Monday 9 January 2017

BSBI Training Grants help botanists in 2016: Part Four

Admiring Carex pauciflora
As the name suggests, there aren't many flowers!
Image: P. Flood 
Applications for BSBI Training Grants for 2017 are now live and you can download an application form here

So what better time than to find out how a BSBI Training Grant helped yet another botanist in 2016? 

Following on from Richard's story of the Identiplant Course he was able to attend thanks to a BSBI Training Grant, here is Pete's story of how his grant award helped him get to grips with identifying sedges and their allies. 

Over to Pete:

Carex magellanica 
Image: P. Flood 
"I’m a drummer in my day job, so I spend a lot of time with musicians (I’m sure you’ve heard the joke), who’ll happily spend hours chatting about Flying Vs, nickelharpas* and minimoogs, but look at you as if an alien has landed in their midst should you profess an interest in the extraordinary green stuff that forms the basis of most of the world outside our doors. So I’m used to getting metaphorical pats on the head whenever I enthuse about botany. 

"In the run up to this course however, all I got was blank looks whenever I told people I was going to spend the weekend learning how to identify sedges and their allies. “So - basically, it’s grass” was one response; “can anyone be a sedge ally?” another.

Carex pulicaria
Image: P. Flood
"The previous year I felt much the same way when I found myself taking a FISC exam (Field Identification Skills Certificate) in which the lab test (in which plants from all over the British Isles can turn up in the specimen trays) was essentially a showcase of family Cyperaceae, with occasional light relief from assorted Poaceae and Juncaceae. 

"In their feedback, the examiners wisely suggested I spent some time getting to know these important families, which I duly tried. But the chalk grasslands of my home on the Hampshire Downs are not the best places for these plants, and it wasn’t long before I realised that for a proper introduction to all things Carex I needed to broaden my horizons, preferably with expert help.

"As it turned out, Chris and Hazel Metherill’s 'Identifying the Sedges and Their Allies' course at Rhyd-y-creuau Field Centre was far more than a simple roll call of various sedge species with the occasional Isolepis or Eloecharis thrown in for good measure. 

Botanists at Cwm Idwal
Image: P. Flood
"The course was centred around learning to confidently use the key in A.C. Jermy’s Sedges of the British Isles - first among BSBI Handbooks

"Returning to my battered and splattered copy nearly six months later, I’m struck by the volume of marginal notes that I took during those four days, encompassing everything from how to best see stomata with a cheap handlens, some handy tips for measuring ligule length and a wealth of useful identification shortcuts, such as the fact that Carex binervis looks as if it needs a haircut.

Dactylorhiza incarnata
Image: P. Flood
"After an introductory chat on the Friday evening we started the Saturday in the wonderful mires of Anglesey, learning how to distinguish two common yellow sedges - Carex lepidocarpa and C. demissa (if their names haven’t changed once again), meeting the rather lovely Carex limosa and the initially indistinguishable Carex lasiocarpa, which soon became much easier to differentiate with Chris’s advice to look for the pronounced v-shape between the lowest bract and the stem. 

"Textbook examples of both Isolepis setacea and I. cernua were found but we were cautioned not to rely on bract length to differentiate the two, but to check seed sculpturing instead. Great beauties of other botanical families such as Dactylorhiza incarnata and Gynmadenia densiflora were swept past in the search for Carex canescens, which remained elusive.

"In the afternoon we stopped at various wetland sites, finding the impressive Carex pseudocyperus and the murderous Cladium mariscus, before heading back into the hills of Snowdonia. After dinner, we piled into the van once again for a visit to a moorland site. Perhaps it was the fading light, or the big views, but the two sedges we found that evening made a biggest impression on me of all the marvellous species I encountered on the course. 

Close-up on Carex pauciflora
Can you see those flowers yet?
Image: P. Flood 
"The beautiful and mysterious Carex magellanica is one of those plants which seems to carry its own invisibility shield until one manages to find a single plant, and then it turns out that the whole area is full of them, whereas a mossy hummock of Carex pauciflora, despite the diminutive size of the plant, is visible from surprisingly far away, looking like a tiny model wind farm.

"On Sunday we returned to Anglesey, but the weather had taken a turn for the worse, so we had a cursory look at some coastal sedges, then made for higher ground. That afternoon, on the trail up Cwm Idwal, we met Carex echinata, a single male spike of Carex dioica, and plentiful Carex hostiana (thoughtfully growing near C. demissa so we could learn to distinguish it by its hyaline glumes) and C. pulicaria, with guest appearances by Isoetes lacustris, Lobelia dortmanna, Cryptogramma crispa and Lycopodium clavatum. Carex leporina turned up in the hedge at the car park, a couple of steps from the minibus.

Sedum anglicum spotted during the sedge hunt
Image: P. Flood
"The course gave me all the confidence and momentum I needed to continue studying under my own steam, and the following month was spent tracking down elusive local sedges - Carex elongata in the New Forest and C. divisa in Farlington Marshes to name two; obsessing over differences between members of the notorious Carex muricata group; and preparing my own herbarium sheets. 

"Whilst I wondered, prior to taking this course, whether the study of sedges merited an entire four days, Chris's teaching made a convert of me, and set me on the path to being a lifelong appreciator of all things trigonous and utricle-bearing".

Many thanks to Pete for sharing his story of how a BSBI Training Grant helped him learn to love sedges. If you'd like to improve your botanical skills in a perticular area this year, please check out the BSBI Training page for grant forms and links to long and short botany courses in Britain and Ireland. 

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