Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Long-term site monitoring

Nice to hear from regular News & Views reader/contributor Martin Godfrey, who says:

"There has been quite a lot on the blog recently on the subject of recording and recording trips and I thought that it might be interesting to briefly mention another aspect of botanical recording – repeat long-term site monitoring.


Recorders in the pose so typical of
both botanists and bryologists!
Image: M. Godfrey
"In the middle of July the time came round once more for repeat monitoring of the Fenns and Whixall, Bettisfield and Wem Mosses NNR to add some more results/ data to English Nature’s long-term management work at the sites. 

On Monday the 15th the volunteers assembled at the NNR HQ at Whixall for a briefing and some refresher training on the monitoring technique – it is quite intensive, involving the recording both of plant species presence and their percentage cover in a number of fixed 2m square quadrats, each in turn subdivided into 25 smaller square plots. 

"As well as recording plant species a number of habitat variables are measured including a member of the English Nature staff checking ground water level in permanent dip wells. Following the training, teams of 3-4 people were put together and recording began.

The Recording Team at the end of the day:
 bryologists standing upright at last!
Martin 2nd from right in white hat.
Image: M. Godfrey  
"Now one of the potential snags in all of this is that there are more than just flowering plants growing on mosses – some ferns and indeed there are “mosses” too, sometimes forming a substantial amount of the ground flora – and these include members of the genus Sphagnum and many small liverworts which tend to make botanists rather nervous. 

"To help get around this problem, English Nature talked two individuals into being specialist advisors who could identify the bryophytes and help others to do the same. So Martha Newton and I ended up with a group of survey teams each to “advise” – great fun although involving rather a lot of trekking between quadrats  over rather dodgy bog. 

"I must say that it is a great tribute to the skills of the recorders that after about a day most of them had sorted out the main bryophyte species leaving Martha and me to confirm IDs for the less confident and identify the really small liverworts and scruffy bits of moss – frequently in the evening with the microscope, and in my case with an accompanying glass of wine. 


The relaxed approach!
Mind you, if this was Martin...
that coffee would be replaced by wine!
Image: M. Godfrey
"The four days of recording passed smoothly, and in good weather - I certainly enjoyed myself and judging from the general chat so did everyone else.

"I find that there is a great deal of satisfaction to be had in recording in this way, not just from the seeing and identifying of interesting plant material but in knowing that what you are doing is contributing to robust data on long term change and site-management effectiveness. I would recommend it to anyone as an interesting change to 'square bashing'." 

Many thanks to Martin for reminding us that, although recorders are currently in 'full steam ahead' mode towards Atlas 2020, long-term monitoring is also worthwhile and enjoyable. And fair play to him for managing to sneak some lower plants on to this page, which is very naughty! Martin knows perfectly well that BSBI's brief is the study, understanding and enjoyment of vascular plants and that bryophytes are considered non-vascular - they just don't have the advanced plumbing systems enjoyed by higher plants. But those "scruffy bits of moss" do have a certain charm and engage the interest of many a botanist during the winter months, when many higher plants are thin on the ground (due in part to that fancy vascular system!)