Monday, 1 March 2021

Interview with Sarah Woods, BSBI's new Fundraising Manager

It’s not every day that BSBI welcomes a new staff member – and even rarer when we’re talking about a brand new post! Late last year we advertised for our first ever BSBI Fundraising Manager and after a long and rigorous interview process, we appointed Sarah Woods. She started in post today, Monday 1st March, and I couldn’t wait to interview her:

LM: So Sarah, welcome to BSBI! Would you like to tell us a bit about yourself and what you were doing before you joined us?

SW: It’s incredibly exciting to be here, if all a little surreal in the latter half of the pandemic! I’m a Somerset girl born and bred, currently living in London with dreams of greener pastures. I originally got into fundraising following my undergraduate degree in Cambridge, and it’s been fantastically rewarding to put myself to use connecting people with causes they care about, to the betterment of all.

I’m lucky that it’s also taken me to some exciting places – including a trip to Hong Kong and Beijing, working at The National Theatre for three years, and most recently looking after operations in the South East for the UK’s leading Surf Therapy charity, The Wave Project – helping young people improve their mental health and resilience through surfing.

Sarah on firewood duties in
the Canadian Yukon, 2017 
LM: That sounds like a real variety box of organisations! Are there any similarities between working at an organisation like The National Theatre and BSBI?

SW: The voluntary sector is a brilliant melting pot of organisations and causes, but at the end of the day I think it comes down to communities – I love people who are passionate about something, and I love helping them express and work on that passion, whether that’s Shakespeare or species of orchids. But I imagine there might be fewer opportunities to bump into Judi Dench in the canteen here…

LM: Ah, I’m afraid we don’t even have a staff canteen, so your opportunities for bumping into national treasures may be rather limited! But there is a large and ever-expanding botanical community and you’ll certainly be able to transfer some of those skills and that experience to your new role at BSBI. So what’s your first priority for the next few weeks?

SW: I’m looking forward to meeting as many people as possible who make BSBI tick and learning what the heart of the organisation is about; the welcome from everyone I’ve spoken to so far has been incredibly warm.

Not a bad campsite: on a canoe
expedition with British Exploring on
Byglandsfjorden, Norway 2014
LM: Botanists are a really friendly bunch! What about longer term? What goals would you like to have achieved by the end of the summer?

SW: With this role being new to the organisation, I want to make sure it becomes embedded in moving the organisational strategy forwards, but that it also builds on the great foundations that exist currently. I’d like to have secured some exciting grant opportunities for new and on-going projects, and to have started the process of making our great membership offering even more widely known. Equally, I’d like to make it as easy as possible for as many people as possible to support the work of BSBI, and to buy into our mission and vision. Wrapping up the Atlas 2020 project is going to be something that feeds into most of those goals.

LM: Is this a good moment to ask if you like wild flowers? I’m assuming you aren’t going to say “eew no, can’t stand ‘em...” but of course you don’t need to be a botanist to fundraise for the Botanical Society!

Walking the Offa's Dyke Path
with friends, 2019
SW: My botanical knowledge is definitely at the beginner level – but my father is an incredibly keen gardener, and growing up in the countryside I can recognise a lot of verge and path-side plants by sight, so I’m hoping I can seize the opportunity to learn from the best!

LM: Ah that makes you the ideal person to try out some of the resources we’ve been assembling in recent years, such as our helpful hints for getting started in botany and our plant ID page for beginners. I think the outdoors and nature are important to you though?

SW: Yes, the outdoors and nature are incredibly important to me – where my ‘soul’ is happiest, I like to think – and with a name like ‘Woods’ I’m guessing that was true for my ancestors too. I’ve done a couple of expeditions with the British Exploring Society, and can’t wait to get back out into all the fantastic landscapes that Britain and Ireland have to offer as soon as the restrictions allow.

LM: Well don’t forget to visit some marshes - a much maligned habitat, a bit soggy but with some great plants! Sarah, you told us at your interview that you had attended last year’s BSBI Exhibition Meeting and enjoyed it. So now you are on the staff, can I put your name down for a short slot at this year’s meeting in November, so you can tell everyone how you are getting on in the role?  

SW: Absolutely – hopefully we can celebrate some great achievements and the continuing generosity of this community.

LM: It’s a deal! And meanwhile, where can people reach you if they are interested to learn more about BSBI’s development?

SW: My email address is sarah.woods@bsbi.org and I’d be more than happy to hear from anyone who has thoughts or ideas on all facets of BSBI’s charitable arm – from the membership and its benefits, to funding opportunities we could pursue, to recruiting new supporters.

LM: Well good luck, keep us posted on how you’re getting on and once again – welcome to the BSBI!

SW: Thank you!

Friday, 26 February 2021

Updated Vascular Plant Red List for Great Britain

BSBI members David Pearman, Simon Leach and Pete Stroh all sit on the Red List group and have sent us this notice:  

The vascular plant Red List for GB indicates the current threat status of all of native species and includes detailed reasons for any threat category, even down to the latest population estimate, where relevant. The current version of the Red List, updated to 2018, is available on the BSBI’s Taxon lists page and on JNCC’s website. Compilers of County Floras and County Rare Plant Registers should note that the native/archaeophytes/aliens statuses given in the list, which are definitive, not infrequently differ from those in Stace’s ed.4 (2019)

All the changes in threat status since the original publication of the Red List (Cheffings & Farrell, 2005) are contained, with full rationale, in periodic notes in BSBI News and listed in the worksheet “Published amendments” linked above. Please note that Hieracium are temporarily removed from the list while they are overhauled, so anyone needing to know any hawkweed assessments should contact us. Rubus is currently under active review, thanks to David Earl and colleagues. 

The list is maintained by the BSBI, with the assistance of its partners from the three Country Agencies, JNCC, Kew, Natural History Museum and Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. 

BSBI members can read more about the work of the Red List Group in BSBI News no. 134 (January 2017) p62. Back issues of BSBI News, from 2016-2021, are available via the password-protected members-only area of the BSBI website. Earlier issues are available to all via our publications archive. 

References 

Leach, S.J. 2007. The Vascular Plant Red Data List for Great Britain: Year 1 amendments.  BSBI News 104: 19-21.

Leach, S.J. 2010. The Vascular Plant Red Data List for Great Britain: Year 2 amendments.  BSBI News 113: 43-44.

Leach, S.J. 2017. Vascular plant Red Data List for Great Britain: a summary of amendments in years 10 & 11 (2015-16) of the annual amendments process. BSBI News 135: 59-62.

Leach, S.J. 2019. Vascular plant Red Data List for Great Britain: a summary of amendments in years 12 and 13 (2017-18) of the annual amendments process. BSBI News 141: 3-7.

Leach, S.J. & Walker, K.J. 2011. Vascular Plant Red Data List for Great Britain: a summary of year 5 amendments, covering years 3, 4 and 5 (2008-10) of the annual amendments process. BSBI News 116: 51-56.

Leach, S.J. & Walker, K.J. 2013. The vascular plant Red Data List for Great Britain: a summary of amendments in years 6 and 7 (2011-12) of the annual amendments process.  BSBI News 123: 17-21.

Leach, S.J. & Walker, K.J. 2015. The vascular plant Red Data List for Great Britain: a summary of amendments in years 8 and 9 (2013-14) of the annual amendments process. BSBI News 128: 47-54.

Stace, C.A. 2019. New Flora of the British Isles. 4th. ed. Middlewood Green, Suffolk: C.&.M. Floristics.

Friday, 19 February 2021

Ice and snow but lots to read! February report from BSBI President

In the last blogpost by BSBI President Lynne Farrell, we heard about her New Year Plant Hunts in Cumbria and over the border in North Lancashire

Now Lynne tells us what she’s been up to in the last few weeks:

“It has been cold, frosty, icy and with some snow, so we have all been feeling ‘under the weather’. 

Fortunately, there are local places of interest, which I have been able to visit and cheer myself up.

The heartfelt message in a carved wooden heart (image above right) put up by some caring locals has been much appreciated.

Down on the promenade one of the few sites for Maidenhair fern has been temporarily encased in ice (image below left), but although this species prefers shady, moisture-filled air and relatively warm niches, it seems to survive this treatment and is one of our BOOM targets (Back On Our Map).

Meathop Moss, a Cumbria Wildlife Trust reserve, is on the other side of the bay, and you can see how many visitors there were recently by the tracks in the snow (image below right).

The colourful January issue of BSBI News has been delivered, and there are many interesting discoveries throughout Britain and Ireland to read about. Members certainly made the most of spending more time in their local patches.

The new issue of British and Irish Botany, Volume 3 number 1, is now on-line and also provides a good read.

The results of the BSBI’s New Year Plant Hunt have been analysed by Ellen Goddard, a member of our Events & Communications Committee, and a PhD student, and can be viewed on the website.

I’m not going to attempt to summarise them, so please take advantage of the links and investigate the various resources which are available to you all".

Tuesday, 16 February 2021

British & Irish Botany: February issue published

Details of the underside of a Scottish example
of a true Diphasiastrum x issleri
Image: F. Rumsey
The first issue has just been published of volume three of British & Irish Botany, BSBI's online, open access scientific journal. This time around we have seven papers for you, many of them authored or co-authored by BSBI County Recorders, past and present, and three past Presidents!

Over to Editor Ian Denholm (also a past President, from 2013-5) to tell you about the first two papers:

"Although the vast majority of hybrids recorded in Britain and Ireland arise from crosses between plants in the same genus, hybridisation between genera is also possible. 

"Mike Wilcox, Stuart Desjardins and Clive Stace (BSBI President 1987-9 as well as the author of the New Flora of the British Isles) review in detail the occurrence and identification of hybrids between the genera Elymus (couchgrasses) and Hordeum (barleys) based on a combination of morphological, cytological and molecular criteria. 

Fruiting stem of Scheuchzeria palustris
Coire Daingean, 2018
Image: P. Smith
"Also on a hybrid theme, the Natural History Museum's Fred Rumsey, together with Hazel and Chris Metherell (BSBI President 2017-9) explore records of an enigmatic and misunderstood hybrid clubmoss, one of whose parents no longer occurs in Britain, if it ever did occur".

From Scotland, we have two papers. Firstly, there's a paper about Scotland's heritage of naturalised medicinal plants by Michael Braithwaite, BSBI President 2008-2011, County Recorder for Berwickshire for may years, Vice-County Recorder Emeritus and author of various publications about botany in the Scottish Borders

Confused hawkweed from
Bryn Euryn (type locality)
Image: T. Rich
Secondly, there's an overview of Scheuchzeria palustris, the Rannoch rush, in Scotland. This paper is by Paul Smith, County Recorder for the Outer Hebrides; Ian Strachan, County Recorder for Westerness; and Angus Coupar from NatureScot (formerly Scottish Natural Heritage). 

From Wales, we have two papers on the distribution and status of Welsh endemic hawkweeds, co-authored by Tim Rich and Sarah Lee. 

The first paper considers the conservation status of Hieracium britannicoides aka the 'confused hawkweed' - Wendy McCarthy, County Recorder for Caernarvonshire, is also a co-author on this paper. 

The second looks at Hieracium breconicola the Beacons hawkweed, whose IUCN status is 'Critically Endangered'. 

Tim is the author of several BSBI Handbooks, including three on hawkweed sections; his latest hawkweed Handbook has just been published and BSBI members can benefit from a special discount price if they place their order before the end of February. 

A "novel" urban emergent woodland
(including Alnus cordata)  in Dublin
Image: D. Buckley
From the Republic of Ireland, Daniel Buckley offers personal observations on two non-native alder species naturalising in Ireland. Daniel isn't a County Recorder or a past President - he isn't even a BSBI member - but that doesn't matter: we are keen to publish any rigorous, well-researched material relating to the vascular plants and charophytes of Britain and Ireland. 

If you have an idea for a paper, please get in touch with us for an informal chat. We are especially keen to help first-time authors and early-career researchers to publish their first ever scientific paper and can provide extra support to help them through the process. 

We hope you enjoy reading our latest issue of British & Irish Botany!

Tuesday, 2 February 2021

Toothed Fireweed: a glimmer of light in a devastating year

Irish botanist Zoe Devlin, author of best-selling titles such as The Wildflowers of Ireland: a field guide and Wildflowers of Ireland: a personal record has been in touch to tell us about a botanical discovery which piqued her interest during a very difficult year. 

Over to Zoe to tell us more: 

"The year 2020 took so much and gave very little in return. There were many negatives, very few positives and it will be long remembered as a year of devastation to the many who lost loved ones. A tiny glimmer of light that I will recall was what happened, botanically-speaking, within my home place.

My first sighting of Toothed Fireweed Senecio minimus had been on St Stephen’s Day, 26th December 2019, when I took a short wander from my home in Dalkey, Co Dublin, to walk off some of the previous day’s excesses. It was growing on the top of an old granite wall at the top of a steep embankment, the DART railway tracks some 50ft below and I knew I had never seen the leaves of this plant before. All I could see that remained of its flowering was a few straggly bits of dead pappus. So at least it was probably a member of the Asteraceae family, I thought. It seemed like a good time to wish my friend, Paul Green, the season’s greetings and also to show him my photograph of those leaves. Within a very short while, my curiosity was satisfied by an identification. But what, I wondered, would the flowers look like? Where had the plant come from and how did it get there? I had no idea when it would flower and I hoped it wouldn’t be in summer as I usually desert Dalkey, at that time, for diverse parts of the country. However, other events took over.

With the devastating arrival of the coronavirus to our shores, and the threat to the health of the nation, a tight lockdown was imposed. Initially, being of an age I’d rather forget, myself and my husband, Pete, were instructed to remain firmly within our home and garden. Our garden being tiny, this was very tough but we obeyed. We had already experienced the loss of our son, Nik, who fell foul of the virus in the UK in March. We would do our best to minimize any further distress to our family.

Within a few weeks, the restrictions eased slightly and we were permitted to take exercise within a radius of 2 km of our home. I got to know every crack in every pavement within those 2kms. In fact, we didn’t have the benefit of a full 2km because with Dalkey being a coastal town, half of our radius was in the Irish Sea! But those cracks in pavements generated a form of manna from heaven. With the local council also locked down, no street cleaning was taking place so the streets became fringed in green, apart from a couple of areas where ‘neat-freak’ neighbours had dosed their bit of pavement with herbicide and a horrible, dead, brown fringe betrayed their distaste for nature. Fumitories, Sow-thistles, Long-headed Poppies, Common Mallow, Ivy-leaved Toadflax, Welsh Poppies, Chickweed, Speedwells, Forget-me-nots and Purple Toadflax were among the many ‘weeds’ which were left in peace for several months.

However, my exercise route on most days took me past the Toothed Fireweed and I watched closely as its stems emerged from its lower leaves. Eventually I got to see the flowers. Miniscule, tight, cylindrical bundles of yellow disc florets with short, thread-like outer florets were held in abundant panicles on tough green-dark purple stems. I also found one other plant growing at the same site and even spotted a few small specimens in some pavement cracks at least 100m away. I wondered if ‘my’ plant would survive or would I never see that species again. Coming to this country from New Zealand and Australia where it flowers throughout the year and is predominantly coastal, it is also established on the Pacific coast of the USA. 

Our lockdown was lifted in July and we left Dalkey for some months but returned in November as the weather was cooling. I couldn’t find ‘my’ plant as the entire area had been overwhelmed by Russian-vine, but I walked further and took myself into Sorrento Park. This public space had been upgraded and landscaped in the time we were away. I was glad to see that although flowerbeds had been created and garden plants installed, large patches of wild vegetation had been left alone. I had previously found White Comfrey, White Ramping-fumitory, Heath Groundsel and Hedgerow Crane’s-bill thriving among many other species. But I was absolutely amazed to see how many plants of Toothed Ragweed were spread across the wild patch. I lost count at forty.

My botanical knowledge was further increased – again with the help of Paul Green – when I found that what I had taken to be Common Ramping Fumitory growing in the grounds of a nearby convent was, in fact, Common Fumitory. Paul asked for further photographs in order to confirm the identification and eventually he discovered that not only were those two species growing in the convent grounds but there was also quite a lot of Purple Ramping-fumitory and Tall Ramping-fumitory present. If I had not been obliged to spend so much time in such a small area, I doubt I would have ever seen any of these species".

Many thanks to Zoe for telling us about her botanical discoveries and for sharing the images on this page, all taken by her.

Monday, 1 February 2021

BSBI News: January issue published

The latest issue of BSBI News has been mailed out to more than 3,200 members and should be dropping through letterboxes in the next day or two. 

The 2021 BSBI Yearbook will also be in the mailing - I can't tell you anything more about the Yearbook, it's strictly members-only, but I can give you a taster of what's in BSBI News #146! 

The opening story, about the astonishing appearance of Creeping Marshwort at a site in West Suffolk, most probably arising from the seed bank following disturbance as a result of conservation management, has already been covered on this blog and in a poster at the BSBI Exhibition Meeting.

Frankly the discovery, made last summer, was too jaw-dropping to sit on for months! 

But the second feature, about the first British or Irish record of Long-lipped Tongue-orchid, was news to me and very exciting - vehicle-assisted dispersal is believed to be the vector here. 

Three cheers for sharp-eyed Daphne Mills of the Kent Botanical Recording Group who spotted the Tongue-orchid and took the image on the left.

A third surprising find is reported by Carl Sayer and Jo Parmenter who write about the work of the Norfolk Ponds Project and the first confirmed county record in over a century of Grass-poly at a pond restoration site in East Norfolk. 

A fourth surprising find - there's a definite theme to this latest issue! - comes from Robbie Blackhall-Miles who reports on the discovery of a second extant plant of the Catacol Whitebeam Sorbus pseudomeinichii, one of the Isle of Arran's ultra-rare whitebeams and arguably one of the rarest trees in the world (there is one further up the glen but no others anywhere on the planet!). 

To complete the quintet of surprising finds, Melinda Lyons reports on the second record for Ireland of Mibora minima, a tiny grass species found on North Bull Island in Dublin Bay, whose only previous Irish record was in dunes in West Cork. 

There are four other featured articles but I'll just mention two of them: Alla Mashanova's fascinating article about using dash cams for recording plants on road verges and Ivor Rees's piece on Large Sea-lavender (image on right) which has managed to resist the impacts of some very stormy weather: Ivor considers why this might be the case. 

I'm still less than halfway through the 88-page issue so time to summarise a bit more: the regular 'Introducing my vice-county' page is an account by County Recorder Paul Smith about the Outer Hebrides

Type Outer Hebrides into the search box on the right to read some of the many reports, such as this or this, about Paul's recording trips to various Outer Hebridean islands. 

And if you follow BSBI on Twitter, you'll recognise Paul's photo of Starry Saxifrage: it's our header!

The eight-page 'Aliens and Adventives' section includes some of the surprising alien plants that have turned up across Britain and Ireland, such as this peanut (image on left, taken by Graham Clark) flowering in North Essex

Richard Milne reports on the problem of naming British Rhododendrons, including that scourge of conservation managers, the colourful but highly invasive Rhododendron ponticum

There's an eight-page round-up, curated by Pete Stroh, of botanical news from across England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales; readers' letters; five pages of book reviews compiled by Clive Stace... not to mention various inserts, including a flyer telling you how to claim almost a third off the price of the latest BSBI Handbook

You can now download a sample issue of BSBI News for January and there's one free article in full, both aimed at showing non-members just what they are missing. 

Head over to this page for those  sample issues and free articles or, if you've already decided you'd like three copies each year of BSBI News plus exclusive access to 100+ expert plant referees and a whole host of other membership benefits, then head over here and join us now: we'd love to welcome you as a member! 

For now we'll leave you with this lovely photo (above right), taken by Rob Peacock, of the Grass-poly from Norfolk.

Saturday, 30 January 2021

New Year Plant Hunt in the media

Since the analysis of the BSBI 2021 New Year Plant Hunt was published a few days ago, we've had a gratifying amount of media interest!

The story was covered in the print editions of two national newspapers, The Times and the Daily Express. We've scanned both articles and they can be seen on this page. Click on the images to view them at a larger size. 

Two specialist periodicals, Horticulture Week and The Landscaper, both covered the story and it was also picked up by regional newspapers from Guernsey to Ilkley.

Ellen Goddard, who carried out the analysis of results this year, was interviewed on BBC Radio Leicester on Wednesday (starts at 1:54:26) and University of Loughborough where she is in the final year of a PhD also covered the story on their website. 

Several journalists have been in touch to discuss doing features on the New Year Plant Hunt and other BSBI activities, so we'll share links on this page once those features appear in print.