Wednesday 12 December 2018

BSBI Training Grants Helping Botanists in 2018: Fern

Botanists get the best views!
Image: F. Carroll-Smith
In September, we heard from botanists Julie and Sharon about the limestone flora course they were able to undertake thanks to a BSBI Training Grant. 

Today we hear from horticulturist Fern about her experience of Identiplant, the online plant ID course, which she was able to undertake thanks to - you guessed it - another BSBI Training Grant! 

Over to Fern to tell us more:

Not a member of the Buttercup
family Ranunculaceae
(can you see why?) but,
as the name suggests,
it bears some resemblance:
Baldellia ranunculoides
Image: F. Carroll-Smith
"I was sitting by the side of a footpath on the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall, waiting for my colleague to finish her work, when I finally spotted it: the last of the four Ranunculus species I needed to complete the set. In this case, the species I spotted was Ranunculus flammula (Lesser Spearwort). 

"Combined with Ranunculus acris (Meadow Buttercup) and Ranunculus repens (Creeping Buttercup) (both of which I found around my home), and Ranunculus bulbosus (Bulbous buttercup), (which I found on the golf course at Rock) I had enough species to write my mini-key. This was a great start to the day! 

"Unfortunately, we had managed to choose the only day in our whole glorious summer when the heavens opened. We got soaked to the skin. Still, sat dripping in the Kynance Cove tea room at the end of the day, I couldn’t stop smiling. Successful plant hunting will do that!

"I was looking for these Ranunculus species for Unit 5 of Identiplant. This course is supported by the FSC and BSBI and is aimed at ‘beginners in serious botany’. The course can be completed in one or two years and runs from February to August each year. There is an information sheet and question sheet for each unit, and you are supported by a tutor throughout the course. 

R. omiophyllus
Image: F. Carroll-Smith
"My tutor, Hilary Marshall, was incredibly helpful when answering my questions and very patient with me filling her inbox full of photographs of plants. The cost of the course is only £300 for the [up to] two years, and BSBI very generously provided a bursary to pay for a large part of my course fees.

"The Ranunculaceae family provided another highlight of the course for me. This time it was hunting for a Water-crowfoot (Ranuculus subgenus Batrachium). This year was tricky: we experienced snow in March which is very unusual in Cornwall, and after that the temperature ramped up and the rain all but ceased. This made it very difficult to find my target plant, the puddle-loving Ranunculus omiophyllus (Round-leaved Water-crowfoot). 

"My partner and I spent the morning searching some bogs and moorland close to our home, where we knew some standing water still lingered. 

Finally finding R. omiophyllus
Image: F. Carroll-Smith
"There was no sign of any Water-crowfoots and after a [short] disagreement I convinced him that the habitat just didn’t ‘feel right’ and that we would definitely find it if we drove the 20 miles to Bodmin Moor. When we got there the grass was parched and every divot usually full of water was dry. We walked miles around the granite outcrops of Stowes hill, finding only one stagnant pond full of cattle cooling off. 

"Then, as we walked along the stone sleepers of an old railway track, in the shadow of a disused quarry, we found it; the last puddle on Bodmin Moor, and inside, several plants of Ranunculus omiophyllus (Round-leaved Crowfoot), not in flower, but recognisable from the distinctive shape of their leaves.

Daucus carota (Wild Carrot): another plant
Fern can now ID with confidence!
Image: F. Carroll-Smith
"My background is in horticulture; I have a BSc in Horticulture and have run the seed bank at the Eden Project for the last four years. Before the course my plant knowledge was generally good, but with no formal training in surveying or using keys, I would often have to start at square one again and again, making the identification of almost any species a long and drawn out process. 

"Additionally, I was unsure of any identification I completed, and wouldn’t have been confident using my identifications to provide data for any kind of surveying or monitoring. 

"Now, thanks to Identiplant, I am confident with my identification skills, and am much faster in completing the identification process.

"Since starting the Identiplant course I have: attended a short course on using Poland & Clement’s Vegetative Key, joined BSBI, and signed up to take part in the National Plant Monitoring Scheme. Additionally, I have been able to use the Wildflower Key with work experience students and apprentices to teach them more about floral morphology, the British flora, and to encourage them to look closer at plants they see in nature. 

Keying out Silene flos-cuculi
Image: F. Carroll-Smith
"I’ve heard ‘There’s more than one kind of buttercup?’ exclaimed more than once, and I love the spark of realisation in people’s eyes when I show them the differences between each species, and the request for book recommendations afterwards. 

"I wouldn’t be able to do these things without having completed Identiplant, so let me say thank you to BSBI for supporting the course and providing the funding for me to undertake it".

Thank you to Fern for sharing her story! If Fern's account has whetted your appetite and you are now thinking of signing up for Identiplant, you'd better hurry: bookings opened on 1st December and spaces fill up really quickly so if you are interested, head over to the BSBI Training page now to find out more. The Training page also has details of a range of short botany courses and info on all the botanical grants we know about. 

The next round of BSBI Training Grants, Plant Study Grants and Science & Research Grants doesn't open until 1st January and all these grants get snapped up really quickly, but you can apply now for four different kinds of grants from the Wild Flower Society (some for training, some for research) and from the Botanical Research Fund (for research only). Liks to all of these ca be found on the Training page. Good luck!

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