Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Second meeting of the Kerry BSBI group

Getting started
Image: Ger Scollard
You may remember that in August we featured a guest blogpost by Jessica Hamilton about the inaugural meeting of the Kerry BSBI group. Now she's back to tell us about the follow-up meeting. 

"Over to Jessica:

"The last time I was here, I was reporting on the success of BSBI Kerry’s first ever outing to Ross Castle, Killarney. 

Clouds clearing to reveal more of the
Sliabh Mish mountains
Image: J. Hamilton
"This time I’m reflecting on our second outing that took us to Blennerville and out alongside the Canal which eventually enters scenic Tralee Bay.

"Led by Therese and myself, as with our previous outings, we had botanists of all levels and it was great to be faced with so many familiar faces as well as lots of newcomers and some of my fellow classmates from the IT Tralee.

"This time our foray started opposite Blennerville windmill. 

"From there we then planned to head down across the road and alongside the canal. 

Sea Mayweed
Image: J. Hamilton
"Before we did this, as the carpark fell in our first monad, we decided to start right there.

"Many a botanist knows how interesting car parks can be in terms of what botanical surprises they can throw up. 

"Nothing too alarming came up for us, lots of typical common species and it gave a people to have a go keying out a very common Cerastium fontanum (common mouse ear).

Marsh Cudweed
Image: J. Hamilton
"As the car park backed onto a nearby salt marsh, we quickly crossed off a few salt marsh species such as Plantago maritima (Sea plantain), Aster tripolium (Sea aster) and so on.

"After leaving the car park we set along the canal when the clouds cleared to reveal hints of blue sky. 

"Quickly we came across a waste-ground type patch and in quick succession we were soon crossing off lots of species. 

Scarlet Pimpernel
Image: J. Hamilton
"Nothing too rare or overly exciting but we got lots of common stuff which in the grand scheme of things are just as important as the rare things.

"The fact that we saw lots of common things such as different species of thistle and vetch growing side by side gave people a chance to see many species of the same family growing side by side.

"They were able to note their differences and ID features that they could apply again in the future. 

"One nice plant which I for one don’t come across too often was Gnaphalium uliginosum (Marsh cudweed).

Wild Carrot seedhead
Image: J. Hamilton

"The common Anagallis arvensis (scarlet pimpernel) was a hit as always with everyone, especially as the day was brightening and the flowers were starting to open. 

"Geranium dissectum (Cut-leaved crane’s-bill), another favourite of mine, was scrambling up amongst grasses. The twisted seed heads of Daucus carota (Wild carrot) stood out on top of a grassy mound nearby.

"A nice moment to see was when people looked through their hand lenses and noticed the little points on the leaflets of Medicago lupulina (Black medick). 

Black Medick
Image: J. Hamilton
"Beside the waste ground/grassy area were swathes of Bolboschoenus maritimus (Sea Club-rush).

"As we walked further along canal we encountered lots of coastal species such as Scurvy grass, Thrift, Sea Beet & a few gone over examples of sea milkwort. 

"We also encountered the last of the species of plantains (Plantago spp.) that we expected to see on the day giving us all four:
P. lanceolata, major, maritima and coronopus.

Teasels by Tralee Bay
Image: J. Hamilton 
"Across the canal on the wall of a dwelling I could see flecks of purple, and thanks to Kilian’s binoculars we were able to add another two species to the list: Cymbalaria muralis (Ivy-Leaved toadflax) and Asplenium scolopendrium (Hart’s tongue fern).

"A break was taken to refuel and chat, this time giving grand views of Tralee Bay and the Sliabh Mish mountains with towering examples of gone over teasel adding some nice perspective to our lunchtime views. 

Keying a speedwell
Image: J. Hamilton
"In this area we ticked off more species including Coronopus didymus (Lesser Swine-cress) with its unmistakable odour when crushed.

"We then kept strolling and left the coastal habitats behind us in favour of roadside and hedgerows hoping the change in habitats would allow us to tick off a few more species, which it surely did. 

"Lots of common species popped up such as Stachys sylvatica (Hedge woundwort), Sonchus arvensis (Perennial sow-thistle) and Arctium minus (Lesser Burdock).

Perennial sow-thistle
Image: J. Hamilton
"One species however it took a while for us to find was the normally quite plentiful Geranium robertianum (Herb-Robert) but after a while we found one plant looking less than happy on top of a stone wall. 

"These stone walls also yielded three more ferns Asplenium trichomanes (Maidenhair spleenwort), Asplenium ruta-muraria (Wall rue) and Polypodium vulgare (Common Polypody). 

"Nearby at a field gate entrance I got to practice keying out a fumitory which yielded Fumaria bastardii (Tall ramping fumitory).

Investigating a vetch
Image: J. Hamilton
"All in all, we covered two monads and recorded over 100 species.

  • You can follow our antics on the official BSBI Kerry Facebook page here or if you’re a Twitter user here.
  • If you are in the Kerry locality and would like to get involved and come out with us on future outings, send an email to Jhbsbikerry@gmail.com and I’ll add you to the mailing list".
Many thanks to Jessica for this account and for providing so many great photos - it sounds as though the Kerry BSBI group is going from strength to strength! We'll keep you posted on their progress on these pages.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Flora of Sussex

A new Flora of Sussex is due to be published in February 2018 but pre-publication offers are now available. BSBI members will have spotted a flyer tucked inside their copy of BSBI News no. 136 (mailed out a few weeks ago) allowing them to order the Flora direct from the publishers for the special price of £35. For non-members, why not check out Summerfield Books who are offering the book for £39.

The new Flora has been compiled by the Sussex Botanical Recording Society to update, expand and revise the Sussex Plant Atlas published in 1980. It is the first major account of the county's flora since Wolley-Dod's work of 1937. 

Around 2,750 taxa are described, many accompanied by tetrad-based maps showing their distribution within the county. The species accounts are prefaced by detailed introductory chapters on geology and soils, habitats and vegetation, management and conservation, changes in the flora and past botanical activity in the county in order to provide an ecological and historical context. The text is fully illustrated throughout with photographs of characteristic Sussex plants and habitats. 

Friday, 29 September 2017

BSBI Annual Exhibition Meeting 2017: bookings have opened

Exhibition Meeting 2015, Natural History Museum
Image: Waheed Arshad
Bookings opened on Tuesday for this year's BSBI Exhibition Meeting which will be held at the Natural History Museum, London on Saturday 25th November and, for those of us on the Organising Committee (that's me, Kylie and Jodey), our phones haven't stopped pinging! Lots of you are booking your tickets, requesting spaces on the behind-the-scenes tours of the Herbarium, enquiring about how to reserve exhibitor space, speakers are telling us what will be in their Powerpoints... it's all go here at BSBI Towers!

If you haven't been to a BSBI Exhibition Meeting before, please head over to this page where you can see images from previous events, download Powerpoints and view some of the exhibits we've featured in recent years. Or take a look at some of our Exhibition Meeting blogposts here and here.

Kylie (on left) looks at Roger Horton's exhibit, 
Exhibition Meeting 2015.
Image: Waheed Arshad 
The event is very much open to everyone who is interested in the wild flowers of Britain and Ireland, whether you are a beginner or an expert, and you don't have to be a BSBI member to attend. 

But if you are thinking about joining, this is a great opportunity to check out what's on offer. And it's completely free to attend and to exhibit thanks to our lovely friends at the Natural History Museum who are providing the venue to us completely free of charge.

Among our speakers this year are: 
Andrew Branson, former editor of British Wildlife and soon to take over the editorship of BSBI's membership newsletter
Alex Mills from the Natural History Museum's 'Identification Trainers for the Future' programme; 
Mark Duffell from BSBI's Training and Education Committee will be talking about the many ways in which BSBI supports botanical training at all skill levels. 

Field meeting in Kerry this year
Image: Jessica Hamilton
BSBI staff and officers who will be speaking include Field Meetings Secretary Jon Shanklin who will be talking about the BSBI Summer Meeting in Flintshire, Irish Officer Maria Long who will update us on how she is helping to build and support BSBI's botanical network in Ireland; and our Head of Science Kevin Walker will be talking about BSBI's Threatened Plants Project (TPP) and the new publication from the BSBI Science Team, Threatened Plants in Britain and Ireland, which analyses the results of the TPP. 

George Garnett (on left) attends his first plant
science lecture at Univ Reading
Image: Jonathan Mitchley
Finally we have two speakers at opposite ends of the age and experience spectrum: Margaret Bradshaw, who has been a BSBI member since 1951, will be talking to us about the flora of Upper Teesdale and a new project to help conserve it; and Guernsey botanist George Garnett, in the first year of an undergraduate degree at University of Reading, will talk about 'Growing the Next Generation of Botanists'.

We'll keep you posted in coming weeks about the exhibits you can look forward to but for now, head over to the Exhibition Meeting webpage and book your space so that Kylie, Jodey and I can hear that satisfying pinging sound on our phones - and look forward to catching up with you in November! 

Thursday, 28 September 2017

New Species Accounts from BSBI Science Team

Bur Medick
Image: Pete Stroh
Five new Species Accounts have just been made available courtesy of BSBI Scientific Officer Pete Stroh, bringing the grand total to 84.

Species covered in this latest batch are: Lesser Calamint Clinopodium calamintha, Leafless Hawk's-beard Crepis praemorsa, Yellow Vetchling Lathyrus aphaca, Slender Bird's-foot Trefoil Lotus angustissimus and Bur Medick Medicago minima

Each Species Account considers: identification; habitat; biogeography; ecology; as well as threats to, and suitable management for, that species. 

Illustrated by excellent colour images (you can see an example on the right) and featuring a BSBI distribution map, each Species Account is free to download from this page. We hope that you enjoy them and find them useful.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

The Discovery of the Native Flora of Britain & Ireland

David with New Atlas co-authors Chris & Trevor,
'Pearman Day' at RBG Kew, 2014
Image: L. Marsh
We are delighted to alert you to a new BSBI publication from David Pearman called The Discovery of the Native Flora of Britain & Ireland. The book is due out in November 2017 but BSBI members can benefit from a members-only pre-publication offer and order the book now at a reduced price.

For anybody new to British and Irish botany, David was a co-author (along with Chris Preston and Trevor Dines) of the ground-breaking New Atlas of the British & Irish Flora (2002) and also a co-author (along with Clive Stace and Chris Preston) of the Hybrid Flora of the British Isles (2015). BSBI members will also know David well as our President from 1995 to 1998, a stalwart of BSBI's Records and Research Committee, the man who set up BSBI's Science Team (formerly the Plant Unit)... In fact David's contributions to British and Irish botany are so many and so various that in 2014 BSBI held a Celebratory Pearman Day at RBG Kew to honour the man himself (which caused him great embarrassment as he is also extremely modest!) 

David in the field with a very large Hogweed
Image courtesy of D. Pearman
I asked David to tell us a little about The Discovery of the Native Flora of Britain & Ireland:

LM: So David, how did the idea for this book come about?

DP: When we researched the New Atlas, one of my jobs was to try to find out when each plant alien to Britain and Ireland had first been found. That was an entirely new project, but after that I realised that the only corresponding works on the discovery of our native flora were 100 years or more ago, and could well be updated. The advent of the availability of old works on the internet has been of major assistance, especially for one living away from the major museums and libraries. 

David (centre) & Chris receive the Engler Silver
Medal from Sandy Knapp for the Hybrid Flora.
Image: L. Marsh 
LM: So you've been working on The Discovery of the Native Flora of Britain & Ireland since 2002?

DP: Yes, it has taken me nearly 14 years, and the help of dozens of friends, librarians and keepers of the major Herbaria and many others to compile this work.

LM: So, who first described our native plants? 

DP: This book attempts to answer that question, starting from almost the dawn of printing, with William Turner’s Libellus of 1538. Of course there were medieval herbals in the five centuries or more before Turner, and also there is a vast body of folk-lore, but Turner was the first to describe more than a handful and to do so in print. Thus printed sources are the cornerstone of this work, and the first date is given for each of the 1670 species or aggregates of all the indisputably natives and archaeophytes, including 40 or so species that some have argued as native in the last half-century. But this is supplemented by information from manuscripts and herbaria which enable the display of an earlier date, a date of first evidence, for just under half of that total. The names of the discoverers and the counties where each was first recorded are also given, where known.

David at 'Pearman Day'
Image: L. Marsh
LM: And how do you see people using The Discovery of the Native Flora of Britain & Ireland?

DP: Though the primary purpose of the book is to show the details of the discovery and recording of each species, it will also show the progress of discovery, leading to the somewhat surprising conclusion that most (+/- 85%) of our flora had been described by the 1720s, once the critical, non-lowland and doubtful natives have been omitted. Indeed, the main achievement of these last three centuries has been a consolidation of our knowledge.

LM: I gather the book will be 450 pages long and you've told us that it covers 1670 taxa. Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about the book before BSBI members head over to the members-only area of the website to take advantage of the pre-publication offer?

DP: The very extensive Appendices cover the key herbals and floras, the relevant journals, the important works on the history of botany, some of the national herbaria and have a major section on the botanists who actually discovered the plants.

The New Atlas team: David, Chris and Trevor.
BSBI Mapping Conference, RBG Kew 2012.
Image: L. Marsh
LM: Thank you David, for all your hard work on the book, for telling us more about it and for making it available to BSBI members at a special price which represents a saving of £6 per copy.

You can find out more about The Discovery of the Native Flora of Britain & Ireland by clicking on this link. If you are a BSBI member, you can then head straight to the members-only area of the website and order your copy. You'll need to have your password to hand to access the members-only area. If you've forgotten it, just email me with your membership number.

New publication from BSBI's
Science  Team (set up by David)
Image: P. Stroh
If you are not yet a BSBI member, why not check out this page? It lists all the benefits of BSBI membership and there's a secure payment option, making it very quick and easy for you to become a BSBI member and start getting involved.

As we told you yesterday, this really is the best time of year to join BSBI if you haven't already! As well as saving £6 on the cost of The Discovery of the Native Flora of Britain & Ireland, you can also save £5 on the cost of another new BSBI publication, Threatened Plants in Britain and Ireland, and further savings can be made on the range of BSBI Handbooks. 

The membership subscription is still only £30 per year (with special reduced rates for some groups) and if you join us after 1st October, you get three "free" months and then your subscription starts in January and runs until the end of 2018. That gives you 15 months in which to enjoy three copies a year of our membership newsletter, online access to our scientific journal, preferential booking on our annual programme of field meetings and conferences, access to 100+ expert plant referees who will help you identify tricky plants... as well as special offers on a whole range of botanical books, not just the titles mentioned above. 

David with fellow authors Peter Marren &
Mike McCarthy, Pearman Day at RBG Kew, 2014
Image: L. Marsh
By joining us you also become a highly valued member of the leading botanical society in Britain and Ireland which pioneers ground-breaking approaches to world-class research projects (to which you can also make a contribution, whatever your skill level) and supports the next generation of botanists via training and other study grants (for which you are eligible to apply). 

So what are you waiting for? Click here and become a BSBI member today! And if you're on Twitter, don't forget to tweet to @BSBIbotany using the hashtag #BSBImembers so we can follow you back and welcome you publicly into the fold!

Monday, 25 September 2017

BSBI's Threatened Plants Project: interview with Kevin Walker

Copy of the "TPP book" on Pete's desk
Image: P. Stroh
The Threatened Plants Project (TPP) was a five-year survey of the fortunes of 50 British wild flowers which the BSBI Science Team had reason to suspect might be in decline. The New Atlas of the British and Irish flora, published in 2002, showed that many had declined dramatically in distribution since the 1960s and consequently they were categorised as “threatened” in the Red Data Book for Great Britain published in 2005.

Between 2008 and 2013, more than 800 volunteers (mostly BSBI members) headed out to look for the target species at known locations (selected at random) and report back on the size and habitats of populations as well as management regimes and perceived threats. 

Once the data were received by the Science Team (which comprised BSBI Head of Science Dr Kevin Walker, BSBI Scientific Officer Dr Pete Stroh and BSBI Projects Officer Bob Ellis), they started work on processing thousands of TPP monitoring forms and analysing what it all meant. This was no mean feat, as the TPP was actually one of the most extensive sample-based surveys ever undertaken.

Kevin out recording in the field
Image: P. Stroh
Now that Threatened Plants in Britain and Ireland is about to be published, I asked lead author Kevin to tell us a little more about the project and what we have learned from it about our wild flowers.

LM: So Kevin, it must have been a monumental task processing and analysing so much data! We've all been following your progress via the BSBI Science and News pages. I bet you heaved a huge sigh of relief when you finally sent the text off to the publishers! 

KW: It was a huge task to analyse this amazing dataset and yes it was great to finally get it off to the printers but we did the easy bit really; it was the volunteers who did all the hard work, visiting thousands of populations, often in remote locations in all weathers. They deserve all the credit, because if it wasn’t for them there would be no book to publish.  

The Musk Orchid section in the "TPP book"
Image: P. Stroh 
LM: Agreed, three cheers for our amazing volunteers! But how did you decide which species to target?

KW: This was actually one of the most difficult bits of the whole project as we wanted to include species that were genuinely threatened as well as species we suspected might not be as threatened as their declines suggested, possibly because they were inconspicuous or occurred in remoter areas. We also wanted to make sure there was something for everyone to survey, from Cornwall to Shetland to County Clare. No mean feat in 50 species!

LM: And can you remind us what those 800+ recorders had to look out for, once they were out in the field? 

Kevin recording Alopecurus ovatus
Image: P. Stroh
KW: Prior to survey we randomly selected known populations for recorders to revisit – this meant that we weren’t biasing the survey to the best or most accessible sites. Recorders then visited the sites armed with a 100m or better grid ref and searched for the target noting the size and extent of the population where found as well as management, signs of regeneration, habitat (National Vegetation Community where known), associated species from within a quadrat and also any perceived threats to the plant on the site. The latter was recorded whether or not the target species was refound.

LM: So once people had recorded all that lot and sent you their forms - how did you process everything? 

KW: These data were digitised into a database.

Gentianella campestris
Image: Jeremy Roberts
LM: That sounds like another big job! Ok so what would you say are the key findings from the project?

KW: One of the main findings was the extent to which lack of management is now threatening plant species across a wide range of habitats. This is in marked contrast to the 1960s and 1970s when habitat loss was the key threat to most populations. These losses have largely been driven by changing economics of farming and in particular the decline in livestock production relative to arable and other ‘low intensity’ traditional practices such as coppicing. This has resulted in the cessation of management on many sites including nature reserves and SSSIs. Marginal lands have therefore become increasingly neglected whereas roadside verges have become less suitable for many species due to eutrophication and inappropriate cutting regimes.  

LM: Could you give us a couple of examples of that please?

KW: Field Gentian Gentianella campestris is a good example of a suite of species that have declined due to lack of management; this is a short-lived species of grasslands and heaths that doesn’t build-up a seedbank and has very limited dispersal ability. It is also a very poor competitor. It therefore disappears very quickly if grazing ceases and cannot recover even if management is restored. Heath Cudweed Gnaphalium sylvaticum has probably suffered a similar fate in the uplands.

Gnaphalium sylvaticum
Image: Mark Gurney
LM: So what - if anything - can be done about this?

KW: The absolute key is to ensure that surviving populations are managed appropriately, either through agri-environment schemes or by working directly with land owners. This will be essential for the future survival of plants confined to roadside verges for example. We also need to start to link up sites through habitat creation and management so that dispersal can occur, as well as reducing the amounts of nitrogen that are currently being deposited either from the air or agriculture. Introducing species should be seen as a last resort and only when conditions are right. And finally, we need to keep monitoring our threatened plants because without the amazing evidence collected by projects such as TPP we really have no idea of what is happening to them and why.

LM: Kevin, thank you so much for talking to us about the TPP, and of course for all the hard work that you, Bob and Pete have put into this project! We've only been able to scratch the surface in this interview so I'm sure lots of people will want to buy the TPP book once it's published next month. 

The back cover of Threatened Plants
in Britain and Ireland:
 many thanks
to the sponsors who helped
fund printing costs
Image: P. Stroh
The dedicated webpage for the TPP book is here and has links for people wishing to buy a copy but BSBI members can save money by taking advantage of the pre-publication offer: click here to land on the members-only area of the BSBI website (you'll need to have your password to hand) and you will save £5 on the cost of the TPP book.

If you haven't yet joined BSBI, why not check out this page? It lists all the benefits of BSBI membership and there's a secure payment option, making it very quick and easy for you to become a BSBI member and start getting involved

October really is the ideal month in which to join BSBI if you haven't already! The pre-publication offer on the TPP book runs until the end of October and of course if you join BSBI after 1st October, you get three "free" months and then your subscription starts in January and runs until the end of 2018. 

Don't worry that you've missed out on taking part in the TPP - we have lots of other great projects to which you can contribute once you are a BSBI member!  

Sunday, 24 September 2017

An adventure in urban plant hunting: Part Two

Last month we heard from Phoebe O'Brien about the urban wild flower walk she was planning to lead in Galway on 26th August. 

Participants such as writer and "lapsed biologist" Stan Carey took to Twitter over the weekend to report on how much they enjoyed the #bsbigalwaywalk. Stan's tweet is copied below and he also shared the photo on the right:

"Exploring Galway's native flora between the canal and the river. Thanks to for a fine walk & talk. "

Image: C. Seale
I asked Phoebe to tell us a bit more about how the day went:

"The BSBI Galway Walk was my first time leading an event for BSBI, and it was also the first ever Heritage Week BSBI event. I need to thank Maria Long and Louise Marsh for their mentoring through the grant application and event management, and Eugene and Ciaran for taking the heat and splitting the participants up between us. 

"I think we ended up with more than 25 explorers, including three generations in one family. It was quite a big group on the narrow path between the canal and the River Corrib. Ciaran managed to make records of 80 plants, including some water weeds which he fished out to the delight of the children, who then had to have a go too.

"We also need to thank Carroll's pub on Dominick Street for letting us use the beer garden, where we looked through the contents of my home made vasculum which some of the children had filled with plants they had found. This gave us a chance to do some revision and briefly open the floras. 

Phoebe (standing) and the urban
wild flower hunters
Image: C. Seale
"The mixture of ages, languages and abilities really made it a really interesting group. I learned much from them too.

"As a follow up I've written a five page PDF covering 20 Common Urban Plants, a selection of the plants which we saw on the day. The PDF can be downloaded here.

"I really think it was worth it to bring BSBI’s work to a wider audience and I hope that we can create more beginner events like this and work with the Heritage Council again in the future".

Phoebe also asked participant Catherine Seale to offer a few comments about the walk: 

“I had the great pleasure of taking part in the walk and was really impressed by the variety of plants that we came across. The keen eyes of the guides helped me to see things that I had never properly noticed before. Indeed, I was particularly impressed by their knowledge of the aquatic plants as this a particularly hard group to master. 

Wild flower specimens ready for identification
Image: C. Seale
"Species spotted included natives such as charophytes and pondweeds, and invasives including what may be Nuttal's Water Weed". (LM: I understand that Phoebe has sent this plant to one of the BSBI expert plant referees for confirmation]. 

"Botanising in the urban environment, I have to say, revealed a rich diversity that has left me wanting to learn more!  Well done to all involved.”

Many thanks to Catherine and Stan for their feedback and for the photos, to Phoebe for leading such a successful walk and for sharing the pdf, and again, we are delighted to acknowledge funding from the Heritage Council for funding this event as part of Heritage Week 2017.