Tuesday, 14 August 2018

BSBI Mayo Recording Event 2018: Days 2 & 3

Mark, Eoin, Clare & me (with my 
trusty copy of Poland!) 
in Ciara's woodland on Clare Island
Image: O. Duggan
Day 2: On our second day on Clare Island we split into three groups again.

I was in a group led by Rory Hodd, legendary leader of Ireland's Rough Crew. We visited the only bit of woodland on the island where we spotted plants typical of ancient woodland, such as Sanicula europaea and Oxalis acetosella. After yesterday's coastal heath I felt I was back on home territory, being based in the English midlands! 

To kick off the woodland visit we had a short talk by landowner Ciara about which species she had planted and which were there already. Mark, who is volunteering on Ciara's farm this summer, and part-time resident/local historian Malachi, both joined us for the day and we benefited greatly from their local knowledge and enthusiasm.

Drosera rotundifolia (Round-leaved sundew)
Image: F. O'Neill
After a few hours we emerged from the woodland into some bog with a fabulous view across the bay to a range of mountains and I knew I was definitely in the west of Ireland and not in Leicestershire! 

Rory was on superb form identifying spike-rushes without even bending down because he knows the plants and the habitat so well. He also managed to spot charophytes and Utricularia spp. in a bog pond (I would have trotted past and not even noticed them!) and took specimens of both to look at more closely later on.

After lunch we headed down to the saltmarsh and spotted Aster tripolium, Bolboschoenus maritimus, Tripleurospermum maritimum and lots of things I never see in Leicestershire. 

A purple patch: Pinguicula vulgaris
Image: L. Marsh
After a great day's botanising we just had time for an ice-cream and then we headed for the ferry back to the mainland. Most of us set off on the drive to Castlebar, our base for the next few days, while Rory and botanists Roisin and Kate Marie sailed off to Inishturk for a day's recording before rejoining us.

Day 3: Today on the mainland I joined a group led by Eamonn Delaney who recently took on the mantle of County Recorder for East Mayo. We managed to cover five monads to the southeast of Knock and notched up 227 taxa in all. Highlights of the day were Sparganium natans, Parnassia palustris, a gorgeous patch of Pinguicula vulgaris in flower, another mystery Utricularia, Galium uliginosum which we don't see much of in VC55... actually the whole day was one great big highlight!

Pale Butterwort Pinguicula lusitanica
Image: F. O'Neill 
Another group led by Maria Long were recording a little to the north of  Eamonn's group. Their first monad was so rich, with 115 taxa within 100m of the car! They moved on to a boggy area after lunch and found six carnivorous plants within a few meters of each other: both Drosera species and the hybrid between them; 2 Pinguicula spp. and a Utricularia!

We caught up with the third group for dinner. Leader Robert Northridge had led his team to a coastal square with a river flowing through. They recorded 183 taxa in their first monad, including three Droseras, both Triglochins, Hypericum humifussum, Lythrum portula, Utricularia minor and Radiola linoides. On the way back, they visited a stony lake shore which Robert and his wife Hannah had visited decades earlier and found Parnassia palustris and Spiranthes romanzoffiana. Would they refind the Spiranthes? Yes: botanist Fiona was in Robert's group and spotted several spikes.

From left: Rory, Russell, me, Eoin, Mark, Sunniva,
Mary-Kate, Peter, Hannah, Robert, Sinead & Val:
just a few of the 27 people who signed up for the
2018 BSBI Mayo Recording Event
Image: M. Long
Rory, Roisin and Kate Maria also joined us at dinner, fresh off the ferry from Inishturk. I asked Rory how he got on and he explained that he'd been out on Inishturk earlier this year so was really just going back to add a few more species. He's a modest chap so Maria, sitting next to him at dinner, explained this actually meant that 100+ species were added and Rory had found Euphorbia hyberna, a new record for the whole of Mayo, before 9am.   

So, another fabulous day with the delightful and incredibly modest Irish botanists!

Tomorrow is our last full day of recording. It will be hard to top the three amazing days we've already enjoyed - catch up with us here to find out how we got on. To find out more about the 2018 BSBI Mayo recording Event, check out this #BSBIMayo2018 hashtag.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

BSBI Mayo Recording Event 2018

Botany on the edge:
don't jump Eamon!
Image: M. Long
Today was the first day of the 2018 BSBI Mayo Recording Event and I was privileged to spend time in the field with one of the three recording groups. 

Our group, led by BSBI Irish Officer Maria Long, headed to the north of Clare Island to record as many species as we could for Atlas 2020. We covered four monads and collected a grand total of 321 records. Ok, some were duplicated from one monad to another, but we still felt very pleased with ourselves by the end of the day! Beginner botanist Kate was in our group and I asked her what her "plant of the day" was. She chose Triglochin palustris (Marsh arrowgrass) with its delicious scent - a mixture of coriander and carrots! 

Rory and the Rough Crew
Image: O. Duggan
While we were out recording, we ran into media celebrity Duncan Stewart who presents and produces the very popular Irish TV programme Eco Eye. Duncan said it was wonderful to see Maria Long again (they are old pals) and good to see us looking at native plant species (I tried to tell him about our Atlas recording but he already knew all about it!). Duncan also asked "What about the invasive species?" - we had a good chat about Gunnera tinctoria which is being spotted increasingly frequently and Duncan has some very interesting ideas on control - and "What about climate change?". Duncan is hoping to cover these important issues on forthcoming programmes, so we'll keep you all posted about this. 

Salix herbacea
Image: H. Crouch
We caught up with the other two groups in the evening to compare notes over dinner and a drink. BSBI national field meetings like this are social occasions as well as recording events, so we really like to enjoy ourselves after a day in the field!

Robert Northridge's group had covered three monads and made more than 300 records in the west of the island. I asked Robert what their "plant of the day" was and he couldn't decide between Empetrum nigrum, typical of the boggy/ acid grasslands found here, and Crithmum maritimum, spotted at the end of the day on a south-facing cliff. 

Rory Hodd took a Rough Crew group up to the top of Knockmore, the highest point of the island and they recorded two other monads as well, amassing a total of more than 300 records. Rory's "plant of the day" was Polystichum lonchitis Holly Fern, the first time this plant has been recorded here for more than 100 years! Southern English botanists Fred Rumsey and Helena Crouch were in Rory's group and were particularly pleased to see Salix herbacea - check out the BSBI distribution map to see why - and Irish botanist Rory said he'd never seen it growing at such a low altitude (unless you know differently?) or so high (a whopping 5+cm!) - again, if you've seen a bigger specimen we'd like to know!

Planning tomorrow's itinerary
Image: M. Long
A few more botanists arrived on today's ferry, swelling our numbers to 20, so we'll be splitting into four groups and trying to zap all the monads we didn't reach today. Will we succeed before we have to catch the evening ferry? Check this blog tomorrow to find out!  

Monday, 6 August 2018

Fern identification in Wales

Cwm Idwal
Image: F. O'Neill
Fiona tells us about a fern identification course she attended recently:

"In mid-July I travelled from Cork, with my naturalist friend, to North Wales to attend a fern (and allies) identification course at the Field Studies Council (FSC) centre in Rhyd-y-creuau, near Betws-y-coed village. We arrived a few days before the course started to explore a little of North Wales, and really, you should go there, it’s fantastic, with walks galore and stunning scenery.

"On Friday evening, the course participants met at Rhyd-y-creuau for dinner followed by an overview of the next three days. 13 attended, with six taking the course for credits towards an MSc, and the remaining seven having a general interest in ferns. Our tutors were Chris and Hazel Metherell, Chris is the current BSBI President and Hazel is an artist and botanist with a particular interest in ferns.

Cryptogramma crispa
Image: F. O'Neill
"After dinner we kicked off with a video called Ferns: The Secret Life, looking at their unique sexual reproduction processes. The recommended text for the course was The Fern Guide by James Merryweather & Michael Hill (2007, originally published in 1995), valuable for its illustrations and descriptions. And during the evening, Chris and Hazel outlined the method they use to ID ferns—more of that in Fern ID tips at the end.

"On Saturday morning we crammed into the mini-bus, driven by Chris, and headed to a national nature reserve, Cwm Idwal, a spectacular glacial corrie in the Glyderau mountain range. There’s a popular walk around the lake, Llyn Idwal, and other paths branching off it that take you higher. The day turned misty and drizzly, which didn’t affect the ferns in the slightest just our views of the cwm and our ability to write on damp notepaper—the scene below was one I fortunately prepared earlier in the week on a recce.

Lycopodiella inundata
Image: F. O'Neill
"The first two ferns Chris stopped at and used to go through his identification method were the relatively common Dryopteris dilatata (Broad buckler fern) and Asplenium trichomanes (Maidenhair spleenwort), the first is tripinnate and the second once-pinnate. Next, we encountered two upland ferns, Oreopteris limbosperma (Lemon-scented or Mountain fern) and the bushy Cryptogramma crispa (Parsley fern), the latter is plentiful here, but a rarity in Ireland.

"As we made our way higher, we paused often to look closely at ferns, clubmosses, and occasionally other plants found in alpine habitats, including Saxifraga nivalis (Alpine saxifrage), existing on just one remaining rock, an indication that alpine plants are really struggling here.

"Cwm Idwal is home to four clubmosses and we were fortunate to see all of them: Lycopodium clavatum (Stag’s horn clubmoss), Huperzia selago (Fir clubmoss), Diphasiastrum alpinum (Alpine clubmoss), and Selaginella selaginoides (Lesser clubmoss).

Fun times on Saturday night
Image: F. O'Neill
"Among other unfamiliar ferns I saw were Cystopteris fragilis (Brittle bladder fern) and Phegopteris connectilis (Beech fern), both rare in the southern half of Ireland. C. fragilis can resemble young ferns of other species, therefore care needs to be taken to confirm the ID. P. connectilis has a couple of unique attributes that are useful in identification, the pinnae nearest the stem are entirely attached to the stem, and the lowest pinnae point out and downwards.

"Throughout the day we listened, and took notes, as Chris and Hazel clearly and patiently imparted their knowledge; Hazel often went ahead to check out the next species and waited for us to catch up.
Asplenium septentrionale
Image: F. O'Neill
On the way back from Cwm Idwal, we pulled in to the side of the road and hopped over a stile with Hazel to locate the fifth clubmoss of the day, Lycopodiella inundata (Marsh clubmoss) by a farm track.

"That evening, we got a taste of a lively Saturday night outing for botanists, a trip to a lead mine spoil heap in Gwydyr Forest Park, looking at Asplenium septentrionale (Forked spleenwort). It likes to be alone and is into heavy metals.

"On this marathon day we looked at 20 ferns and five clubmosses. 

"On Day 3, we headed to Anglesea, where we dashed around to seven different sites on a botanical treasure hunt for ferns and horsetails. Down country lanes for the polypodies, Polystichum aculeatum (Hard shield fern), and Asplenium adiantum-nigrum (Black spleenwort). To the coast for some sea air and Asplenium marinum (Sea spleenwort). And wading through bracken and briars to Thelypteris palustris (Marsh fern) and Dryopteris carthusiana (Narrow buckler fern).

En route to Dryopteris carthusiana
Image: F. O'Neill
"In the morning Chris introduced us to horsetails, and over the day we identified Equisetum arvense (Field horsetail), the most common species, Equisetum palustre (Marsh horsetail), Equisetum fluviatile (Water horsetail), and finally Equisetum x meridionale, one clump of which was near an RSPB reserve and has possibly been there for decades.

"Chris's tip for E. arvense and E. palustre: remember the acronym ALPS (Arvense: Long, Palustre: Short). This means that when you compare the length of the first junction of a side branch to the length of the sheath, it’s E. arvense if it’s longer than the sheath, and E. palustre if shorter.

"Arriving at our final destination for the day, we crossed the Menai bridge to nearby Treborth Botanic Garden, to view two rarities, Polystichum lonchitis (Holly Fern) and Woodsia alpina (Alpine woodsia).

After dinner at Rhyd-y-creuau, work continued. We examined polypody spores under the microscope, and Hazel introduced plant genetics, hybrid vigour, and explained what diploid and triploid plants are. 
Blechnum spicant
Image: F. O'Neill

"Chris then spoke about the complex Dryopteris affinis group, which is likely to be split out into many microspecies within the next few years. We were very happy to just contend with these three:
Dryopteris affinis (Scaly male fern)
Dryopteris borreri (Borrer’s scaly male fern)
Dryopteris cambrensis (Narrow scaly male fern).

"On the final morning we travelled to Coed Felinrhyd, described as “Wales’ own rainforest”. The shady and humid oak woodland is home to a wealth of ferns and bryophytes, and is a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) for bats.

"The sheer number of fern species here gave us the chance to revise what we learned from the previous two days. We were given the challenge of IDing ferns in the D. affinis group, which, when you’re with the experts, actually seems possible. We found examples of all three, the very scaly D. affinis; D. borreri is a neater plant and the pinnules look as if they’ve been razored across the top; in D. cambrensis the lowest pinnule “steps up” from the next. Of course, some of these characteristics are variable.

Phegopteris connectilis in Coed Felinrhyd
Image: F. O'Neill
"A week later ferns, clubmosses, and horsetails are still on the brain. Chris and Hazel couldn’t have been more generous with their knowledge and time, we learned so much and felt very lucky to have them as our tutors.

"Some highlights for me over the weekend included the abundant clumps of Blechnum spicant (Hard fern) in Coed Felinrhyd, its distinctive fertile fronds emerging from the centre; a Saturday night out looking at the heavy metal tolerant A. septentrionale (Forked spleenwort), and finally, seeing the graceful little P. connectilis (Beech fern) for the first time on Cwm Idwal and in Coed Felinrhyd.

"Rather than use keys to identify fern species, Chris and Hazel ask three (sometimes four) questions to arrive at the answer. The first two questions are always the same, and sometimes are all that are needed; questions three and four vary, depending on the answer to the previous two.
Indusium*. Does it have one? What is it like? For example, is it linear (Asplenium), c-shaped (Dryopteris), or j-shaped (Athyrium)?
What is the pinnateness of the plant? From 0 to 4, simple to tripinnate.
Examples of question 3 are:
What shape is the frond? For example, does it taper or stop suddenly?
What are the scales like? For example, do they have a dark central stripe?
Are the pinnae stalked? Diagnostic for Asplenium.
The fourth question is only required for a small number of ferns to reach an ID, an example is:
What colour is the rachis**?
*Indusium: Protective membrane covering the sporangia.
**Mid-rib, excluding the stipe".

Many thanks to Fiona for telling us about the fern course she attended. I'm looking forward to meeting her on Wednesday, when we'll both be at the BSBI Mayo Recording Event 2018 - any fern I see, I'll be asking Fiona to help me ID it! Watch this space ;-)

Friday, 27 July 2018

Byron's Gin: winning awards and supporting the next generation of botanists

Image courtesy of Byron's Gin/ Speyside Distillery
Great news that both expressions of Byron's Gin, BSBI's official gin, have just won an award in the prestigious International Wine & Spirit Competition. Melancholy Thistle won a silver medal and Bird Cherry won a bronze medal. You can read all about the awards in this post on the Scottish Gin Society's website.

The reason we are so pleased is quite mercenary: more awards mean more publicity, which (hopefully) means increased sales of Byron's Gin and ultimately more money contributed to BSBI to help support our training programme.

Training session at FSC Margam, 2017.
Student Richard (far left) attended
 thanks to a BSBI grant
Image: Jenni Duffell
Every year BSBI awards small training grants (up to £250) to botanists wishing to improve their skills. Some are beginners making a start with plant ID who will go on to contribute to recording and conservation projects, or ecological consultants wanting to add plant ID to their portfolio of skills. Others are already experienced recorders who want to sharpen their skills in a particular area. Grant applications open on 1st January each year and close again after a few weeks because we have spent the entire budget - if only we had more money to give to those budding botanists... 

Every grant recipient is invited to write a short account for these pages about the course they were able to attend thanks to that BSBI grant. We featured the first of this year's accounts a few weeks ago and there are more in the pipeline. Watch this space! 

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

They think the Summer Meeting's all over: it is now!

Mentha pulegium
Image courtesy of John Crellin/ Floral Images
Here's the eighth and final report by Jon Shanklin from the 2018 BSBI Summer Meeting on the Isle of Man:

"The final day of the longest Summer Meeting ever! The weather perhaps saved the worst for last. Although dry at breakfast, by the time we were packing there was light rain, and this persisted on and off for our remaining time on the Island. Those flying out later in the day were going to a limestone quarry and recording around Castletown, whilst those taking the Liverpool ferry went for a tetrad en route to Douglas.

"We started with a plantation, which although fairly diverse had nothing of particular note apart from Lophocolea bidentata growing on a spruce cone. We then thought about doing a circular walk, but decided to start with a look at the golf course pond. This did have Mentha pulegium growing on its margins so a good choice. 

Anagallis tenella
Image courtesy of John Crellin/ Floral Images
"What appeared from the space view to be a caravan park was actually a mock Tudor village, which proved to have surprisingly good set of urban weeds. Most surprising was Anagallis tenella growing in a lawn! We collected a few specimens of aliens for homework on the ferry, but as the rain was starting again decided against walking any further and drove to the ferry terminal. The crossing was pretty smooth and as we got in, the Queen Elizabeth left Liverpool to a fireworks display - a fitting end to this year's Summer Meeting!"

Huge thanks to Field Meetings Secretary Jon Shanklin for organising and leading the meeting, to Philippa Tomlinson (the County Recorder for the Isle of Man) and Peter Davey for all the local arrangements, and to Eric and Barbara Greenwood for their support. We'll let you know the total number of species recorded once Jon has finished digitising the record cards, but we hope he has a well-deserved rest first! Next year the ASM will be based at FSC Malham Tarn in Cumbria: bookings will open in November and we'll post details on the Summer Meeting webpage.

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

A tale of two Chrisses: because nature reserves are not enough!

When Chris M. met Chris P...
Image: Andy Taylor
When BSBI President Chris Metherell and his wife Hazel (also a botanist) headed off to FSC Rhyd y creuau in North Wales on Friday to teach a botany course, little did they know they were about to run into one of TV's most famous wildlife ambassadors! 

The course was called 'A Botanical Odyssey' and the aim was to record 300 plant species in two days and pass on some ID tips, folklore and ecological information to the students - a mixture of ages (early 20s to 60-something) and abilities (undergrads, botanical beginners and active botanists keen to sharpen their skills, BSBI members...) As Chris says, to show that "there is something in botany for everyone!" 

They didn't realise until they arrived at the FSC centre that Chris Packham and his team had chosen the same day to visit Rhyd y creuau as part of Chris's UK Bioblitz 2018 which aims to visit 50 wildlife sites across the UK in 10 days and "highlight the extent to which the nation's wildlife is under threat" The tagline for Chris's UK Biolitz 2018 is 'Nature Reserves are not enough!'

Dorset Flora Group out plant-hunting
 yesterday at the FBA River Lab Bioblitz
Chris M and Chris P had time for a quick chat and the moment was captured on camera by centre manager Andy Taylor, and then it was back to the task at hand, recording as many species as possible in the grounds around the centre. 

Click on this link to see the the species count from the FSC Rhyd y creuau Bioblitz including the 138 plant species found in just a couple of hours by Chris and Hazel Metherell and their 10 students. 

Lots of botanists, wildlife-lovers and local recording groups are out Biolitzing across the country this summer, many using BSBI's free ID resources, all getting involved and adding to our knowledge of what's out there and how our plants and animals are faring. To all of them we'd like to say a huge THANK YOU!

Monday, 23 July 2018

BSBI Summer Meeting 2018: Day Seven

Botanists avoiding the rain
Image: L. Gravestock
This year's BSBI Summer Meeting on the Isle of Man is nearing its end so here is the penultimate report from organiser Jon Shanklin:

"The final full day of the ASM and another day of tetrad recording.  Only one minor reshuffle required after breakfast this time. The forecast was for dry weather, but there was cloud sitting on the mountain tops. For my team this was critical as we were going to do some moorland recording - would it be wet cloud or dry cloud. The drive up didn't produce any spots on the windscreen, but once we'd parked it was clear that there was a heavy deposit of water droplets on all the vegetation. We were going to get wet boots and damp trousers!"

"We set off, and with nothing notable seen in a fairly 'samey' moorland in the first monad, decided we might as well record the next monad in full, rather than simply adding to the tetrad list. Our route now took us to the edge of a plantation (Pinus contorta and Picea sitkensis) and we followed the edge down to a river, where we did get a bit more variety.  Lunchtime beckoned so we found a relatively dry bank to sit on, though as the sun broke through the clouds, a few midges did arrive. After lunch we continued along the stream, spotting a spider web which had just caught a fly, and the spider started wrapping it up for its lunch. Unfortunately for the spider we also spotted a yellow sedge and in the process of getting a sample to check if it was Carex demissa (it was) tore the web off its supports. We found a couple of other spiders, one orange and one olive green, which were probably the same species.

An interesting spider: Araneus
on Juncus conglomeratus
Image: K. Tucker
"We now headed back up to the track which was frequently used by bikers and the erosion that they had caused gave us a good view of the stratigraphy of the first metre or so of surface drift. We decided we might as well continue on into the next tetrad and record its first monad, and this gave us several plants not seen yet, such as Bellis perennis and Urtica dioica. A sign proclaimed a protected road verge that was being managed for its wildlife. Unfortunately the management was of the do nothing kind, so all the nice wildflowers were now covered in thick gorse and bramble.  An odd looking Sorbus on one side of the lane was probably the hybrid of S. aucuparia and S. intermedia agg, as both parents were present in the area. Reaching the end of the monad we retraced our steps.

"An open gate tempted us into a hay field and this showed us what the protected road verge might have been like, with Campanula rotundifolia and Hypericum pulchrum along the margin. Crossing into the next field we first inspected some ground disturbed around a cattle feeding station, which gave some typical arable species such as Chenopodium album and Stellaria media, then some tractor ruts which added Galeopsis tetrahit and Spergula arvensis. After that we marched back to the car but didn't add anything else significant to the list.

Western gorse
Image: L Gravestock
"We had one final section of the tetrad to look at if we could, but that depended on whether we could park on the side of the TT track (the main A18 from Douglas to Ramsey) at the appropriate spot. We passed one shelter which didn't look very promising, but managed to stop at the next. This was some 500m too far, so we turned round and tried the first after all, which was only 30m outside. Walking along the TT track wasn't quite as pleasant as the open countryside, but traffic was fairly light and only an occasional bike roared past. We found a good number of rather mundane additions to our tetrad list, perhaps the most unlikely a few tussocks of Festuca brevipila. We found the source a little further on, where clearly amenity grass had been sown into the road bank for some reason. It was now getting on for 6pm, and dinner was at 6:30 - just time to get back to the College.

"After dinner there was time for some final ID work, amazingly rather less than the day before, and then to pack up ready for departure tomorrow. Our final day will vary for everyone, but some of those catching the afternoon ferry plan to record a tetrad on the way, and those flying home will visit an old limestone quarry and record around Castletown."