Thursday 30 May 2013

Natural migration of British plants: new research just published.   

Quentin Groom, BSBI Head of Data Management, wanted to find out whether there is a poleward migration of plants within Great Britain, and whether any such movements of plants can be explained by climate change and dispersal syndrome. Rather than looking at plants that are deliberately dispersed by humans, through horticulture or forestry, he concentrated on the migration of British native plants, driven by the plants' own dispersal mechanisms.

         Marsh Stitchwort at Lockington, Leics.
Photo: S. Woodward
Quentin used data from the BSBI Distribution Database for this investigation, and his findings have just been published here on PeerJ. I don't want to spoil the surprise by telling you what he found out, so I'll wait a few days before I post Quentin's comments on his findings. Here's that link in full: 

And don't forget, you can see a map of the distribution of any British plant here. It's great to go out with local botanists and see something interesting, beautiful and/or uncommon, like this Marsh Stitchwort, on your home patch and then see its national distribution map and pick out "your" population! 

This is only possible because of 63 years (so far) of volunteer effort by BSBI members who have contributed 30 million plant records (so far) to our Distribution Database. Find out more here about BSBI's Maps Scheme, which pioneered these new approaches to species distribution mapping and has become one of the world's longest-running natural history distribution mapping projects. BSBI is now one of the world's largest contributors of biological records, so I hope you'll forgive me if I keep banging on about all this! 

The Beauty of Botany.

An exhibition of 17th and 19th century botanical drawings and watercolours from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew is underway. Held at Forty Hall Estate, Enfield, the exhibition is called 'The Beauty of Botany' and runs until 7th July. Admission is free. Directions here and more info here

The organisers are confident that these drawings and watercolours can help "deepen your understanding of plant anatomy and the visual qualities of flowers". They are hung along the Grand Staircase at the heart of Forty Hall, a Jacobean mansion situated in extensive gardens and parkland, which offers education activities and exhibitions. More details here.  

Monday 27 May 2013

One of our rarest plants. 

Some of our most colourful wild flowers are the annual weeds that used to be found in cornfields - cornflower, corncockle, corn marigold and the delightfully named Venus's looking-glass.

Corn cleavers.
Photo: I. Denholm
These arable weeds - which have been in the UK for hundreds of years, but are not actually native species - are seen less frequently now, since changes in farming practice. 

One such plant, corn cleavers, is now reduced to only one long-standing site in Britain, at the world-famous Broadbalk experiment site at Rothamsted Research in Herts., where BSBI's incoming President Ian Denholm worked for several decades as an agricultural scientist. 
Photo: G. Calow

Corn cleavers is maybe not as obviously attractive as cornflower - it is unlikely to appear at the Chelsea Flower Show - but its rarity makes it of interest to botanists and it has its own modest charm. Ian brought some young plants of corn cleavers to the 2012 BSBI Annual Exhibition Meeting in Cambridge. 
He explained that seed collected from the Broadbalk population had been deposited in national collections and used (with varying degrees of success) for re-introduction programmes elsewhere in southeast England. 

Friday 24 May 2013

State of Nature: BSBI member on TV. 

Sir David Attenborough at the State of Nature launch.
Photo: Louise Marsh

Among the coverage of the State of Nature report was this from BBC Wales. They interviewed Dr Trevor Dines of Plantlife Cymru. Trevor is a regular on our screens, having hosted 'Wild Things' on Channel 4 and it will not surprise you to hear that a keen botanist like Trevor is, of course, a BSBI member. Find out more about BSBI membership here and how you too can make a difference to the state of nature in Britain and Ireland. 

Thursday 23 May 2013

BSBI at launch of State of Nature report

Sir David Attenborough at the State of Nature launch
Photo: L. Marsh
Sir David Attenborough delivered a rousing speech last night, at the launch of the State of Nature report at the Natural History Museum. He and Richard Benyon (DEFRA) praised the efforts of volunteer recorders, but the report itself makes grim reading. 

See for yourself by downloading a copy of the State of Nature report.  
Ian Denholm talking about 'Alien Invaders and Native Thugs'
at the State of Nature launch.
Photo: L. Marsh

BSBI is part of a coalition of 25 conservation and research organisations who contributed to the report and each organisation gave a short presentation at the launch last night. 

Ian Denholm, BSBI's incoming President, talked to conservationists and journalists about 'Alien Invaders and Native Thugs' and you can see his Powerpoint by following the link on the Publicity page More about Alien Invaders here.
Tim Pankhurst at the State of Nature launch.
Photo: L. Marsh

Interesting to note how many of those giving presentations at the launch are also active BSBI members
I spotted Fred Rumsey, one of BSBI's panel of expert Plant Referees and also a New Journal of Botany author. Fred was talking about bryophyte distribution on behalf of BBS

Fred Rumsey at the State of Nature launch.
 Photo: L. Marsh
And Plantlife's Tim Pankhurst had come down from Breckland to talk about the Fen Orchid - Tim also sits on BSBI Council. Just shows how great a contribution BSBI members make to the conservation and research community.

Wednesday 22 May 2013

The State of Nature

BSBI is one of 25 conservation and research organisations contributing to the ground-breaking State of Nature reportto be published today. Dr Kevin Walker, BSBI Head of Research & Development, worked alongside scientists from the other partner organisations towards this report, a stock take of our native species across the UK and Overseas Territories.

Gunnera: an alien invader on Achil Island
Photo: M. Sheehy-Skeffington
The State of Nature report will be launched this evening, 22nd May, by Sir David Attenborough and other UK conservationists at the Natural History Museum in London, and streamed live to simultaneous events in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. 

Sir David said, "This report shows that our species are in trouble, with many declining at a worrying rate. However we have in this country a network of passionate conservation groups supported by millions of people who love wildlife. The experts have come together today to highlight the amazing nature we have around us and to ensure that it remains here for generations to come." 

Ian Denholm
BSBI's incoming President
Incoming BSBI President Ian Denholm is among those experts offering a short presentation at the launch, on the subject of 'Alien Invaders and Native Thugs'. Follow the link here to see Ian's Powerpoint. 

One of the State of Nature report's lead authors, Mark Eaton (RSPB), paid tribute to the "army of volunteer wildlife enthusiasts who spend their spare time surveying species and recording their findings." [ I guess many BSBI members would fall into this category!] Mark continued, "Our knowledge of nature in the UK would be significantly poorer without these unsung heroes. And that knowledge is the most essential tool conservationists have." 

Find out more about the State of Nature report here.  

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Helpful new BSBI video.

You may have seen BSBI distribution maps used on television last year, both on the "Wild Things" series on Channel 4 and on news programmes about Ash Die-back, when our maps were used to show where Ash is recorded across Britain and Ireland. 

First published in Atlas form, our maps are now available free on-line to all (BSBI member or non-member) via the BSBI web-site.These distribution maps show what plant grows where and how this has changed over time. Specialist users can register for higher levels of access to the database, but for the rest of us, viewing BSBI maps is quick, easy and free, and you don't have to register or log-in. And a helpful new short video has just been launched to help you get even more out of BSBI maps. 

Just go to the Distribution Database, click on maps and type in the name of a plant. You have to use the scientific name (sorry!) and then press search to see that plant's national distribution. Then follow the guidance in the new video, which shows how quick and easy it is to make a distribution map of any plant species growing locally to you or in any other vice-county of Britain and Ireland. 

BSBI map showing spread of Danish scurvy-grass
Cochlearia danica along roadsides in Norfolk.
The video is called 'How to make a customised map' and was made by Quentin Groom, who hopes to make more such training videos on other aspects of the BSBI Distribution Database

BSBI members try to revisit all the "squares" on the map once in every decade, so we can record which plants we see and map any changes. This is shown on the maps by differently coloured squares for each Date Class, the first of which is pre-1930. You can already see some of the records that have come in since 2010 (shown in black).

You are welcome to use and print BSBI maps for personal use or for teaching purposes, but please don't forget to credit BSBI and do run it past us first if you are thinking of using our maps for any other purpose. Media enquiries to me please, Louise Marsh at 

Thursday 16 May 2013

Woodland shadows and ghosts: the lost woods in the landscape.

A two-day event on this theme opens tomorrow, with a field visit to the Peak District and then a conference on Saturday at Sheffield Hallam University. The event is organised by Professor Ian D. Rotherham and colleagues at SHU. More info here, but the field visits are fully booked, sorry.

As well as speakers and panel members from bodies such as Natural England, DEFRA and the Woodland Trust, BSBI member Richard Gulliver will be talking about 'Valley Elm Woods: a somewhat controversial lowland ghost'.

Richard will be on hand during the day to answer any BSBI-related questions and will be hoping that any BSBI members attending would come up and say hello. 

Abandoned Plant Sciences Dept. inspires artists. 

Plant Science: Forster & Heighes.
Image by Chris Wainwright
An exhibition organised by King's Cultural Institute opens tomorrow at the Inigo Rooms, Somerset House.

Plant Science was created by site-specific performance and installation artists Ewan Forster and Christopher Heighes "in response to the university's abandoned Plant Sciences Department laboratories in Herne Hill ... a site of great innovation in the teaching of biological sciences."

The exhibition runs at the Inigo Rooms, Somerset House East Wing, Strand WC2R 2LS until 11th June, and is open daily, 11.00-18.00. Admission is free. More info here.   

Tuesday 14 May 2013

Another memory of Dr Richard Pankhurst (1940-2013)

BSBI member Roy Smith (V.C.57) emailed with this recollection of Dr Richard Pankhurst

"He was a true gentleman. My wife remembers meeting Richard over 30 years ago. It was just before we married and she came on a Hawkweed Study Group meeting to Cheddar Gorge to find out what it was all about. We arrived a little late (from Derbyshire) and Ruth was a bit apprehensive about being out of her depth. Not to worry! Richard met us and immediately put us at ease. He then took time to show Ruth the plant we were looking at at the time which, despite the Group's name, happened to be Glaucous sedge. He explained it in such a nice way that she has always remembered it".

Richard on the look-out for Scots' lovage Ligusticum scoticum
 on coastal cliffs, Isle of Lewis, 2011
Photo: Paul Smith
Roy, who has been a BSBI member since 1972, continued, "Through the hawkweeds, I met Richard occasionally at the British Museum before he moved to Edinburgh, and then occasionally at the Annual Exhibition Meeting, the last time being three years ago at Birmingham. He always remembered me and always asked how Ruth was. He must have been on a different plane intellectually, but he didn't make you feel like that."

I agree, Roy, he wore his vast learning very lightly. BSBI botanists always extend a warm welcome to newcomers at our meetings - we all remember with warmest thanks those friendly botanists who first welcomed us into the society and showed us interesting plants in beautiful places. 

Many thanks to Roy and Ruth Smith for sharing their memory of Dr Richard Pankhurst.

Sunday 12 May 2013

Richard Pankhurst and the "sea of green". 

It's so easy each winter to forget all the botanical expertise you built up last summer. We all go out each spring to a "sea of green" and a bunch of stuff that we kind of know but can't quite place right now. It's not just you and me: seems this happens to even the most experienced botanists.
With Richard, looking at a hybrid dwarf willow,
near Uig, Isle of Lewis, July 2011
Photo: Paul Smith

On my first ever BSBI field meeting in May 2008, standing alone and nervous, clutching a scruffy second-hand copy of Hubbard's Grass Key, a kind older member approached. 

He asked, "That looks well-used, are you keen on grasses?" I blurted out that I knew very little and forgot most of that each winter, and he told me that exactly the same thing happened to him each year. 

His name badge showed that he was Dr. Richard Pankhurst, author of the Flora of the Outer Hebrides, and a celebrated BSBI botanist at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. As my jaw dropped and eyebrows flew up in disbelief, he assured me that it took him until June each year to really get his eye in again with plants in the field. And then you could really get going and learn new things, which would be great fun!

So don't panic if it's all a sea of green right now: the field ID tips you perfected last summer will soon come back to you. Meanwhile, enjoy the support of all the BSBI botanists who are keen to help and encourage you, and who aim to be as kind to beginners as the late and much-missed Dr Richard Pankhurst.   

Friday 10 May 2013

A passion for arable weeds...

Here is our incoming President, Ian Denholm, demonstrating a passion for arable weeds nurtured by a career as an agricultural scientist at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden, Hertfordshire.

The Rothamsted site includes several long-term 'classical' experiments investigating the impact of agricultural practices on crop yields and floral diversity. The Broadbalk experiment initiated in 1843 has a section that has never been treated with herbicides and supports an abundance of scarce weeds including shepherd's needle, corn buttercup, Venus' looking-glass and most notably of all, corn cleavers in its only remaining original site in the UK.

Rothamsted is in the news again today, as contributors to a new study published in Ecology Letters which, according to the BBC's science pages, demonstrates "for the first time" that plant mycorrhizae aid in communication between plants, as when they are under attack by aphids.

Monday 6 May 2013

Ash die-back. 

Interesting mix of voices on Friday's Newsnight feature about Ash die-back, including some helpful comments by Trevor Dines of Plantlife. The programme is up on iPlayer here until Friday. And there is Alex's page on Ash die-back here. We received some very illuminating observations and opinions from you during last autumn's discussions, and hope that you will keep on contacting us with your thoughts on Ash die-back, so please add a comment below or email me or Alex.