Friday, 5 August 2016

Battle of the Islands!

Oysterplant on Shetland yesterday
Image: I. Denholm
Reports are coming in thick and fast from Shetland and the Outer Hebrides, with teams of intrepid botanists braving the elements in pursuit of fabulous plants, fresh supplies of cake and more records for Atlas 2020 than any other botanical recording team on any other island...

Ian Denholm started it! While holed up against grim weather on Shetland yesterday, he emailed: "Reading your blog on Welsh recording reminded me that this trip has so far thrown up only the second and third known sites for Bog orchid on the Shetland mainland (the first was discovered at the end of the BSBI visit last year). 

Esther photographing the largest
colony of Oysterplant on Shetland
Image: I. Denholm
"Last night Jim McIntosh (BSBI Scottish Officer) expressed the view that yesterday we broke the record for the number of monads (20) covered by any BSBI recording trip in a single day. That’s 19 more than today".

Apparently some of the 32 botanists on Shetland did brave the foul weather and were rewarded by one of our most iconic plants and one which has a special place in BSBI's history

Janet sent the image on the left and emailed: "We have been out in the rain this morning looking for Oysterplant (Mertensia maritima). 

Liz, Amy & Hannah find
Crowberry in among the Heather
Image: J. Higgins
"It was found by Alex at the edge of the shingle on Casho beach. There were three Oysterplants, one was large and flowering, the other two were just rosettes". 

They also fitted in some recording on the heathland and Janet says "The photograph on the right is of Liz showing Amy and Hannah the leaves of Crowberry (Empetrum nigrum) mixed in with Heather (Calluna vulgaris) on heathland near Cuckron."

Meanwhile on Lewis, the sun was shining and Paul Smith and his team were out looking at smuts on Deergrasses (as you do...) Paul emailed:

Anthracoidea paniceae -
a smutty Carnation Sedge
Image: P. Smith
"Deergrass (Trichophorum) on the moorland is very occasionally infected by a smut, like the ones that replace the ovaries in some sedges (Carex spp). 

"In 2009 a large area of northern Lewis had infected plants, and this pattern has been repeated this year with a large proportion of plants on the moors east of Stornoway infected. 

"I speculate that there are occasional years when conditions are perfect over large areas, and then many more plants than usual are infected. 

"This smut is Anthracoidea scirpi - we have also had Anthracoidea spp. in Carex echinata, C. flacca and C. panicea this week. Anthracoidea paniceae is extremely common up here this year."

Anthracoidea pratensis on Carex flacca - a smutty Glaucous Sedge
Image: P. Smith
"Look out for these smuts in your patch". (LM: And if anybody asks what we're doing, we have to say we're looking for smut? It's bad enough explaining that we're looking at hairy nodes...)  

Paul again: "And if you can find similar smuts on Carex pulicaris or Carex limosa, then do report them to the Lost and Found Fungi project". 

For images of, and info on, the Target Species of smuts on sedges of wet heathland, click here

Pugsley's Eyebright
Image: I. Denholm
But Tim Rich (of Plant Crib, New Year Plant Hunt, several BSBI Handbooks and Attenborough's Hawkweed fame) and BSBI President John Faulkner have now joined Paul's Hebridean house-party and it's gone suspiciously quiet... as soon as I find out what they're up to, I'll let you know!

Meanwhile over on Shetland, the weather brightened up today, so Ian & co were back out in the field. 

Ian emailed "Dry day today. I went out with Chris Metherell (author of the forthcoming BSBI Handbook on Eyebrights) and Esther Pawley (English Nature) to the area around Urafrith in the north of the mainland. Our first stop was to chase a record Chris had confirmed from herbarium specimens for Pugsley’s Eyebright, Euphrasia rotundifolia. 

"This plant is endemic to Scotland and currently known only from about 10 plants growing on the north coast of Sutherland. We quickly located a colony of plants that Chris readily confirmed as E. rotundifolia. This discovery (a first record for Shetland) increases the number of individuals known in the world by at least 300%! 

Esther and Chris hunting for
Pugsley's Eyebright on Shetland
Image: I. Denholm
"We then chose a strategic stop for lunch, amid the largest colony of Oysterplant in Shetland (many more plants than were seen by Janet & co at another site yesterday). 

"The shingle was carpeted by plants in full flower - this is the site where, on a BSBI visit in 2006, I took the Oysterplant photo used on the BSBI homepage".

So in the Battle of the Islands, Shetland recorders see a carpet of Oysterplant and increase the known global population of Pugsley's Eyebright by 300%, while Paul's team on Lewis has lots of smut... But they also have another week of recording ahead, so I suspect they are just warming up - watch this space!