. They found 14 species in bloom compared to 25 at the same site last year.

 As we said yesterday, Kevin's analysis of this year's results, checked against meteorological data, is going to be very interesting this year. He's hoping to publish his analysis on 20th January on these pages so watch this space.

Looking out for plants in bloom is a hard habit to break once you've started! Botanist Jerry did two plant hunts on his home patch (Notts.) then travelled over to Stamford to join the Northants. and Lincs. botanists on their hunt, where their finds included musk stork's-bill, bur chervil (the first record for the town since 1996) and dappled hawkweed.

Plant hunters from Northants., Cambs., Notts., 
Lincs. & Leics. in the historic town of Stamford
Image: J. Clough
As Jerry travelled home on the train, changing at Leicester, he couldn't resist doing a mini-hunt from the train window and spotted Oxford Ragwort blooming on the tracks as the train pulled in to Leicester station! 

Very fitting because this plant, originally from the volcanic slopes below Mt. Etna and introduced into Britain in the C18th as an ornamental, famously "jumped the fence" of the Oxford Botanic Garden, felt right at home on the cinder-strewn railway sidings and spread along railway tracks throughout the C19th as the Industrial Revolution brought the railway to cities across Britain and later Ireland. 

Winter heliotrope
Image: E. Delaney
Read more about Oxford ragwort here, then check out its BSBI distribution map and follow its progress over time and space!

Oxford ragwort doesn't show up on the Top 20 list of most frequently-spotted plants but winter heliotrope does. It's at number 18 with 182 sightings across Britain and Ireland. The plant on the left was spotted by Eamon Delaney, County Recorder for Co. Galway.; he and Hazel found 22 species in bloom in Headford.

By the end of Day Four, 600 lists had been received and were displaying on the Results map and 571 species had been recorded.

Tim Rich was out plant-hunting in the Cardiff area and recorded 76 species in bloom. He and Sarah Whild did the first Plant Hunt back in 2012 because they were surprised at how many plants they had noticed blooming along roadsides near them in the middle of winter. They took to social media (yes they were pioneers on social media too!) and told botanist friends about their New Year Hunt, word spread and now, eight years on, hundreds and hundreds of people are out hunting! 

Galway botanists head home from Merlin Woods
 where they spotted 42 species in bloom
Image courtesy of
Merlin Woods Community Garden
On Facebook at the end of Day Four, Tim posted photos of some of the 76 species he'd recorded and the friends he'd hunted with this year. He captioned his photo of a Gorse bush with "I have seen this gorse bush flowering over New Year every year for the last 9 years, an old friend".

He also tagged Sarah, who notched up 54 species in bloom in Shrewsbury, saying "When you see how many people have joined in and had fun, it just amazes me what we started" and Sarah replied "we had no idea!!!" 

Let's all raise a glass to both of them and say a huge thank you to these two lovely botanists who founded the New Year Plant Hunt! 

Monday, 6 January 2020

New Year Plant Hunt 2020: Day Three

Day Three of the New Year Plant Hunt saw group hunts as far afield as Wiltshire, Surrey, Northamptonshire, Caernarvonshire, Fife and Dumfriesshire, with solo hunters and small family groups out hunting from Tywardreath in Cornwall (71 species blooming including slender knapweed, balm-leaved figwort and cornflower) to Thurso on the northern tip of Scotland (10 species flowering including ivy-leaved toadflax and winter heliotrope). 

In Ireland, hunters were out from Westport, Co. Mayo (19 species blooming including toad rush and bulbous buttercup) to the Grand Canal in Dublin (23 species including feverfew and pellitory-of-the-wall). 

Interesting species spotted in bloom on Day Three included keeled-fruited cornsalad seen by Karen Woolley in Devon (image above right) and Cape figwort spotted by Jonathan Mortin in Derbyshire (top right in the montage below). 
As well as all the usual habitats where botanists hunt for plants, some plant hunters headed up mountains to find out what was blooming there. 

Sarah Watts, who works for the National Trust for Scotland and authored this excellent paper about the lovely snow pearlwort Sagina nivalis for British & Irish Botany, BSBI's free, on-line, Open Access scientific journal, went up Meall na Samhna and found cross-leaved heath blooming at 400m. 

Then she did a second Hunt and found annual meadow-grass flowering at 403m up Birnam Hill

Can anyone beat that? More info about the links between plants and altitude on this webpage.
Cross-leaved heath at 400m
Image: S. Rawlinson
Sarah suggests a challenge as part of next year's New Year Plant Hunt, to find the highest plant in bloom. Who else would be up for that? We might even try to drum up a prize for the winner...   

Some botanists found only one or two 'usual suspects' in bloom, such as gorse spotted by Heather near Durham - the only species she found in flower following heavy frosts in the area during December. If Heather's name sounds familiar, that's because she's a two-time winner of the BSBI Photographic Competition.

With the heavy rain earlier this year following a long hot dry spell, and frosts in some areas in December but not in other areas, Kevin Walker's analysis of results will be particularly interesting this year - we can probably expect a strong correlation between meteorological data and plant records. I wonder how this year's analysis is going to compare with previous years?

The lists of most frequently seen species are also looking very similar to last year although so far there are fewer records of hazel in flower (people have been on the look-out for those distinctive red stigmas on the tiny female flowers) and there seems to be more cow parsley in flower, which can sometimes look a bit odd at this time of year. 

Gorse photographed by Heather Kelly
Several very accomplished botanists have circulated photos to check if the plant they are looking at really is cow parsley!  

The similarly named but much rare corn parsley was found by ace plant-spotter Brian 'Eagle-Eyes' Laney during the group Hunt in Brackley, Northants. 

It wasn't in flower, just a rosette, but this species is on the Rare Plant Register for the county so Brian was very pleased! 

Finally: botanists are very resourceful and always find ways to surmount any obstacles they encounter. Kent botanist Owen found himself stuck in a traffic jam on the way back from a trip to Wales so what did he do? A central reservation New Year Plant Hunt from the car! 

Day Four summary to follow...

Saturday, 4 January 2020

New Year Plant Hunt 2020: Day Two

Hieracium argillaceum
in Sleaford, South Lincolnshire
Image: S. Lambert
The second Day of this year's New Year Plant Hunt and after a good start yesterday the records kept on pouring in today. 

Group Hunts took place across Britain and Ireland, giving people a chance to botanise together. 

County Recorders for Hampshire and South Lincolnshire respectively led groups out hunting; Sarah Lambert, County Recorder for South Lincolnshire, and her team of 11 botanists found 55 species in bloom, including Hieracium argillaceum, only the third post-2000 record for this species in the county

Joshua and a daisy in bloom, Univ Reading
Image courtesy of J. Ajowele
It was also Sarah's birthday so we're delighted that she chose to spend it with her fellow botanists - Happy Birthday Sarah! 

In Norfolk, Anne and Simon Harrap (of 'Harrap's Wild Flowers' fame) and their team found 74 species in bloom including some nice "arable weeds" such as dwarf spurge, sharp-leaved fluellen and corn marigold. 

On the University of Reading campus, Joshua Ajowele (one of Dr M's Plant Diversity MSc students) only had time to survey about a third of the campus but still managed to find 20 species in bloom and was very happy with his results - well done Joshua! 

Strawberry tree blooming in Killarney
Image: J. Hamilton
In Monmouthshire, the local botany group were out hunting and found quite a few species flowering (list to follow) but over in Radnorshire the Elan Valley hunters found only gorse in bloom. In Portishead, Fred Rumsey and Helena Crouch notched up 70 species in bloom including sea aster, rock samphire and alexanders, whereas up in south Yorkshire many lists were coming in with only 12-20 species in flower. All those lists are equally important, however long or short!

Over in Kerry, Jessica Hamilton and her team recorded 45 species blooming around the Muckross Peninsula in Killarney - that's two more than the same route last year. Once again the strawberry tree, a local speciality, was in bloom. Up in Co. Down, the County Recorder Graham Day led the first of two planned Hunts and notched up 34 species in bloom.

BSBI Comms Officer (on left) haranguing
defenceless County Recorders Brian Laney (Northants.)
 and John & Monika Walton (Warks.) -
they're examining fleabane phyllaries;
I'm brandishing Bob Leaney's fleabane article
Image: C. Dwyer 
Several members of the New Year Plant Hunt Support Team slipped away from the Help Desk to go out hunting - many thanks to other team members George and Ellen who held the fort. George had already been out the day before on Guernsey with his family and they found 19 species in bloom. 

In Leicestershire, three of us (Ciara, Brian and me, Louise) joined two of the Leicestershire County Recorders and two more from Warwickshire. Brian is also a County Recorder (for Northants.) and so, with 17 people in the group we were hopeful of a good list. 

Determined to get to grips with those pesky fleabanes, I took a copy of BSBI News no. 135 along with me so we could check what we saw against Bob Leaney's excellent illustrated article on how to separate the four main species. All of the ones we examined - and there were many! - had very hairy phyllaries but no sign of red tips so we decided they were all Guernsey fleabane Erigeron sumatrensis

No sign at all of the less hairy Canadian fleabane E. canadensis which used to be the most common species in these parts (and across much of England). BSBI members can download BSBI News no. 135 and all other recent issues of our membership magazine from the password-protected members-only area of the BSBI website. Email me if you can't remember your password.

Common whitlowgrass

Image courtesy of
John Crellin/ Floral Images
We followed the same route as last year and actually got slightly fewer species in bloom: 52 compared to 57 last year. A few notable omissions: no common whitlowgrass Erophila verna in bloom, although we saw lots of rosettes. 

Sarah Whild had reported the same thing the day before - she and her very experienced team of Shropshire botanists couldn't find a single whitlowgrass in bloom. 

BSBI Head of Science Kevin Walker had been out hunting in Yorkshire and made the same observation. He also failed to see green alkanet Pentaglottis sempervirens in bloom, whereas there had been hundreds of records of it last year. So, those are two species to watch out for during this year's Hunt. 

This is the advantage of the Hunt, lots of botanists out across Britain and Ireland over the same time period, and all the records collected will be analysed by Kevin and correlated with meteorological data so he can see what patterns are emerging. 

Many solo recorders were out hunting too. David in Swanage notched up 115 species - the longest list so far, including quite a few garden escapes such as Mexican fleabane, Love-in-a-mist and Adria bellflower. 

Gigi and the field pansy she found
Image: K. Widdowson
But sometimes it's the quality rather than the quantity that counts: Gigi Widdowson was out helping her daddy Kevin do his New Year Plant Hunt and found her favourite plant, Field Pansy. It was also Kevin's birthday so that must have been a nice birthday present! 

Recorders in areas such as Northumberland, Lancashire, central and northern Scotland hunted for up to three hours but found nothing in bloom. 

We are very grateful to receive their 'nil records' emails with the grid ref of where they searched. These are being stored in a separate folder so Kevin Walker will have access to them when he comes to start his analysis.   

By the end of the day, 251 lists had been submitted and 423 species recorded in bloom. What will the third day of the Hunt bring? Watch this space to find out!

Thursday, 2 January 2020

New Year Plant Hunt 2020: Day One

Sandy and Leif use 'Baby Stace' for plant ID
Image: J. Wright
The first day of the 2020 New Year Plant Hunt was only 9 minutes old when the first plant records pinged onto the Results map and were shared on Twitter

Ger Scollard, who also recorded the first flowers of 2019, submitted date-stamped records of winter heliotrope and smooth sow-thistle blooming in Co. Kerry. 

It was half an hour later when Sophie Leguil, on her way home from London fireworks, submitted records of Mexican fleabane, annual meadow-grass, daisy and Serbian bellflower. And so the 2020 Hunt was underway...

Small scabious blooming in Horncastle,
 NYPH 2020
Image: R. Scopes
Wednesday morning saw a team of plant-hunters including Sandy Knapp, Head of Plants at the Natural History Museum, and Orchid Hunter Leif Bersweden out in Chelsea where they managed 41 species in bloom; they also ate a lot of gingerbread and made at least one visit to the pub! 

New Year Plant Hunting often has a very strong social element to it - the Warrington Plant Group tweeted nearly as much about the delicious roast lunch and the great company they enjoyed as they did about the 37 species they recorded. 
Members of James' team on the north-east
New Year Plant Hunt-off
Image: J. Common
Up in Northumbria, the north-east New Year Plant Hunt-off kicked off with James Common's team exploring (sub)urban habitats in Heaton, while former BSBI President Chris Metherell led his team to Holy Island. James and co notched up 40 species... and so did Chris & co - a great relief to declare a draw for the Hunt-off! Chris's team found dense-flowered fumitory, a nice record. 

Meanwhile two teams of plant hunters were out in Norfolk and also enjoying a friendly competition to see who could notch up the longest list. They each recorded 50 species so again, fisticuffs were averted and they all sat down to eat pizza together at the end of the day!

The Glengarriff team and some of
the flowers they spotted
Image courtesy of C. Heardman
Current BSBI President Lynne Farrell went out hunting with three friends around Arnside and they managed 43 species in bloom including tansy, goat's-beard and sea radish. That's three more than her predecessor as President. Not that it's a competition...  

Group Hunts took place in Devon, Nottingham and Whitby; 20 eagle-eyed botanists met up at Glengarriff Woods and recorded 51 species in bloom; and County Recorders Oisin and Mairead (who recently got married, aaahhh!) found 10 species in bloom on Inch Island, Co. Donegal.

Seaside daisy naturalised in Folkestone
Image: D. Steere
Arthur Chater recorded 60 species in the Aberystwyth area; members of the Orkney Field Club were out hunting (list not yet submitted) and at the other end of Britain, Rosemary and Liz on Scilly notched up 32 species including rock samphire and Bermuda-buttercup. 

Seaside daisy was blooming in Folkestone, small scabious was out in Horncastle and across England people were spotting the tiny red flowers on hazel. 

As in previous years, daisy, dandelion, annual meadow-grass and groundsel were among the most frequently recorded plants. 

Paul Green's montage of some of
the flowers he recorded in Co. Wexford 
The longest list of the day - 85 species - came from Paul Green who was out recording in Co. Wexford

But equally important were the people who braved the elements to hunt in northern and upland parts of Britain and found nothing at all in bloom. Those nil records are also important if we are to get a true picture of how our wild and naturalised plants across Britain and Ireland are responding to changing weather patterns. 

By the end of Day One, 115 lists had been submitted via the recording app and 327 species had been recorded in bloom. A great start! Watch this space to find out what happens on Day Two...

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

2019: a great year for BSBI members

New Year Plant Hunters in January 2019
Image: L. Marsh
As 2019 draws to a close, this is a good time to reflect on all BSBI's many achievements over the past year and to say a huge THANK YOU to our wonderful members who made it all possible.

We kicked off in January with record participation in the New Year Plant Hunt - 1,473 people took part - and we reached millions of listeners via an interview about the Hunt on BBC Radio 4's Today programme. 

In February we launched British & Irish Botany (B&IB), our new online, Open Access scientific journal. BSBI Head of Ops Jane Houldsworth (aka Superwoman) managed to find a software/ platform package which allowed us to do everything B&IB's predecessor, New Journal of Botany, had done but for a fraction of the cost. As the year ends we have just published our fourth bumper issue and readers seem very pleased with the content.

A rare photo of our limelight-shunning Head of
Ops, Jane Houldsworth (on right) with
Christine and Caroline from CASS
Image: L. Marsh 
Our website underwent a springtime freshen up, making BSBI resources such as Species Accounts and plant distribution maps more easily accessible than ever to members and the wider botanical community as they entered their final season of recording for Atlas 2020. BSBI Database Officer Tom Humphrey ran a quick end of year total earlier today and we can confirm a staggering 46,314,329 records submitted so far and more still pouring in to our Database - one of the world's largest - as we approach the Atlas 2020 deadline. That's an astonishing achievement by BSBI's volunteer recorders! 

When Chris Miles, Chair of the BSBI Board, told us at the 2019 Exhibition Meeting that the collective effort of BSBI volunteers is worth an estimated £10 million per year, he wasn't exaggerating. Our Annual Reviews tell you more about all the successes our members achieve each year. Read the latest Annual Review here

Happy botanists at the 2019
BSBI Exhibition Meeting
Image: R. Blackhall-Miles
The Exhibition Meeting itself was also a huge success - highest ever attendance figures and more younger participants than ever before. 

The 2019 Scottish Botanists' Conference was equally successful - the largest ever turn-out, as far as we know, for a botanical event in Scotland.

2019 saw some exceptional BSBI publications. Angus Hannah's Isle of Bute Flora went on to win the BSBI/ WFS Presidents' Award; the BSBI Handbook on Gentians - by Tim Rich and Andy McVeigh - is a fine addition to the series; Grassland plants of the British & Irish lowlands by Pete Stroh, Kevin Walker et al. is selling like hot cakes; and the 2nd edition of John Poland and Eric Clement's Vegetative Key to the British Flora is at the printers and should be with us in around a fortnight.

Trevor James
Image courtesy of
Herts. Natural History Society
The achievements of two notable BSBI botanists were acknowledged: in November, Clive Stace (author of the New Flora of the British Isles aka the Botanists' Bible) received the 2019 Marsh Botany award and Trevor James (BSBI County Recorder for Herts. and former editor of BSBI News) was awarded the British Empire Medal in the 2020 New Year's Honours List for services to nature conservation. 

BSBI data fed into the 2019 State of Nature reports - they made sobering reading about declines in our wild flower populations, which need the support of a dedicated botanical community, and the data we collect, more than ever if we are to document, monitor and hopefully, finally, begin to address those declines. 

Fortunately our botanical community is continuing to grow. BSBI membership saw a 3% increase in 2019 and we passed the 3,000 mark for the first time in our history, ending the year with more than 3,100 members and extending further our social media reach. The more members we have and the more records in our Database, the louder our voice as we speak to policy-makers, landowners and agencies.

BSBI staff, trustees and officers at the start
of the first workshop in the
CASS-led Resilience project
Image: L. Marsh 
But the Society doesn't plan to rest on its laurels: thanks to funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, we've been able to work with the acclaimed CASS Charity Business School to ensure that we are ready to meet the challenges of the future. 

This note by Chairman of the Board Chris Miles explains what the Resilience project is all about, and how it's helping BSBI define what we stand for and ensure that we can achieve what we want to achieve in the next five years. Exciting times ahead so watch this space!

But first we have a New Year Plant Hunt starting in the morning and applications for our 2020 our grants programme also open  tomorrow, so we can support even more botanists as they sharpen their ID skills and help us understand more about the British and Irish flora. Here's to a great year ahead for BSBI's botanical community and a huge thank you to all our members who made 2019 a year to remember.