Friday 17 November 2017

Eyes Wide Shut - a Botanical Awakening: Part Two

Image: D. Steere
On Monday, we brought you the first part of David Steere's story of how, in just four years, he went from not knowing the difference between a Dandelion and a Cotsfoot, to becoming a highly-valued botanical recorder in his home county of Kent

At the end of part one, we left him having just bought his first wildflower ID book and realising that he "knew very little about plants". 

Now find out what David did next:

Monkey Orchid
Image: D. Steere
"I amassed lots of old wildflower books from charity shops and wildlife reserve shops and realised my first little book was rather limited and the colour drawings of wildflowers were often inaccurate or vague. 

"As these books were inspiring but rather useless at field identifications I turned my research to the internet. Here I found a wealth of information and web sites, the two most influential to me being which had a wildflower and UK orchid forum and which lists most wildflowers found in the UK. 

"I also bought a copy of Harrap's Wild Flowers which had fantastic colour photos of most species with a good description of how to identify it. I followed this up with Wild Flowers of Britain and Ireland by Blamey, Fitter and Fitter which had additional detail, but importantly, covered many alien species commonly found in the wild.

Late Spider-orchid photographed on
Folkestone Downs
Image: D. Steere
"Being fascinated by the orchids I had already found, I did lots of online research and resolved to find more Kent orchids, so in 2014 I set off to several well known sites and in a few short visits I found all the major species recorded in Kent, including Man, Lady, Greater Butterfly, Early and Late Spider, Monkey and many more. 

"It was an amazing time of discovery and wonder. I had no idea my own countryside had such stunning gems within it waiting to be found. In 2015 I set out to find orchids not in nature reserves and my star find was a population of previously unrecorded Lady Orchids, possibly never seen before by botanists.

"British and Irish orchids are amazing, yet I couldn't fail to notice other species along the way, from Eyebrights to Yellow-wort, Poppies to assorted Toadflax and so my interests considerably broadened. 

Lady Orchid, Luddesdown, Kent
Image: D. Steere
"I started photographing and logging all wildflowers I could identify. I wanted to find the wonderful flowers shown in Harrap's book for myself. 

"One big tip I learned early on was that taking some photos of a plant's flowers is often insufficient to identify the plant in front of you. 

"I quickly learned to take detailed photos of every bit of any plant I couldn't identify, including the underside of leaves and if possible even the type of hairs on the leaves. I still do that today which is invariably sufficient to gain a firm identification from Twitter botanists or my County Recorder.

"In 2015 I joined the Kent Botanical Recording Group which is free to join. I was welcomed from the start and enjoyed attending their field trips, where in a few hours with local experts I learned more than I could have done in a year of solo trips. They took time to explain the differences in species and what to look for. 

Field of Common Poppy, Eynsford, Kent
Image: D. Steere
"In addition to that, they put out a newsletter and Kent Botany each year with a wealth of information within them. I would highly recommend you join your local county group (see and click on your county from the map shown). Or use the list here.

"One thing that did baffle me on the field trips was the habit of everyone talking about plants using their scientific names and I frequently had to ask what flower they were talking about. 

"Feeling a bit embarrassed about it, I decided I would try to learn them as well and here's how I managed to remember seemingly impossible names, such as Tripleurospermum inodorum and Helminthotheca echioides: I became a BSBI member and started recording for the BSBI Atlas 2020.

July flowers at Lullingstone, Kent
Image: D. Steere
"To do this I could only record species whose identity I was 100% sure of. I then entered my finds into a spreadsheet, but you have to use the scientific names to do so. 

"As such, after repeatedly typing in common plants the names stuck in my memory. 

"Another tip is to mentally say the scientific name to yourself each time you notice it. Just walking down an urban street, I'm muttering to myself “Stellaria media, Euphorbia peplus, Conyza canadensis” etc. I now find I sometimes struggle to remember a plant's common name!" 

Sun spurge and Dense-flowered fumitory
Image: D. Steere
Let's leave David there, walking down the street muttering scientific names (yes, I do it too and so does every botanist I know!), enjoying being an active BSBI member and expanding his botanical knowledge. 

Tune in next week when we bring David's story bang up-to-date with the third and final part of his story: his recent botanical finds, his pet hates and obstacles encountered, how he overcame them and now helps beginner botanists expand their knowledge.

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