Monday, 14 August 2017

Inaugural meeting of the Kerry BSBI group

In the throes of recording
Image: J. Hamilton
The last time Jessica appeared on these pages, she was telling us about the very successful #KerryBSBIevent on the Dingle Peninsula. Now she's back to tell us about the inaugural meeting of the local botany group. Over to Jessica:

"The Kerry local BSBI group has found its legs and our first ever outing took place in Killarney on the 16th July. The aim was to get some recording done for Atlas 2020 but to also have a nice relaxed day for participants who are new to the world of botany and the system of recording used by the BSBI. 

Image: J. Hamilton
"The group was led by Therese Higgins and myself and we had 18 enthusiastic participants, majority of whom were all beginners, all of whom were able to take something new they learned away with them. 

"Botany is a subject that you really benefit the most when you get out in the field with more experienced people, I can attest to this, as when out you really learn ID tips and familiarity with species you might not have been aware of before. Sometimes a line or couplet in a botanical key may seem quite ambiguous but once someone shows a feature or the species in the field, it suddenly ‘clicks’.

Lough Leane
Image: J. Hamilton
"Once a plant has been pointed out and you get your eye in, you realise it’s often all around you. This is an aspect of the BSBI I love, whether a complete beginner or an improver you are welcomed with open arms and the atmosphere is always relaxed and easy going. 

"I hope we conveyed this atmosphere to the participants on the day! Plus I think we can all relate to that feeling when you’ve reached your botanical mental capacity for the day with all the new names and species etc., hence the importance of beautiful views and scenery to take in after! 

Marsh Ragwort
Image: J. Hamilton
"A few other locations were mulled over before deciding on Ross Island for our first outing, primarily as it was user friendly with easy access and facilities if needed nearby. Best of all, we were surrounded by the stunning scenery of the Killarney National Park.

"We collected over 200 species from two monads which was a nice feat for our first outing. The plan was originally to get more ground covered however as typical of botanists - less ground was covered in favour of ‘cooing’ of some very interesting species indeed. Which I think is very important, if we were to have zoomed through and not pointed out all the common species, they would still be unknowns to beginners. 

Broad-leaved Helleborine
Image: J. Hamilton
"Even the more common plants such as Slender St John’s-wort Hypericum pulchrum caused quite a stir when people first looked at them through a hand lens and saw the glands. I know Therese definitely enjoyed seeing the ‘wows’ and ‘ahhs’ that people projected upon seeing them.

"My botanical highlight was the beautiful Broad-leaved Helleborine Epipactis helleborine that we met quite a few of throughout the day, first just one or two and then nice patches of them along the shore of Lough Leane. I always get excited when I see any species of orchid (Anecdotal tale- I ‘met’ my first Heath Spotted-orchid back when I fell into a dike and looked up to find a handful growing right above my head, alongside some strange looks from a rather bemused spaniel of mine). So it was only my first time meeting this particular species of helleborine which was great and another orchid species ticked off.

"It was also the first time for me meeting several species in the ‘flesh’ as opposed to just via books or online. Three such species were Lesser meadow-rue Thalictrum minus, Slender rush Juncus tenuis and Wall Bramble Rubus saxatilis, - the latter being a entirely new species for me.

Image: J. Hamilton
"One species that caused excitement and uncertainty was the Broomrape Orobanche sp. The lean is towards O. hederae but this is not yet 100% confirmed, however it was also growing beside its likely host (Ivy) so it’s a fairly confident ID. Broomrapes in general are a lovely and different looking species to meet so I didn’t want to leave out a photo of this alien-looking parasitic plant.

"As well as these interesting species we saw lots of more common, typical species such as Remote Sedge Carex remota, Wood-sedge Carex sylvatica as well as a nice stands of Red Campion Silene dioica, Wood sage Teucrium scorodonia alongside speedwells, woundworts Stachys sylvatica and palustris, vetches and other members of the Fabaceae (Pea family). Remnants of the earlier spring flowering plants were also seen such as the seed heads of Early purple orchid Orchis maculata and Bluebells Hyacinthoides non-scripta, which would have carpeted the woodland floors a few months ago with their other woodland companions such as Bugle Ajuga reptans and Wood sorrel Oxalis acetosella.

Red Campion
Image: J. Hamilton
"In damper areas we saw a few flowers of the last of the Ragged Robins Silene flos-cuculi that were still hanging on alongside Opposite-leaved golden-saxifrage Chrysosplenium oppositifolium. The crisp odour of Water mint Mentha aquatica was smelled by everyone before we saw it. Marsh Ragwort Senecio aquaticus and Purple Loosestrife Lythrum salicaria also put on a good show, especially around Ross Castle itself. Close to here we saw an aquatic invasive Fringed Water-lily Nymphoides peltata which is an escape from domestic ponds and the like. Angelica Angelica sylvestris was also starting to make its presence felt in the locality.

The invasive Fringed Water-lily
Image: J. Hamilton
"We were blessed with the weather with clear blue skies and sunshine all day. This weather also facilitated another highlight for me, we were surrounded by tens of Silver washed fritillary butterflies which are fairy like in their delicate appearance and movement. It was fabulous to see that they were relishing the good weather as much as we were.

"The good weather allowed us to have our lunch on the shore of Lough Leane, where another beautiful plant the Harebell Campanula rotundifola was a hit with people owing to its delicate and very pretty appearance. Nearby we encountered great displays of Common cow-wheat Melampyrum pratense and Hemp agrimony Eupatorium cannabinum.

Common Cow-wheat
Image: J. Hamilton
"We were lucky to also have Matt Hodd alongside us who pointed out many of the lovely species of tree present on our rambles such as Wild Plum Prunus domestica and Wych Elm Ulmus glabra.

I asked two participants for feedback on the day and what their highlights were. Michelle Duggan, a fellow classmate from the IT Tralee had this to say:
"I had a very enjoyable day out with the Kerry BSBI group. The group consisted of mixed abilities from beginners to more experienced botanists. There was a fantastic buzz of excitement as we made our way around Ross Island, Killarney. The highlight of the day for me was discovering a Broomrape species Orobanche sp. I've never come across one before and was taken back by its amazing purplish colour, that highlights it's parasitic nature. I thought that both BSBI representatives (Therese and Jessica) were fun and engaging which ensured the day was a great success. I look forward to getting out for more botanising!"

Thea Eldred, who was also present for the recent Kerry recording event on the Dingle Peninsula back in June, said:

Lakeside lunch
Image: J. Hamilton
“I had a fantastic time on what I hope was the first of many Kerry BSBI outings. For me these trips are the best way to improve my botany skills (I have been shown over 100 new species so far!), and they are also a lovely way of spending a day outside enjoying nature and meeting friends. 

"The highlight of our excursion to Ross Island was to see the surprisingly intricate and beautiful structure of the Slender St John's-wort Hypericum pulchrum petals under the hand lens. I would normally pass by this plant without a second glance, which just goes to show the value of accompanying a skilled botanist in the field. Thank you Therese and Jessica for being so generous with your time and knowledge! I look forward to seeing everyone again on the next Kerry BSBI outing.”

Lough Leane
Image: J. Hamilton
"I echo what Michelle and Thea have said and I look forward with anticipation to the next BSBI Kerry event, which will hopefully occur before the end of this summer. (Keep an eye on the Twitter and Facebook Pages mentioned below).
To conclude I want to thank everyone again for coming again. Also a special thanks to Therese for her never ending enthusiasm for botany!
You can follow our antics on the official BSBI Kerry Facebook page here or if you’re a Twitter user here

If you are in the Kerry locality and would like to get involved and come out with us on future outings, send an email to and I’ll add you to the mailing list". 

Thanks to Jessica for this account  - the BSBI Kerry group has got off to a great start (18 people on an inaugural meeting is probably a record!) so we look forward to hearing more about their progress. 

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

The North-West Rare Plant Initiative

Flat-sedge Blysmus compressus
Image: J. Styles
Josh Styles, a BSBI member and one of our next generation of botanists, has been in touch about an interesting project he is setting up. Over to Josh to tell us more:

"The North-West Rare Plant Initiative (NWRPI) is a recent project operating across the north-west of England principally through vice counties 58 (Cheshire), 59 (South Lancashire) and 60 (West Lancashire) as a response to the drastic negative change in the abundance and range of certain species of plant on a regional level. 

"The aim of the NWRPI is to bring into cultivation the rarest plant species within VC 58-60 with the end goal of reintroduction back into suitable sites where a suitable environment with a sustainable management regime exists. A goal of the NWRPI in addition to conservation of species in decline is to set up a network of cultivators across the country whereby plants are able to be cultivated on a much larger scale than is possible by a single cultivator.

Sheep's-bit Jasione montana, scarce in VC58-60
Image: J. Styles
"Most of the priority species that the NWRPI is concerned with are red-listed species in a similar state of decline across England such as Flat-Sedge Blysmus compressus". 

To find out more about this project, see the NWRPI website.  

To find out more about species on the England Red List, head over to this page where you can download the entire list. 

And do check out BSBI's Species Accounts, put together by Kevin and Pete, the BSBI Science Team. There is a Species Account for Blysmus compressus and also for 78 other rare species. 

Monday, 7 August 2017

BSBI training grants helping botanists in 2017: Part Two

Mark teaching the class; Richard (on left)
peering down a microscope
Image: J. Duffell
This year, botanist Richard is on a mission to get to grips with IDing grasses, sedges and rushes. He applied for, and was awarded, a BSBI training grant and here is his report on the course he was able to attend:

"Following on from my last blogpost about the introductory grass ID session I attended with the Species Recovery Trust, last month I attended the FSC Grasses, Sedges and Rushes intermediate level 3 day course. This was held at the FSC Margam Discovery Centre in South Wales, and I must say, what wonderful surroundings to be learning in.

"The course started on Friday teatime, and after an introduction by our tutor Mark Duffell, we had dinner (which included freshly dug potatoes to die for), and then the evening was spent with Mark showing us rushes and how to apply the Juncaceae key in Stace 3.

The group keying out
Image: R. Mabbutt
"Once the trickier terminology was understood and we were keying out in small groups, in pairs and on our own, we were shown some finer points with a handout from the Plant Crib differentiating between observations such as Juncus acutiflorus and J. articulatus fruiting capsules, and J. conglomeratus and J. effusus cyme bract differences. [LM: download the Plant Crib for Juncus from this page.]

"This is exactly the level of tuition I needed and I went to bed a very happy man.

"Saturday morning was in the classroom, and it was grass day. We were to use 'Hubbard' and to everyone's relief, Mark had reformatted and updated the key making it a pleasure to use. There were plenty of handouts on this course so we could concentrate more on the talks than on writing it all down. I was impressed with the overhead projector and microscope combination which helped very much indeed.

Books used on the course
Image: R. Mabbutt
"We were given many samples to key out, and I became pleased with myself and the nitty gritty of the flower parts, especially once I realised that the usual palea/lemma configuration isn't always the case. This was one of those eureka moments for me, and the three students from MMU who were sitting at my table were very patient and helpful with me whilst I was wrapping my head around it all. I had my uses in return though, with skills they needed help with, so we made for a good little gang of four.

"In the afternoon we went out into Margam Park and ID'd more grasses and some rushes. This was followed up in the evening by identifying samples we had picked and a seemingly endless flow of material to expand our ID database with.

Keying out by the lake
Image: J. Duffell
"Sunday was spent on sedges and their allies. Again, the morning was spent in the classroom getting used to the finer points of the BSBI Sedges Handbook. I like this book, and own a copy of the first edition, but after seeing the third edition which includes their allies, I think Summerfield Books need a visit on payday.

"After lunch we were taken to Kenfig NNR to ID in the field. We didn't just concentrate on sedges either, but added to our arsenal of grass and rush identifications. Whilst we were there though we couldn't help but notice the plethora of amazing species from other plant families. 

Still keying out!
Image: R. Mabbutt
"I felt like a dog with two tails, but alas, the heavens opened in an absolute deluge, so we grabbed as many specimens as we could and made our way back to the centre. The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent identifying our findings and even more material from Mark. How he kept up with the constant barrage of questions from the 16 of us I'll never know.

"On Monday we went out in the minibus first thing to Clyne Commona site on the other side of Swansea. It was heathland with wet flushes and was rich with species from our three families. After having a go at IDing some of the plants we found, and hopefully nailing the difference between J. articulatus and J. acutifolius, we all sat a test, with ten minutes allowed for each of five species picked by Mark. 

Mark (on left) teaching in the field
Image: J. Duffell
"We all thoroughly enjoyed it - I scored four out of five, so was rather happy having only seen one of these taxa before at a genus level. By the time we got back it was almost time to head home. A quick round up by Mark and, after we all thanked him and his wife Jenni, we went our separate ways.

"The course was intense without being overbearing, and the tutor a very helpful person that explained things to the point of them becoming easy. I'm very sure that what I've learned will not just help me in the field, but with my forthcoming FISC exam.

"I'd like to thank BSBI for awarding me a training grant so that I could attend this course."

Many thanks Richard for telling us about the course he was able to attend thanks to a BSBI training grant!