Tuesday, 5 January 2016

BSBI Training grants now available

Applications open today for BSBI Training grants. If you've been considering doing a botanical training course this year, there are probably two main questions you've been asking yourself: can I afford this course and am I likely to enjoy it and get something out of it

A BSBI Training grant may help with the former and the account below may help you answer question two! It was written by Tim Body and sets out how he used his BSBI Training grant. Over to Tim: 

"In January 2015 I successfully applied for a BSBI £250 training grant, available for ‘aspiring botanists who want to go on short training courses’. I’ve received the grant twice before, both times attending short residential botany courses at Field Studies Council centres. 

Both were excellent experiences but this year I decided to do something different and spread the grant out over five separate day courses at The Gateway in Shrewsbury. The courses are part of Manchester Metropolitan University’s Biological Recording Programmes. As well as their MSc and Certificate courses they also offer a range of day courses run throughout the year. My chosen courses were ‘Grasses in the spring’, ‘Umbellifers’, ‘Docks and Knotweeds’, ‘Daisies, Dandelions and Thistles’ and ‘Lamiaceae and Scrophulariaceae’.

I had a few reasons for the different course type this year. On the one hand I fancied a change of format and I’d been to The Gateway before for a day course on Winter Tree Identification a few years ago, so I knew the teaching environment worked for me. But the selection of tutors was the major draw. The grasses course was led by Sarah Whild who I’d crossed paths with a few times but never been taught by. Knowing a few people on the Biological Recording MSc I’d heard she was a great teacher. Umbellifers, Daisies and Lamiaceae were led by Mark Duffell who had led the Winter Tree ID course so I knew he was a good from experience. Docks and Knotweeds was led by Ros Bennett who I’ve been telling anyone who’ll listen is my hero ever since I did 'Using a Flora' with her at Flatford Mill in 2012.

You get a variety of people attending these courses. The work room is an archipelago of tables which seat four or five, complete with copies of Stace and sample trays. Sharing my table might be ecology consultants like me - you can generally spot these by the fact they look like need a good night’s sleep, coinciding with bat season as the courses do. The consultants tend to make the most notes too and take bunches of labelled samples away with them to report back to their colleagues. 

Also sharing my table might be general amateur enthusiasts from all kinds of backgrounds. I met a man whose prime interest was foraging and cooking, a lady who worked at a hospital and had taken an interest in the wild flowers growing around it, and various horticulturalists in the process of being drawn away from cultivated species to British natives. Finally you might meet the occasional expert who knows most of the content already. They are there to keep their knowledge fresh. Like the specimens, ID skills wilt and wither over time unless you keep them topped up.

What do you get from the courses? You get taught by an expert. What I like about the tutors is that they’re normal people. They stagger you at times with how much they know but they aren’t lofty boffins, detached from the struggles of the beginner. Communication is clear and adapted for the different skill levels of the attendees. 

You get the impetus and confidence to tackle the identification of plants you’ve been intimidated by. Somehow by attending you give yourself permission to tackle groups you have until now avoided. Occasionally you might think to yourself you could have figured that bit out on your own. But you realise you haven’t, and haven’t for several years in a row so probably weren’t going to without a push.

Personally I love the atmosphere of these courses. If like me you feel guilty when you’re not busy, there’s something therapeutic about doing something productive for a day with no pressure attached. The room is full of plant smells, discussions about features, people peering at specimens, and that satisfying aesthetic of stripy pencils, lined paper, scribbled notes and flower parts viewed through a hand lens.

It breaks down that invisible wall between you and the plants which you don’t ID in the field. I no longer have “Dock sp.” on my species lists after a survey. Now I tackle them. As a firm believer in the importance of having a sturdy botanical foundation as a competent generalist, these courses have filled in some important gaps for me and I’m looking forward to seeing what next year has in store".

Thanks to Tim for this account and for the images which illustrate it!

Please be aware that we only have a limited pot of money so if you want to apply for a Training grant, you'll need to get your skates on as they get snapped up quickly! 

Just head over to the Training page, scroll down column 2 and download the form. Good luck!