Thursday 5 November 2015

BSBI training grants help budding botanists. Part Two.

Great views during a coastal walk near the Centre
Image: D. Wallace
The second in an occasional series in which recipients of BSBI training grants in 2015 tell us about the course which the grant allowed them to attend, what they learned and what they have been able to achieve as a result of the course. 

Grants for 2016 will be advertised on the BSBI Training page - this usually happens on 1st January.

For now, here's Debbie's account of how the training grant helped her:

Sonchus arvensis
Image: D. Wallace
"Receiving a BSBI training grant this year enabled me to attend a Difficult Plants course at Slapton Ley Field Studies Centre (FSC). This course has opened new doors for me, improving my knowledge of some of the more difficult plant families and taking me a step forward in my study of botany. 

"Having had the pleasure of attending one of Ros Bennett's botany courses during 2014, I was really keen to progress by tackling some of the plants which I find challenging to identify. The FSC course description asked, "Are you a botanist who still shies away from the dandelion look-alikes? Have you tried and failed to sort out the willows or the docks for instance? Do you find yourself saying 'I don't do sedges, or ferns, or goosefoots'?"

"Having previously picked up, and hastily put down, numerous yellow flowered Asteraceae, having wondered about Willows, pondered upon Polygonums and on occasions found myself somewhat bewildered by the difference between Chenopodium and Atriplex, I was convinced that I needed to learn more about these plant groups. 

Serratula tinctoria
Image: D. Wallace
"The course description went on to say, "By the end of the course you should be inspired with confidence and enthusiasm to tackle 'new' and attractive plants and so discover yet more of our amazingly beautiful, intriguing and surprisingly diverse flora." Having decided that this course was for me, I am delighted to report that I was not disappointed.

"Although the participants came from quite different botanical backgrounds, attendees' previous experience and aspirations were well catered for by Ros and everyone had a really enjoyable and very educational three days. The time spent in the classroom, learning about the key features of the plant groups, was followed up by many enjoyable hours of field practice (in the sunshine). 

The yellow glandular hairs of Sonchus arvensis
Image: D. Wallace
"By observing features including pappus hairs, leaf hairs, the achene shapes and the arrangement of the involucral bracts, we were able to key out many members of the Asteraceae. I particularly liked the yellow glandular hairs of Sonchus arvensis; however, I think my favourite Asteraceae of the course has to be Serratula tinctoria (Saw-wort).

"Ros' own lateral key to native 'Dandelion look-alikes' really unlocked the mysteries of this group and a laminated copy of this key has a permanent place in my rucksack. I often produce this key at times when my non-botanising companions least expect it (e.g. the occasions when I have an overwhelming urge to have a 'quick look' at some Crepis capilaris growing out of a kerb in a supermarket car park).

The elongated oil-glands on 3-ribbed achenes of
Tripleurospermum maritimum
Image: D, Wallace
"Mayweeds were another group covered. On a stunningly beautiful coastal walk, we were tasked with finding specimens in order to observe their diagnostic characteristics. We found that members of the genus Tripleurospermum have 3-ribbed achenes, additionally, that Tripleurospermum maritimum has elongated oil glands on its achenes, whereas those of Tripleurospermum inodorum oil glands are rounded. A less pleasant revelation was discovering why Anthemis cotula is known as Stinking Camomile!
"In addition to moving the entire group's botanical knowledge forwards, Ros also had a great talent for finding the most beautiful spots for our lunch stops. Eating Slapton Leys' finest packed lunches, whilst surrounded by Lobelia urens (Heath Lobelia), is a rare pleasure.

Lobelia urens
Image: D. Wallace
"The course has been part of a botanical learning journey for me this year. Having attended other botanical courses, including a sedge identification course and also completing the on-line Identiplant course, I feel that I am now able to make a useful contribution to botanical recording. Participating in the Identiplant course was a really useful and rewarding experience and one that I can highly recommend.

"The combined knowledge gained from these courses was employed to good effect during a holiday in Plockton on the west coast of Scotland. Plockton has a small, un-manned airfield with beautiful, herb-rich grassland.

"An enjoyable morning exploring the site, recording every plant which I could identify, left me with not only a list of plants which have been submitted to the Vice County Recorder, but also with the immense satisfaction that I could confidently identify almost every vascular plant to species level. 

Species-rich grassland at Plockton Airfield
Image: D. Wallace
"The records were well received, several new hectad records were recorded and two voucher specimens are currently with BSBI Specialist Referees for determination. Chris Metherell kindly identified a Euphrasia species which was abundant at the site, as Euphrasia arctica x nemorosa; another new hectad record.

"In addition to my passion for vascular plants, I have a keen and developing interest in both bryophytes and lichens. A previous commitment to attend a lichen microscopy course (which I am really looking forward to), prevents me from attending this year's BSBI Annual Exhibition Meeting; however, I am looking forward to the Annual Summer Meeting, being held next May at FSC Blencathra".

Many thanks to Debbie for this report - sounds like she really got a lot out of her BSBI training grant! I think we should all go along to next year's Summer Meeting so she can show us how to ID those tricky Dandelion lookalikes :-)  

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