Saturday, 28 June 2014

BSBI members busy in Cambridgeshire

Alan Leslie studying Orobanche
Image: M. Frisch. 
BSBI members in Cambridgeshire have been busy over the last few months. Monica Frisch sends us this report:

"We enjoyed two Cambridge Flora Group excursions to Eversden on 31st May and to the Kennett area on 12th June. The following two days, 13th and 14th June, several BSBI members had displays at the Cambridge Natural History Society's 95th Conversazione, its Annual Exhibition.

"Many BSBI members are active with Cambridge Natural History Society which also organises regular surveys and excursions, with talks between October and April.

Trifolium resupinatum at Kennett
Image: M. Frisch
"We had a glorious day at Eversden, confirming the continued existence of Danewort Sambucus ebulus, which may be one listed by Relhan (1802), and refinding the Small-flowered Sweet-briar Rosa micrantha seen here by Chris Preston and Derek Wells in 1997. We found a fine patch of Knapweed Broomrape Orobanche elatior and, in a corner of a field missed by the herbicides, Shepherd's Needle Scandix pecten-veneris.

"At Kennett we spent most of the time in the old sandpits now much altered and used by Wild Tracks Offroad Activity Park. We didn't find as many of the Breckland sandy soil specialities as expected, though Alan Leslie knew where to find the Smooth Cat's-ear Hypochaeris glabra and Bur Medick Medicago minima

Jon Shanklin's exhibit at the Conversazione:
 grasses, posters, BSBI News & BSBI bookmarks!
Image: M. Frisch
"What we did find were quite a lot of aliens, the most surprising of which was Reversed Clover Trifolium resupinatum. We also walked around some fields at Dane Hill Farm, where we refound and admired some large and very ancient Black Poplars Populus nigra and a field margin with several species of Goosefoot. As well as the common Fat-hen Chenopodium album there was C. ficifolium, C. hybridum, C. murale and C. polyspermum enabling the differences to be clearly seen.

"Jonathan Shanklin had prepared a poster about the Cambridge Flora Group for the Cambridge Natural History Society's 95th Conversazione, as well as putting up displays of his own about liverworts in Cambridgeshire and about the lawn outside the Department of Zoology, where the Conversazione is held. The lawn is now in the middle of a building site so it is not possible to see which have survived, or indeed what new species have appeared since.

Dr Mark Hill and Dr Chris Preston:
 rare pic of 2 celebrated biological recorders
Image: M. Frisch 
"Mark Hill and Chris Preston also had a display about Cambridgeshire mosses, with microscopes for examining specimens, which proved very popular with visitors. 

Monica Frisch put up her photos of Botanising in Cambridgeshire, first seen at the BSBI Annual Exhibition Meeting in November 2013, augmented by some pictures from this year's excursions. She and her friend Meg Clarke also had a display about Hayley Wood, an ancient woodland which they have been visiting regularly for the last five years. Plants also featured in several other displays.

Many thanks to Monica for this report. Very envious of the nice plants you've seen and the vibrant botanical community in Cambridgeshire. If your county doesn't yet have a local botany group, it's easy to set one up and you could soon be seeing lovely plants in lovely places in the company of lovely botanists. And arranging your first Conversazione! 

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Botany on the airwaves

Solanum dulcamara
Image: J. R. Crellin
Seems like you can't turn on the radio at the moment without hearing about botany and how we record and classify plants. Not complaining, just trying to keep up with so much good stuff around!

This morning the fabulous Sandy Knapp was on Jim Al-Khalili's The Life Scientific on Radio 4. Click here to listen again on iPlayer. My favourite quote was Sandy saying that becoming a scientist is like being given a licence to have a great time. For a woman whose important work on Solanaceae will, as Jim Al-Khalili said, still be referred to when we are all dead and gone, she is remarkably modest and down-to-earth, with a great sense of humour. Just like most botanists you meet, actually!

Last night Shared Planet featured Mark Avery talking about natural history - click here to read how RSPB's former Conservation Director is getting interested in plants. Nice to see what happens when botanists point out what is growing on a site and how that helps you interpret it and put former land use into a cultural/historical context. Click here to listen to Shared Planet on iPlayer.

Kew at night
Image: W. Arshad
And there's more to come: a 25-part radio series has been made, examining the history of RBG Kew, its contribution to scientific research and its future in these financially-straitened times. The series, called Plants: From Roots to Riches, will be broadcast on consecutive days starting on 21st July, and will be available on iPlayer here - there is also a tie-in book. Professor Kathy Willis, Director of Science at RBG Kew, will present the programme and has co-authored the book. There's an excellent piece about the series here in the Telegraph, and here the Controller of Radio 4 talks about the programme. 

If you need pictures with your words, here's a video of Kathy talking about biodiversity and here's a video of Sandy on taxonomy. Inspirational scientists who also happen to be female ;-)

Monday, 23 June 2014

Request for material of Oxalis corniculata

We've had another request for material, this time from Quentin Groom at the Botanic Garden, Meise. Quentin asks for material of Oxalis corniculata which he says has become "an almost ubiquitous weed of plant pots and borders. Its explosive capsules and sticky seeds let it jump, like a vegetable flea, from pot to pot. This phenomenon is not unique to Britain and Ireland. All across Europe O.corniculata can be found in similar situations.

"Linnaeus first described the species from Europe, but it is not clear if it is native here. Close relatives exist in North America, Asia and Australasia. It has an extremely plastic phenotype depending on habitat. Characters such as hairiness, leaf size and habit all overlap between species in this group, even though these species do not hybridise readily. It is for this reason my colleagues and I at the Botanic Garden Meise (Belgium) are trying a molecular genetic approach to understanding the O. corniculata group. We are hoping to be able to unravel the phylogeny of these taxa and more precisely define the taxon boundaries. Perhaps we will even get indications of its geographic origins.

"We are looking for specimens (fresh or rapidly dried) of plants in the O. corniculata group from as many places as possible. In addition to O. corniculata, the corniculata group includes O. corniculata var.  atropurpurea, O. dillenii, O. exilis and O. stricta. It doesn't matter if you can’t identify it with certainty, but it would help us match molecular and physical traits if you are able to provide a specimen with fruits and flowers. Nevertheless, even non-fruiting material will help".

If you can help Quentin, please contact him here.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

More from Roudsea Wood

Mike (on left) shows people C. xboenninghausiana
Image: M. Dean
Mary Dean has been in touch to tell us a bit more about Mike Porter's recent workshop/field meeting focusing on More Cumbrian Sedges at Roudsea Wood and  Mosses NNR.

I'm always amazed at how much Mike gets done - he is also writing the Viola Handbook and editing Plant Records for New Journal of Botany.

Mary says "As usual, Mike Porter's Sedge meeting was fully booked. The meeting visited the wonderful Roudsea Wood and Mosses NNR

Botanists brave the rain to learn Sedges with Mike!
Image: M. Dean
"We managed to find the one rainy day sandwiched between two sunny ones, but, as expected from a group of keen botanists, the rain didn't dampen our enthusiasm.

"We saw 25 different Carex taxa, an incredible range on one site. 

Rarities included Carex flava (Large Yellow-sedge) and its hybrid with C. demissa, C. digitata (Fingered Sedge) and the hybrid C. remota × paniculata (C. ×boenninghausiana). 

"We did look at some of the other rarities such as Sorbus lancastriensis (Lancashire Whitebeam)".

Thanks Mary! And a reminder that most BSBI field meetings and workshops do get booked up really quickly, but it's always worth checking with the organiser and asking if your name can be added to the waiting list, in case anybody drops out.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Do you know your palustrine plants?

Ros and students learning in the field
Image: courtesy of Field Studies Council
I was just chatting to Sue Townsend, Secretary of BSBI's Training & Education Committee and FSC Biodiversity Learning Manager, and heard some surprising news. One of this year's plant ID courses, taught by Ros Bennett is not yet fully booked. This is unusual, as Ros's courses usually fill up really quickly, because her reputation as one of the best botanical tutors around precedes her!

So, I thought I'd nip over here and post something quickly, make sure our botanists knew about this rare opportunity to get on to one of Ros's courses. Take a look at the course details here and see what you think. It runs from 21st-24th July at Slapton Ley NNR, and Ros will be teaching ID of the grasses, sedges and rushes of damp places, and using vegetative as well as flowering characters to help with identification. There will also be some introductory work on willows and ferns, so if you've always shied away from these groups - now's your chance to make a start on them.

Coastal plants at Slapton Ley
Image: courtesy of Field Studies Council
I've never made it to one of Ros's courses - they are always booked up by the time I try! - and this one clashes with the start of this year's Hebridean Recording Extravaganza. But at Training the Trainers last year, I had the pleasure of attending her session on teaching the Top 20 Plant Families. 

Ros was kind enough to send me the presentation afterwards as a pdf and you can view it here. It makes fascinating reading if you have ever tried to teach - or been taught - the main plant families represented in Britain. Before you look at the pdf - which do you think will be the Top 20 Plant Families? Then see if you agree with Ros!

Slapton Ley NNR offers freshwater and coastal habitats
Image: courtesy of Field Studies Council
I do hope Sue was just teasing me when she wondered if having the word 'Marsh' in the title had put people off joining the course? Marshes can be very pleasant, you know... and they do support some very nice plants. So please put aside any palustrine prejudices you may hold and consider learning to ID some lovely Marsh plants with Ros Bennett next month. 

If you do attend, please let me know how you got on and we'll publish the photos of you and your marshy friends from Slapton Ley here on the News & Views pages, so everybody can see just how nice they are :-)

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Flora's Flora Group spots... a golden eagle!

Myrica gale Bog Myrtle in flower, Uist 2014
Image: F. Donald
Great to hear from Flora Donald on South Uist about their local botany group, formed after Flora met Paul Smith, the VC Recorder for the Outer Hebrides, and his team on South Uist last summer at a Bioblitz on the island

Flora says "The Uist Botany Group has had three field meetings so far, so I thought I should send you a quick update of what we’ve being doing!" [LM: Note that Flora didn't call the group Uist Flora Group, to avoid any hint of megalomania!]

"Our first foray was out to the old plantation at Loch Druidibeg in mid April. The season takes a while to get kick started in the Uists so we were worried that there wouldn’t be much to see - but we soon found colourful patches of Viola riviniana and V. palustris and the wonderfully scented Myrica gale in full flower to cheer us up. We also discovered two bushes of Juniperus communis which have grown up now the area is protected from grazers by an enclosure.

Flora (in peaked cap) and some of Paul Smith's
Hebrides Recording Team 2013
Image: L. Marsh
"All of the participants in botany group meetings are multi-talented and have a wide range of interests, including mosses, fungi, birds, moths and beetles to name but a few. So we can’t help but come back from botanical meetings with a couple of records of other things to send to our local biological recording group

"Our second meeting was held out at Allt Bholagair SSSI which yielded sightings of a large red damselfly, moss carder bees and a golden eagle as we walked out towards it. For most of you, the idea of visiting a gorge which hosts some naturally regenerating woodland probably isn’t particularly exciting but for us it’s quite novel! We were able to have a squint at plants which we very rarely get to see otherwise: Populus tremula, Allium ursinum, Fragaria vesca, Oxalis acetosella and Teucrium scorodonia". [LM: Southern members may smile at the casual mention of the Golden Eagle, compared to excitement generated by Wild Garlic and Wood Sorrel!]

Platanthera bifolia on South Uist 2013
Image: L. Gravestock
"Last weekend we had our third trip out in South Uist, covering a small section of coast bordering the South ford (separates South Uist from Benbecula). It was a lovely warm day and the season is now in full swing so we returned with our fullest recording card yet! The stars of the show were undoubtedly the orchids - we’re still scratching our heads a bit with some of them but are confident with Platanthera bifolia, Dactylorhiza incarnata subsp. coccinea and Dactylorhiza maculata.

Flora closes "Keep an eye on the VC110 and the Uist Botany Group Facebook pages for details of upcoming meetings and please come join us on an excursion whether you’re a resident or just passing through!" 

Viola riviniana on Uist
Image: F. Donald
Many thanks to Flora for this report on Uist botanising and for reminding us that it's always a good idea, if you are visiting another part of Britain or Ireland this year, to contact the VC Recorder or the local botany group and find out if there are any field meetings happening, or enquire about good sites to visit (and any to avoid). 

And our county recording cards - found by scrolling down to the bottom of our Resources page - will help you record the plants most likely to be seen in that county. Don't forget to send your card, once it is filled in, to the VC Recorder. And please follow Flora's lead and send any records of other wildlife that you see to the local Records Centre. 

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Botanists to the rescue II: mildewed leaves wanted!

Powdery mildew on Lamium purpureum
Image: O. Ellingham
We've had a request from BSBI member Waheed Arshad, asking for help from fellow botanists. Waheed has featured on these pages before, whether exhibiting at the AEM last year, taking part in the New Year Plant Hunt or using social media to talk about his volunteering in the Herbarium at Kew and on the RHS Help Desk at RHS Chelsea. Did I mention that he is also a student on the MSc in Plant Diversity at University of Reading, under the legendary Dr M?

Excuse the preamble, but when an all-round botanical good egg asks for help with a project, it's so great to read about the project and think yup, that's something our members will be interested in and may want to help with.

Powdery mildew on Geranium leaf
Image: O. Ellingham
Waheed says: "The RHS and University of Reading are working together to identify and map as many powdery mildews as possible over the next two growing seasons. As part of my Master's research project, I am working with PhD student Oliver Ellingham on the development of molecular markers for the identification of the pathogen on plant material. These molecular analyses will be compared with microscopic, morphological characters so that their success (or failure!) can be assessed. 

"The involvement of plant enthusiasts sending in as much infected material as possible will be an important component of the project – helping us track, diagnose and explore the diversity of such a widespread plant disease. This is where BSBI members (and non-members!) can help us enormously by looking for powdery mildews while botanising in the wild, but also in their gardens too. Should members find some infected plant material, we would be most grateful if this could be sent to us and, in exchange, we will do our best to identify the mildew species that is infecting the plant. 

Powdery mildew on Myosotis arvensis
Image: O. Ellingham
"Details of what would be required are listed in this handy article, written by Oli" - who adds that powdery mildews have "huge economic effects due to losses of important crops". 

Waheed continues "For the purposes of our study, knowing whether the material is wild or cultivated is not something we are necessarily interested in. However, if people could provide a GPS location (or grid reference) and a photograph of the plant in growth, this would be most helpful when we map the distribution of the material. Analysing specimens from around Britain and Ireland will be extremely useful to us, and both Oli and I greatly appreciate BSBI's help with this".

If you have any questions, you can email Oli ( or Waheed ( Powdery mildews can be seen now, and Waheed will be collecting data over the next few weeks, then moving on to DNA extraction and analysis, whereas Oli will welcome specimens for at least another year.

Friday, 13 June 2014

BSBI Summer Meeting: Part Nine

Killiecrankie, looking at Pyrola minor on a mossy trunk
Image: J. MacKinnon
There's only one talk from the BSBI Summer Meeting 2014 that hasn't yet been covered here: our President's address to the members, designed to inspire, enthuse and inform in equal parts. Is BSBI the latter-day BBC? Well, here at BSBI Central, we like to aim high! 

So here are Jon's notes on what Ian Denholm had to say, illustrated by our final batch of images from Perthshire: "Ian began by thanking everyone who had helped put together the meeting. Although initially conceived as an AGM, a change to the BSBI’s accounting year means that we will be holding future BSBI AGMs in the autumn, and the idea is to move the AGM between countries.  

Pseudorchis albida, Keltneyburn
Image: J. MacKinnon
"The restructuring process is almost over and the “old” BSBI (British Isles) will be wound up shortly. The first AGM of the “new” BSBI (Britain and Ireland) will be held in conjunction with the Annual Exhibition Meeting in Leicester in November. Ian then highlighted some new or ongoing projects.

"BSBI has committed to Atlas 2020, and is now engaged in planning the work programme, allocating staff responsibilities and fundraising. [See also what Jim McIntosh had to say about Atlas 2020]. 

"The National Plant Monitoring Scheme is a new collaboration between BSBI, Plantlife and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, supported by JNCC, and we are currently involved in piloting the scheme, which will operate in a similar way to butterfly and bird monitoring. It is specifically designed to encourage participation by botanists of all abilities. 

Wading for plants at Cluanie, BSBI ASM 2014
Image: M. Tulley
"A third project - Herbaria at Home - aims to provide digital access via a website to as many herbarium records and specimens as possible. About 150,000 sheets have been scanned so far. This is providing a unique resource for botanical research and can also be seen as something of a safeguard against local herbaria closing or collections falling into a state of disrepair. At present the project is being funded almost exclusively by BSBI; funding is being sought to expand its scope and speed up progress.
Botanists at Killiecrankie
Image: J. MacKinnon
Ian then referred to work within BSBI to publicise its resources and achievements, and Jon’s notes show that Ian was very complimentary about this News & Views Blog, our BSBI Twitter feed, launched in December, and the many media contacts with whom we are building links. Modesty prevents me from quoting from this section of the notes - suffice to say that El Presidente is very happy! 

Many thanks to all of you who have contributed words and images to these pages over the past 16 months, and who have successfully promoted the society, whether at local events or at big national outreach events such as British Birdfair - follow the link to see what the Birdfair judges thought of our outreach efforts last year! 

Jon's notes continue: “There are many other important developments underway, and Ian highlighted three of these at the conclusion of his presentation. The Digital Database of plant records continues to go from strength to strength, and clearly has a vital role to play in underpinning projects such as Atlas 2020. A new strategic plan is being drafted and will shortly be presented to the BSBI Trustees. Considerable improvements are being made to the BSBI website to provide more intuitive pathways to the huge number of resources it contains.

Trollius europaeus at Birks o'Aberfeldy
Image: B. Barnett
“The Summer Meeting in Perthshire marked Lynne Farrell’s retirement from the post of Hon Gen Sec of BSBI. Ian paid tribute to Lynne’s huge contributions over the last five years and his thanks were accompanied by resounding applause from all present. Lynne has kindly offered to assist with the induction of a successor. 

ASM Dinner 2014, Baronial Hall, Birnam, Perthshire
Image: B. Barnett
"Unfortunately, we don’t have one at present and Ian ended with a plea for anyone interested in hearing more about this extremely rewarding post to contact Lynne or himself”.

And that closes the coverage of our 2014 Summer Meeting – we hope you enjoyed the event, whether you were there in person or whether your attendance was by proxy, i.e. you stayed at home and read all about it on these pages!

Many thanks to Mark, Jay and Bert for contributing the images, to Jon "Finder of Hole in Ozone Layer" Shanklin for taking the notes and sending them through live from the field, and congratulations to Ian on everything he has achieved during the first year of his Presidency of BSBI. Here's to the future - slainte, botanists!

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Brian's Botanical Finds VI

Brian Laney came over to VC55 last month, to be 'Expert of the Day' on the Botany for Beginners course run by University of Leicester Botanic Garden

The ID session was held in the Attenborough Arboretum, but first there was a workshop in the adjacent classroom. At one point, Brian nipped outside to see if there was anything interesting growing on the tiny patch of bare-ish ground behind the classroom. 

Anyone who knows Brian Laney will have anticipated what is coming next...

Yes, Brian came back in with a very broad smile, having just found Deadly Nightshade, which nobody had spotted before. We all rushed out to look, desperate to prove him wrong or find signs of very recent planting, but no, there it was looking as though it had been growing there for ages, just waiting to be noticed by Brian "Eagle Eyes" Laney and only then become visible to everyone else. 

Another great botanical find by Brian. And here are the photos to prove it.

But we are still no closer to knowing how he spots things that nobody else has noticed. Answers on a postcard please....

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Botanists to the rescue: John Poland needs your help!

Robin Payne leads botanists into Stormont Woods...
Image: B. Barnett
John Poland, co-author (with Eric Clement) of the Vegetative Key to the British Flora, is no stranger to News & Views. As Chair of Publications Committee, and a regular exhibitor at our Annual Exhibition Meeting, where he runs a Vegetative Plant ID table, he has often been featured on these pages. 

Just click on the links or type his name into the handy 'Search this Blog' box on the right to see all the posts in which John appears.

John told me he was “gutted” that pressure of work prevented him from getting to this year's Summer Meeting in Perthshire - I hope the images on this page, kindly sent in by BSBI members who did attend, give him a flavour of what he missed - and a few challenges! Many thanks to Bert Barnett, Mark Tulley and Jay MacKinnon for contributing such great photographs! Four of the images on this page are tagged as Mystery Plants, so if you think you know what they are, please leave a comment in the box below. No prizes for guessing, just fun and glory :-) Answers to follow in a few days.

John Swindells, Liz Lavery & co visit
 an "excellent acid marsh", Findattie, Loch Leven
Image: M. Tulley
ASM Mystery plant #1 for John Poland - and you! - to ID
Image: B. Barnett
But John Poland hasn’t been to Scotland since 2006 and really needs to look at a wide range of plant material from across Britain, in preparation for a second edition of the Veg Key, so he asked News & Views for help. 

Could we put out a call for material from locations far from John's home on the south coast? Would BSBI members respond to the call and would the notes that John had put together, on what to collect and how to get it to him, be useful? And how could we ensure that people collected responsibly and didn't inadvertently do any damage to wild plant populations?

I tried out John's request by sending the notes to three BSBI members who I knew were attending the Annual Summer Meeting in Perthshire and one of them has come through splendidly with a "bag of leaves" which is winging its way to John as we speak. 

Many thanks to Paul Stevens for being the first to respond to John's request and I hope that more of you will follow suit if you live in, or are visiting, the more northerly or westerly parts of Britain. Take a look at John's notes below and please get in touch with me if you think you may be able to help him. John is incredibly busy with fieldwork right now, so I'll try to handle any questions and he can just have the pleasure of opening the "bags of leaves" and getting a nice surprise! 

ASM Mystery plant #2. Click on images to enlarge.
Image: B. Barnett
But first, please read the BSBI Code of Conduct and this guide on collecting material by the master, Arthur Chater. They tell you what to do and what not to do, and Arthur's guide is very good on how to press a herbarium specimen. 

But you don't need to press material for John - just collect responsibly and send the fresh material as outlined below. 
Botanists still in the woods at Stormont...
Image: B. Barnett
Responsibly means collecting with conservation in mind, so you should really have a population of at least 25 individuals (some of us think 50 minimum) before you even think of taking bits from one of them, you must have landowner permission and obviously you should never uproot a plant or do anything which contravenes legislation (summarised in the BSBI Code of Conduct). 

And definitely no orchids please - they require a different approach and should never be sampled by non-experts. 

Mystery plant #3 from the ASM
Image:. J. MacKinnon
John says: "Basically, I'm after any of the commoner non-southern species so I can re-run through keys and improve descriptions etc. I say commoner species so people don't uproot rarities (no plant should be uprooted anyway without landowner permission as I'm sure you all know) but specimens of localised species in abundance, including a small portion of stem and some leaves, should do no harm if collected in line with the BSBI Code of Conduct and Arthur's paper on collecting

"However, for me, flowers/fruits are not necessarily required! 

BSBI botanists fishing for plants, Loch Cluanie
Image: M. Tulley
"Specimens should be put just in a poly bag (not paper bags) and without wet tissue paper etc (people often send with this and it just speeds up decay). I need a few representative leaves” [LM: maybe one from the top, one basal and one in-between] “and a bit of stem - many ID features are in stems, which may survive the journey better! They don't need labelling - I'll work out what they are (and where they are from) but if I have any queries will contact the sender.

"If highly trained botanists insist on labelling, a piece of paper in the bag with 4-letter codes such as Sa ph will be more than adequate! 

An iconic Scottish species. Do you know Mystery plant #4?
Image: B. Barnett
"Envelopes containing poly bags should be sent 1st class at their earliest convenience (I'll refund over the postage amount for the hassle) but no need for padded envelopes or recorded delivery etc and I don't mind if they're scrunched up! 

"I'll accept literally anything that has a northern British range inc. any Salix and Carex! Anyone assisting will of course be thanked individually with comments".

Heading home... from Stormont Woods
Image: B. Barnett
So, let me know if you think you may be able to help John this year, and I can pass on his postal address and keep a note of what is offered and where from, so we don't all send him the same thing! 

And even if you can't help this year, the two pdfs giving the BSBI Code of Conduct and Arthur's paper on collecting are essential reading for all botanists. 

Worth an annual re-read so you can be sure that your botanical forays never result in any negative impacts on populations of our lovely wild plants! 

Worth a daily re-read if you are a plant photographer - please don't flatten lots of plants in your quest to capture the best one, and never succumb to the temptation to "do a little gardening" around the plant.   

Sunday, 8 June 2014

BSBI Summer Meeting: Part Eight

Botanists at Keltneyburn
Image:. J. MacKinnon
Three cheers for Jay MacKinnon who responded to the call for photographs from the Perthshire meeting by sending the ones on this page and also here. This gives me a chance to tell you a bit more about the programme - it wasn't just guest talks and fieldtrips

There was much more on offer (there always is at a big BSBI meeting) - I'll just mention in passing that there were botanical books for sale, and on the first evening, after the slap-up dinner in the Baronial Hall, our botanists had only to wander over the road to the Birnam Institute, where, according to Jon Shanklin "Lorne Gill showed stunning wildlife images from the locality, which had been taken by himself and his son Fergus.  The fact that many of the images featured in Wildlife Photographer of the Year is testimony to their quality".

Carex capillaris Hair Sedge;  Schiehallion, 7/6/2014
Image: J. MacKinnon 
But another reason to come to a big BSBI bash is to catch up with all the latest news: informally - our meetings offer serious opportunities for networking! - and by attending talks and presentations about BSBI projects. So here are Jon Shanklin's notes (unedited, so may be subject to change!) on a talk given on Thursday by Scottish Officer Jim McIntoshdescribing plans for Atlas2020, both generally and with reference to recording in Scotland.

Jon wrote "The recording strategy is to record all vascular plants in at least a sample of tetrads in every hectad.  With just six field seasons to go it remains a big challenge. The aim is to provide an update on the change in distribution of species. It needs a volunteer project co-ordinator and a paid part time post to work with the volunteer. 

Botanists on the limestone pavement;
Schiehallion 7/6/2014
Image: J. MacKinnon
"The Atlas will provide on-line maps, possibly a separate publication for Ireland, a book on the key findings and updated red lists. It will cover all vascular plants and charophytes and where possible hybrids and difficult/critical taxa (dandelions, hawkweeds etc). The next run of the local change scheme is being delayed until after 2020. The aspiration is to have a draft RPR for all counties. 

"The National Plant Monitoring scheme will start in 2015, and is intended more for "ordinary" BSBI members than for VCRs. Promotion of the Atlas work will be critical, so it will figure in BSBI News, there will be talks at all major meetings, it will be considered by all BSBI Committees and there will be a special website.

Gymnocarpium dryopteris Oak Fern
Killiecrankie 7/6/2014
Image: J. MacKinnon
"Scotland has 23% of hectads well recorded since 2000 (ie have 2/3 or more of plants ever recorded in them); 852 hectads need more recording. However there are a lot of records still on paper or in VCR data files and these need transferring to the DDb. Each VCR needs a plan of action – how many to survey, how many days per year, how many squares per hectad, what recording unit, how to select them etc. Kevin Walker has suggested 5 per hectad, but Jim suggests 3 may be more realistic for remote areas. There is information on the DDb message board.

"Members can help by attending field meetings, perhaps by organising local meetings or setting up your own local recording group. Publicising the message that help is needed can bring people out of the woodwork! Consider going somewhere remote on holiday and surveying a few squares, or adopting a local square to survey. If every Scottish member chose a square each that would cover 170 hectads. Some places that you might think are well recorded aren’t – eg the VCR lives a long way from Edinburgh, which is actually poorly recorded despite having several local botanists. 

Botanists at Schiehallion 7/6/2014
Image: J. MacKinnon
"Last year the Scottish Officer organised a week in Islay, 12 BSBI members went and obtained good coverage of 36 out of 180 tetrads. It’s a good learning opportunity and can be great fun. There will be visits to Shetland and many other far flung parts of Scotland. Jim is considering have specific Atlas 2020 recorder (s) for remote places, eg Jura. Even in apparently dull tetrads, new County records can be found.

"There are plans to have a Flying Squad to target under-recorded parts that are particularly challenging. A small budget may be available to assist with travel costs. Good recording in a county often coincides with the home of the VCR, with more distant spots less well covered. Local Natural History Societies may help, and Park authorities or national agencies may offer funds. Jim’s post is due for renewal in the autumn and the extension will include support for Atlas recording.

"There will be more MapMate workshops and support, including developing the Handbook.  There may be volunteers to enter records into MapMate or possibly funding to pay contractors".

Thanks again to Jon for the notes and - isn't it nicer reading this page when it's adorned by lovely images like these? Many thanks again to Jay for showing us what delights some of us missed. Er... hang on a minute?! We're thanking him for taunting us with his Oak Ferns and his Hair Sedges? Surely some mistake... :-)

Saturday, 7 June 2014

BSBI Summer Meeting: Part Seven

Botanists on Ben Vrackie
Image: I. Denholm
Here is a report about the closing talk on Day 1 of the Summer Meeting, and the lovely images gracing the page were taken by Ian on Ben Vrackie yesterday - you can see the rest of them here.

Our closing talk was given by Syd House, of the Forestry Commission Scotland, entitled Perthshire – Big Tree Country and once again Jon Shanklin has kindly shared his rough notes with us. 

"Perthshire has some famous trees, which in part led to the project name: in order to attract visitors, and then have the revenue to look after what is there. It covers 90,000 hectares with 25 million trees and has the greatest concentration of heritage trees in Europe, with 22 of Scotland’s Heritage Trees

Astragalus alpinus on Ben Vrackie 6/6/2014
Image: I. Denholm
"Perthshire does have remnants of the natural forest, but there is also a strong horticultural tradition and conditions are excellent for tree growth. Wind does not cause stunting of growth in the deep glens. Timber has been used since the Neolithic period, for example in Crannogs, but the landscape has been changed by man since then. Syd took us on a journey through some of the ancient trees and their sites. The Fortingall Yew is very old, though exactly how old is not known, perhaps 5000 years if you believe the story. There are Celtic remains in the vicinity, so perhaps! 

Sounds like the plants were worth the climb!
Image: I. Denholm
"Birnam itself has the Birnam Oak and Birnam Sycamore, which is several hundred years old. The Oak is reputed to have been seen by Shakespeare. There are just as many Wallace Oaks in Scotland as there are Charles Oaks in England. Perthshire has been known for tree growing since the 19th century, and perhaps even earlier with orchards planted by monks. 

"The Planted Larch of Dunkeld was planted in 1737 by the second Duke of Atholl, and this led to the establishment of an early Larch forest. There are many other sites, often associated with the “planting Dukes of Atholl” and their contemporaries. 

Listera ovata on Ben Vrackie
Image: I. Denholm
"David Douglas and Archibald Menzies brought back the Sitka Spruce and Douglas Fir (the original is in Scone pinetum), which were then brought into forestry. There are several interesting photographic collections showing some of the plantings in their early years. 80% of the world’s timber use is conifer and it is important to know how they will do as climate change proceeds, which is why there is some experimental forest plantation. Syd closed by reminding us that we are planting today for future generations to enjoy. 

"In response to a question, Ash dieback has been found in the area, but it has probably been around for some time. It may take many years for a slow decline in the Ash population to take place".

I hope these posts have given you all a flavour of this year's Summer Meeting, if you were unable to attend, and an opportunity to point and screech "That's me in the Baronial Hall!" if you were able to make it this year!

Many thanks to Jon, Ian and of course Jim, who I hope is now relaxing with a well-earned drink after organising another excellent botanical get-together. Slainte, Mr McIntosh :-)