Thursday 11 April 2019

BSBI's Irish Spring Conference 2019: Part One

Emer & Edwina on the registration desk,
welcoming the delegates
Image: C. Heardman
The BSBI Irish Spring Conference is a big event in the Irish botanist's calendar - a chance to come together, network with old friends and enjoy talks and workshops which help kick-start the botanical year. Irish botanists always take to Twitter to share their comments on, and photos of, the conference.

But what about if you're a newcomer to botany and/ or to BSBI, so you don't know anyone and aren't really sure what to expect? Do you still have a great day or do you feel like a fish out of water? Well, there was only one way to find out...

BSBI's Irish Officer Dr Maria Long, who organised the event, invited newcomer Erin Griffin to attend the conference and write up her account of the day. And we promised that apart from correcting typos and dropping in links, we'd publish what she sent us - even if there were any criticisms! 

Over to Erin:
Talks about to start...
Image: O. Duggan
"Last week I had the privilege of attending my very first BSBI conference. The event was held at the National BotanicGardens, Glasnevin, in Dublin on Saturday, the 30th of March. In addition to excellent talks, workshops and a botany-themed quiz, I met some really interesting people and still had time to explore the gardens.

"Kicking off the event, Tadhg O’Mahony from the Environmental Protection Agency discussed the State of the Environment Report (2016) and the key challenges faced. Referring to himself as an ‘environmental salesmen’, Tadhg has spent the past 22 years convincing government departments to integrate environmental consideration into plans, programmes and strategies. He states the environment has to make it in at the ‘blank page stage: before the decision has been made, not after’. The key challenges Ireland faces in its next report are climate change, environmental health and wellbeing, legislation, water quality, sustainable economic activities, community engagement, nature and wildlife. 

Tadhg O'Mahony talks about
the state of Ireland's environment
Image: O. Duffy
"Tadhg stressed the need for identifying what we are losing in terms of biodiversity, especially under-recorded aquatic species, and recognising the need to engage and inform the public by making reports accessible to anyone. He even included his own personal experience on how he and his friends connected with nature on walks through The Gearagh. As a champion of the Irish environment, Tadhg's talk was nothing short of inspiring and his passion and dedication to his work is clear.

"Few of us ever look beyond the species, or even the aggregate of tricky species but Alexis FitzGerald (BSBI's County Recorder for Co. Monaghan) has done just that with his thesis on Festuca ovina agg. (sheep’s fescue). A taxonomically and evolutionarily interesting group, Festuca is rapidly evolving but is relatively under-researched in Ireland. Alexis set out to change this by investigating species, ploidy levels and distributions for Festuca ovina agg. using 40 samples and flow cytometry calibrated by chromosome counting. 

The beautiful gardens at Glasnevin
Image: O. Duffy
"Alexis found that tetraploidy appears to be the dominant form in Ireland, that the subspecies hirtula and ophioliticola both show considerable morphological variation and he had even discovered a rare new pentaploid population in Co. Mayo, the only European population outside of the Tatra Mountains in Central Europe. 

"He went on to explain that this morphological variation may be leading to over-recording of Festuca filiformis on hairless plant forms of subsp. hirtula. Festuca brevipila is present but is likely to be under-recorded. A quick look beyond the aggregate of the species and it’s clear more studies like this one are needed to improve the accuracy of our records.

Rory's plans for the year ahead...
Image: C. Heardman
"For the more adventurous botanists among us, Rory Hodd (joint County Recorder for Kerry) gave a talk on the continuing adventures of the Rough Crew also known as the ‘hardcore branch of the BSBI’. Rough Crew is in its fifth year running with more than 30 outings under its belt. Travelling to some of the most remote and unexplored areas of Ireland, the Rough Crew offers the opportunity to experience the true ‘wild’ of the country and make some chance discoveries of rare species. 

"Rory recounted some of his favourite trips, from winding trails of Slieve Tooey in SW Donegal to fighting midges and finding field mouse-ear Cerastium arvense (which is  rare in Ireland) on the Great Blasket island off the coast of Kerry. For 2019, Rory hopes to explore the Beara peninsula and the Wicklow mountains, among others. He welcomes any and all newcomers who feel up to the challenge.

Robert & Maria talking about Atlas 2020
Image: S. Brien
"As we approach the deadline for Atlas 2020, Robert Northridge gave us a quick update on what BSBI has accomplished in the past 20 years since the publication of the last Atlas. Each of the BSBI Atlases compiles all the records on plant distribution accumulated in the BSBI Database. The first Atlas was published in 1962, and in the past few years the BSBI in Ireland has reduced the amount of poorly hectads from 400 to 30. This year Robert is encouraging the recording of the remaining 30 squares, but he also challenged members to seek out rare plants in their areas and include the largely under-recorded aquatic plants in their surveys. 

Robert, Maria & Edwina
Image: C. Heardman
"This brought us to the final talk before lunch: Maria Long, BSBI's Irish Officer announcing the ‘Aquatic Plants Project 2019’, the aim of which is to combat the terrestrial bias in BSBI records. Funded by the National Parks & Wildlife Service, the project will provide training for all - from complete beginners to experts - and a range of outings and trips focused on aquatic plants to test newly learned skills in the field. An excellent opportunity to upskill and gain a better understanding of our aquatic species".

So that takes us up to lunchtime and Erin seems to be enjoying the day so far. Her write-up is offering a real flavour of what went on at the Irish BSBI spring conference. Watch this space for the second half of Erin's report. 


  1. Lovely report! A good description of how and why the BSBI community works together. Of course, more people can cover more ground but there also seems to be a genuine interest in working together. It's always nice to see the "top people" of a field reaching out to newcomers and such a welcoming attitude tends to benefit the field as a whole.
    Looking forward to see what happened after lunch!

    1. Thanks for commenting! We're glad that you enjoyed Erin's report. Her write-up of the afternoon's proceedings can be seen here:


Please leave a comment!