Friday 25 March 2016

BSBI Training Grant helps an eighth botanist

Pondweeds are tricky! This is Potamogeton crispus
Image courtesy of John Crellin
Applications for BSBI Training Grants have now closed for this year and applicants should hear soon if they have been successful. The next round will open in January 2017.

We have already featured seven budding botanists on these pages who have benefited from a BSBI Training Grant in 2015 and now here is number eight. 

Over to Karen to tell us about the course that she was able to attend, thanks to the grant, and how it has helped her progress as a botanist:   

"Last summer I was lucky enough to be awarded a BSBI Training Grant to undertake the Aquatic Plants course run by Sarah Whild and Nick Law at Preston Montford Field Studies Council Centre,

Essential kit for botanists hunting for aquatics:
grapnel, ID key & notes from a great training course!
Image: K. Rogers
I had wanted to do the course as part of my Biological Recording Masters at Manchester Metropolitan University but for one reason or another dates had not worked and I missed the opportunity. I had heard so much good feedback from fellow students at the time that, having successfully finished my MSc and started working in the ecology sector, I was determined to make it my first choice from my long wish list of Field Studies Council courses.

While confident with other groups of plants, I would always dodge anything truly aquatic and felt like I was doing my local ponds a disservice. While it is perfectly acceptable for botanists to want to specialise in terrestrial plants, to me aquatic plants seemed a challenge (and I always like a challenge) and a piece of the botanical jigsaw that I was then missing. 

Although I was working on a short term contract when I applied for the grant, my employment was only secure until March of 2015. The grant money, therefore, enabled me to do this personal development without worrying about having to find the whole amount out of my savings.

Flowers of Alternate Water-milfoil
Image courtesy of John Crellin
The course ran from 10th to 13th July last year. It was fantastic and I would heartily recommend it to anyone who has a work requirement or a personal interest to survey aquatic or bankside vegetation. Sarah and Nick covered a wide range of true aquatics and bankside emergents and helpfully grouped plants by family. This helped me see the common (or not) characteristics between the different genera, and identify the characteristics that can lead to mis-identifications.

All participants on the course received a fantastic array of keys produced by Sarah and Nick which provide surveyors with a quick and easy starting point for all aquatics and emergents. We used them throughout the course, adding our own notes, and then we were able to take them away with us. I have actually photocopied and laminated my set so that they don’t spoil when you have wet and muddy hands.

The other great thing about the course was the focus on self-learning. We keyed out all the specimens we encountered, rather than being told what something was and moving on to the next specimen. This gave me confidence in using the available keys and taught me to trust my botanical instinct.

Karen's home-made grapnel - you throw it into
the water and fish out plants.
Make sure you hold on to the other end!
Image: K. Rogers
Plus (and you can’t talk about Sarah and Nick’s Aquatics Course without mentioning this) the grapnel-making evening was both good fun and very useful. Grapnels are essential aquatic plant survey kit and we were shown how to make our own out of low-cost materials. It is an invaluable skill, as was how to make a voucher specimen when you have a very wet and waterlogged plant. Many sheets of paper is all I am saying……

With hindsight, the course armed me with the materials I need to sample, identify in-situ or gather and preserve plants in and around water. And, more importantly, I have been able to put this into practice in my work. I was the only person at work with a grapnel and all the right materials to survey a series of ponds and assess their wildlife value. It was very satisfying to learn these skills and then put them to good use.

So as 2016 starts I can now say that I am no longer an aquatic plant avoider and all thanks to the BSBI".

Many thanks to Karen for telling us about the Aquatics Course - we're delighted that your BSBI Training Grant was put to such good use!

You can find out more about the range of botanical training opportunities - from short courses for beginners to post-graduate and professional qualifications - on the BSBI Training page here.

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