Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Welsh "'Domesday Book" of plants: part two

BSBI Head of Science Kevin Walker
talks about Rare Plant Registers
Image: P. Spencer-Vellacott 
Postscript to yesterday's report about the event in Aberystwyth to mark Wales becoming the first country in the world to publish a Rare Plant Register for every county. 

BSBI Welsh Officer Polly Spencer-Vellacott appeared on BBC Radio Wales yesterday evening to talk about Rare Plant Registers. You can catch the interview here (starts at 1hr 54 minutes in).

You can also read Polly's write-up of the day's proceedings here on her blog.

Don't forget that you can download many of the Rare Plant Registers, either from the relevant county webpage or from this page, which also has details of the Registers which are only available as books to purchase.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Welsh “Domesday Book” of plants is world’s first

Wales has just become the first country in the world to have a complete record of its rare flowering plants and ferns. BSBI's aim has been to compile a county-by-county register of every single rare plant species in every county in Britain and Ireland

We started on this project almost 40 years ago, and you can see how we're getting on in the map on the right and on this page. But the fact that Wales got there first is due in no small part to the help and support we've received from Natural Resources Wales (and its predecessor bodies) and from Andy Jones, Higher Plant Specialist at NRW and (of course) a longstanding BSBI member.

No such detailed account of a nation’s flora exists in any other country in the world and today this “Domesday Book” of the plant world will be celebrated at an event at Aberystwyth University, with presentations by BSBI Head of Science Dr Kevin Walker, BSBI Welsh Officer Dr Polly Spencer-Vellacott and of course Andy Jones. 

Polly said: "Wales came up with the idea of County Rare Plant Registers (RPRs) in Cardiganshire in 1978, and it has now spread to all parts of Britain and Ireland. But this is the first time that any country has achieved this kind of complete coverage and it’s wonderful that volunteers across Wales have done all this work.”

Purple saxifrage
Image: O. Duffy
People working in plant conservation can now identify sites for rare plants in all the counties in WalesOver the years the RPRs have progressed from hand-written lists through typescripts and spreadsheets to databases on home computers to, finally, a web-based picture of the rare plants for the whole of Wales.

During this time, the work of BSBI volunteers has been supported by grants and staff support from NRW and its predecessor organisations.

The Rare Plant Registers confirm that Wales has an extraordinary diversity of natural features. It shows that it’s possible, in plant terms, to walk from the Mediterranean to the Arctic - from golden samphire at Newborough on Anglesey to purple saxifrage on the Carneddau mountains in Snowdonia.

Polly & BSBI's bilingual banner
Image courtesy of
P. Spencer-Vellacott 
Dr Emyr Roberts, Chief Executive of Natural Resources Wales, said: “NRW is proud to support such a monumental project. Over the years, we have provided funding for BSBI to continue this important work. While many of these rare plants are in decline, every single species plays an important role in the fabric of our natural environment - they are an important part of our environment, our identity and our economy. It is vital that we work to protect our wildlife and halt these declines. The register gives us comprehensive and accurate evidence, which in turn means that NRW can provide the best possible advice on rare plants and the issues that could affect them.”

Dr John Faulkner, BSBI President, said: "Completing the full set of county Rare Plant Registers for Wales is an important landmark. No other country has such a complete assessment of the state of its wild flowers. The authors and contributors are to be congratulated on this magnificent achievement.”

The county Rare Plant Registers for England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales are online and can be viewed at http://bsbi.org/rare-plant-registers. For media contacts, the press release is here. So the only question now is: which country will be the second to have a complete set?

Sunday, 26 March 2017

The State of Nature in Oxfordshire

Many thanks to Dave Morris, County Recorder for Oxfordshire, who sent us this guest blogpost:

"Oxfordshire (V.C. 23 and part V.C. 22) now has its own State of Nature report, published by the charity Wild Oxfordshire, available here. Launched at Blenheim Palace on Tuesday, the report, like its national counterpart, provides a review of the conservation status of the county’s habitats and species. It draws on the expertise of the many conservation, natural history and biological recording organisations in the county (222 apparently), including our two botanical groups, the Oxfordshire and Wychwood Flora Groups.

"I confess to not having read the national State of Nature reports, probably because the headlines which seem so very obvious and depressing to a naturalist are all that penetrate the media. However, the Oxfordshire State of Nature report is remarkably positive. Of course, there are the familiar losses and declines, and these are clearly emphasised, but what comes through is how rich in wildlife the county remains. 

Fritillary Fritillaria meleagris
Image: J.A. Webb
"Notwithstanding the depredations of modernity, Oxfordshire is still a stronghold for many rare and threatened habitats, including internationally important limestone and floodplain grasslands, and our tiny rich-fens, crucial habitats for Apium repens, Salvia pratensis and Viola persicifolia, among others. [LM: You can download a Species Account for Apium repens here.]

"The State of Nature in Oxfordshire was clearly written with policy-makers in mind, and Lawton’s mantra of ‘more, bigger, better, joined’ appears several times. This is a simple message with great imaginative appeal and over thirty pages of the report show how its vision of a wildlife-rich countryside is being realised in the county.

Carrying out practical conservation work
 for Blysmus compressus.
Dave Morris (far right); Judy (foreground left).
Image: J.A. Webb
Case studies range from the landscape partnership of RSPB and the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust to manage the upper Thames and its tributaries, to the efforts of farmers and foresters to use the land in a sustainable way, and the work of small groups to conserve rare plants in the county (e.g. Blysmus compressus described on my blog). [LM: you can download a Species Account for Blysmus compressus here.]

"All this work shows that local people can see the ‘bigger picture’ of wildlife and society – in these uncertain political times let’s hope that the State of Nature in Oxfordshire report will catch the imagination of government too".

Thanks Dave - great to hear some good news about people working together to help our wild plants! Congratulations to all of you on the publication of this report.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Irish BSBI conference: last chance to book!

Dactylorhiza kerryensis var. occidentale
Irish botanists are gearing up for one of the highlights of the year - the Irish BSBI conference takes place in Dublin this Saturday at the National Botanic Gardens and it looks an absolute corker, whether you're an experienced botanist or an absolute beginner!

The day kicks off with Ian Denholm (who wears many hats but is also one of BSBI's two expert referees for orchids) talking about Dactylorhiza in Ireland. Having attended one of Ian's orchid talks, I can promise you that he makes even beginner botanists feel that identification of these beautiful but notoriously tricky wildflowers is actually... well, if not easy then at least not impossible!

The Rough Crew in action
With workshops and identification sessions on rushes, aquatics and other tricky taxa throughout the day, and an ID table where you can bring along difficult specimens and pick the brains of some of Ireland's finest botanists, delegates should leave the conference feeling that they've learned a huge amount - as well as having a really fun day in great company!

Also on the menu are talks about Atlas 2020, the celebrated C20th Irish botanist David Webb, the famous Irish Rough Crew and a chance to meet and network with County Recorders from across Ireland, such as the new team in County Cork: Clare, Edwina and Finbarr.

We've extended the booking deadline to give everybody a chance to book - but you'll need to move quickly! Just head over here and get your payment in by Thursday. 

There's a special low rate if you're a student or unwaged, and there's also a reduced rate for County Recorders (a wee thank you for all the amazing work they do!). But even if you have to pay the full non-members' rate - well, at 30 euros for the whole day it's still an amazing bargain!

If you really can't make it, you'll be able to follow all the action via the event's Twitter hashtag #IrishBSBIConference but there's no substitute for being there with all the friendly Irish botanists. 

Monday, 13 March 2017

Nitrogen deposition and 'native thugs'

Harebell
Image: C. Ferguson-Smyth
Our colleagues at Plantlife have been on radio and TV today spreading the word about how Nitrogen pollution is impacting on our wild flowers.   

Dr Trevor Dines (Plantlife's Botanical Specialist and a longtime BSBI member) blogged about this here, and if you click here you can catch his interview on BBC Breakfast this morning. Starts at 1 hour 21 minutes in.

You can also catch this interview with Jenny Hawley of Plantlife on this morning's Today programme on BBC Radio 4 (starts at 1 hour 24 minutes in), or download Plantlife's report here. You can also see what Trevor had to say in the Huffington Post a few hours ago, or check out how the story was covered in The Telegraph and The Scotsman

BSBI members may also want to check out this paper by Rob Marrs et al. published in 2013 in New Journal of Botany, which flags up the impact 'native thugs' like nettles are having on the ground flora of our woodlands.  

As Trevor pointed out on BBC Breakfast, one of the plants affected by the Nitrogen-loving 'thugs' is the delicate Harebell, once a common wildflower and now classified as Near Threatened on the England Red List

Celebrating the life of Jean Bowden

Jean Bowden
Image reproduced from the Alton Herald.
Spotted in yesterday's Alton Herald - an obituary of Jean Bowden, who held various posts at Kew during a period when such opportunities were hard to come by for female botanists. 

She was higher scientific officer at Kew Museums of Economic Botany, from which she was apparently the first woman to be sent abroad on a field excursion. Jean was also the author of a book on John Lightfoot, whose herbarium specimens she worked on while at Kew. 

Later on she "worked in the editorial department of the Kew Bulletin 1984" and ended her career by becoming the curator of Jane Austen's house

Do click on the links and enjoy reading about Jean Bowden's fascinating career, whether cycling twenty miles a day to the Herbarium at Kew, or making sure that the cut flowers in Jane Austen's house were historically accurate!

Saturday, 11 March 2017

State of the World's Plants 2017

Abstract submissions for State of the World’s Plants 2017 is now open! The Symposium will be held at RBG Kew from 25th –26th May 2017.

Now in its second year,The State of the World’s Plants Symposium coincides with the publication of a cutting-edge annual report highlighting our current knowledge of the Earth’s plant diversity, the global threats that plants face and the policies dealing with them.

Abstracts are invited from delegates wishing to present a poster and a one-minute oral presentation. Prizes will be awarded for the best early career researcher posters.
Deadline for abstract submissions: Friday 21 April 2017

You can also register now to attend. The cost is £150 and this includes lunch and refreshments on both days, a drinks reception and behind the scenes tours of Kew’s collections.
Deadline for registration: Tuesday 25 April 2017

For more information, to submit an abstract or to register for the meeting, please visit: www.kew.org/sotwp-symposium 

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Botanical University Challenge

The Edge Hill team, breakfasted
 and awaiting entrance to 
the Jodrell lab at Kew.
Paul Ashton of Edge Hill University tells us about Botanical University Challenge, which took place last year and is happening again this autumn. If you are interested in taking part, please get in touch with Paul.

"University Challenge typically involves images of knowledgeable young men and women sweating worriedly under the combined glare of the studio lights and Paxman’s questions. 

It was with the aim of imparting such torture and of raising the profile of botany in UK universities that Jonathan Mitchley and John Warren developed the idea of Botanical University Challenge last year.

As a result of this initiative, the early hours of 10th March 2016 saw a car load of expectant students leave Edge Hill University with their Head of Department cum chauffeur. Discussion along the way predominantly focused upon the meaning of scientific Latin and speculation about what other rounds may feature. That and which services we were stopping at for breakfast.

Cards all ready, awaiting the draw!
Once breakfasted and arrived we joined similarly expectant teams from Aberystwyth, Kew, Reading and Southampton, ready to do practised battle. Rounds did feature botanical Latin alongside a full range of other areas; plants in the bible, plants and drinks, Welsh common names – the clue was in the descriptions - and a round or two on identification.

James Wong proved a friendly, less intimidating question master than Jeremy Paxman. He also added his own twists to various rounds by adding snippets of information to any ethnobotanical round and providing a final arbiter of the suitability of some questions, “next round is sedge identification, who thought that was a good idea? That’s too difficult, we aren’t having that. Let’s go to the next set of questions”!

The Edge Hill team in action
There were undoubtedly some very knowledgeable individuals representing the various institutions. Though handling the pressure and knowing when to hit the bell were equally important. 

All teams acquainted themselves well before Reading emerged eventual winners. Edge Hill’s pain at failure was eased by one of our graduates appearing on the victorious team. Although, we haven’t forgiven him for such treachery!

The teams are introduced to the audience
Thanks go to RBG Kew for hosting and to Jonathan and John for organising. We look forward to the next one in November 2017. We have already started revising our botanical Latin and our plants in Shakespeare. Roll on autumn".

Thanks to Paul for telling us about Botanical University Challenge. Don't forget to get in touch with him if you would like to take part this autumn.