Tuesday 9 May 2017

BSBI Training Grant helps another botanist in 2016: Part Six

Many thanks to David Hawkins for this account of a training course he was able to attend thanks to a BSBI Training Grant. Over to David:

Difficult Higher Plants Made Somewhat Easier

Lady Fern on the edge of the woods
Image: D. Hawkins
"A long weekend doing a course at the FSC’s legendary Preston Montford would always be a cause for excitement. I was doubly blessed (in a time of straitened finances) by having more than half the cost covered by a BSBI training grant. May 2016’s ‘Identifying Difficult Higher Plants’ was taught splendidly by Mark Duffell, with a star guest appearance from Tim Rich.

"I was initially disappointed when it emerged that the course would be largely classroom based; but this in fact turned out to be a very positive thing and within a couple of hours my reservations had evaporated and been replaced by a flurry of sori and ligules. We were presented with a fantastic range of fresh specimens that had been gathered by Mark, and which also included examples of some rare (and exquisite) sedges that had been cultivated in pots in Sarah Whild’s garden.

Rich's Whitebeam at Portishead
Image: D. Hawkins
"To my delight, we began with ferns, sorting out some of the differences within the Dryopteris affinis agg. Following pteridology, we made a lengthy excursion among sedges before wandering through seas of grasses. Mark’s patient and good-humoured tutelage pervaded the atmosphere of collaborative learning throughout. Many a hair – stellate, medifixed, septate – danced under the lens of the microscope.

"Tim appeared and delivered a compelling overview of the genus Sorbus, of particular interest to me as I live a grapnel’s throw from the Avon Gorge. Afterwards I even sought out his very own Sorbus richii, the type specimen of which happens to be about half a mile from where I grew up. Later, after a short field trip, he went on to give a lecture explaining the importance of recorder effort (or lack thereof) and the significant effect this can have on distribution and frequency data.

"The final day was dedicated to aquatics – and by amazing coincidence the pond outside the classroom had been stocked with all manner of native waterplants, garlanded around the edges by Sweet Cicely and hybrid (Wood x Water) Avens.

David has continued plant-spotting!
Basil Thyme in the Avon Gorge
Image: D. Hawkins
"My notebook glitters with evocative phrases and facts gleaned from the weekend:
‘A microsatellite is a little loop of DNA that can be tracked…’
‘Girth more useful than height for indicating age of Sorbus…’
‘Nectaries at the base of water crowfoot petals morph over time…’
I even have a sketch map from Tim Rich showing the location of Carex depauperata near Cheddar!

"Ashamed as it makes me to say it, often I am a rather impatient botanist and tend to go on ‘jizz’ where possible, working backwards and only turning to keys as a last resort. Having plenty of time with a wide variety of high quality specimens side by side, aided by expert guidance, allowed for many breakthroughs – both minor and major – in terms of identification and using the books as they were intended.

"I am an active recorder in VC6 and the southern fringes of VC34, and a member of Bristol Naturalists’ Society and Somerset Rare Plants Group. I hope I carry some of the wisdom gathered over those few days with me on any jaunt out into the field. It was a very useful and memorable time. ‘Difficult’ plants may well be some of the easiest to love".

Thanks David! 

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