Saturday, 21 November 2015

BSBI training grants help budding botanists: Part Four

Preston Montford Field Centre: the pond
Image: Copyright Betty Longbottom and
licensed for re-use under
  this Creative Commons licence
Delighted to hear from Marcus, who received a BSBI training grant this year. He will be offering a poster about the grant and what it helped him achieve at next weekend's BSBI Exhibition Meeting but for now, here's Marcus's guest blogpost:

"Each year the BSBI gives out a number of grants to budding botanists. I was lucky enough this year to be the recipient of one of these grants, which allowed me to spend a fantastic long weekend at the Field Studies Council’s Preston Montford Field Centre studying a course on aquatic plants.

Aquatic plants from
Thursley Pool, Surrey
Image: M. Militello
"The course was taught by environmental consultant and BSBI member Nick Law and Sarah Whild, BSBI trustee and Chair of BSBI's Training & Education Committee. Having only studied botany on a casual basis for the previous year and a half I had, prior to the course, next to no experience in aquatic plant identification, so was a little daunted at the prospect of learning the features and names of a whole host of plants that I was unfamiliar with.

"Additionally upon arrival I found out that many aquatic plants spend little time in flower, making things even tougher! For this reason, learning to use vegetative keys was crucial in order to correctly identify specimens. Having in the past focused primarily upon identification via flowers I had much to learn!

"Sarah and Nick did however make things seem much easier than I had expected. The dichotomous key they had created was an extremely useful and easy to follow guide for the amateur aquatic botanist and I was generally able to correctly identify specimens in the classroom. A host of reference books were also supplied and turned out to be very useful, particularly when identifying the harder species. 

"I made much use of Rich and Jermy’s Plant Crib and learnt to use the polychotomous keys in Poland and Clements ‘Vegetative Key to the British Flora’ a book which has now  become one of my field identification stalwarts and is with me at all times in the field.

Thursley Pool, Surrey
Image: M. Militello
"As with any good FSC course there was also a field based portion. This gave all students a chance to experience rural Shropshire and identify the plants in situ, which is something I always find more difficult than identifying within the classroom but is invaluable, since this is where the majority of identification must take place. Sites visited included Bomere Pool, Montgomery Canal and Wildmoor pool, which covered a range of habitats, and each had its own distinctive assemblage of species.

"In the month following the course I took part in the BioBlitz at Moors Valley Country Park, where I was at that time based. I led a small group of families around the park teaching them about aquatic plants. Everyone got to have a go with the grapnel, pulling many a pondweed and hornwort out of the stream. It was great to be able to pass on some of what I learnt on the course to members of the public.

Water Fern Azolla filiculoides 
Image downloaded from GBNNSS and
reproduced under Crown Copyright
"Since then I have moved onto a post with Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, something which I believe the course aided me in getting. I have found my new knowledge of aquatic plants has been great when running volunteer groups in pond habitats. I am able to point out and name plant species that will be of benefit to the rarer species of amphibian: Great Crested Newt and Natterjack Toad.

"I would again like to say how thankful I am to the BSBI for their support - through awarding grants of this nature I feel the BSBI effectively nurtures the next generation of botanists and helps spread knowledge about botanical biodiversity around the British Isles. I certainly feel it has enriched my understanding of British botany and has helped me to choose the Masters Degree programme in Biological Recording, which I am now studying".

Many thanks to Marcus for explaining so clearly how his BSBI training grant helped him improve his botanical skills and get the job he wanted in conservation. Find out more at the BSBI Exhibition Meeting.