Thursday 18 July 2019

BSBI Summer Meeting 2019: Day Five

From left: Russell, Alison,
Hilary, Good King Henry & Kay
Image: C. Smith
After yesterday's blogpost by Kate, today we hand over to Chris who gives us his top ten tips for botanising in Litton, including a right royal tea-break, a Tunnock's tea-cake (always a good idea!) and a post-botany pint:

"Wednesday is the middle of the BSBI Annual Summer Meeting when initial energy levels may have dissipated, but enthusiasm sustains. Five of us - myself, Kay, Russell, Alison and Hilary - picked Littondale as a good midweek location for botanising in a Yorkshire Dale.  Here are our top ten tips for enjoyable botanising in Litton.

1. Many hands make light work
A BSBI meeting gives a chance to socialise and learn from other people. With five botanists to help the record card reached 100 species on the village's main street and verges, against the backdrop of some delightful gardens and the Queens Arms pub.

Marsh arrow-grass
Image: D. Morris
2. Old ways are the best
Litton has a lovely network of ancient footpaths and the byways of the village gave us more common species before arrival at the Skirfare Brook. 
The brook was completely and unexpectedly dry - a phenomenon known as a winterbourne in the south of England, where river water drains through the bed of the river during the low flow of the summer months. It also made access over the non-river very easy and safe - new species were Northern scurvy-grass (Cochlearia pyrenaica) and mossy saxifrage (Saxifraga hypnoides).

3. Make hay while the sun shines and record before the hay gets cut
There has been good weather in the Yorkshire Dales and the farmers were cutting hay meadows round Litton. A public footpath lead the group across the valley base and an upland hay meadow full of rich grass, clover, salad burnet, great burnet and the so-called "meadow-maker" the hemi-parasitic yellow rattle nearly ready for its cut. 

4. You'll always find two new species when you stop for cup of tea
Kay, Russell & the coppery monkey-flower
Image: C. Smith
A stop for a cup of tea and a Tunnock's teacake quickly proved the theory here, Bracken on the more acidic soils of the north side of the valley and Good King Henry (Chenopodium bonus-henricus) around an old mounting block in the lane. 
Good King Henry is a declining species in the UK, which seems relatively common around yards with old cattle barns in the Dales. 
It is a perennial species grown as an alternative to spinach and also known as poor-man's asparagus, but now only relatively rarely cultivated. 

5. Fresh air and companionship sustains an enjoyable day
After tea break the lanes northwards had stone walls and hedges. Wild gooseberries were ripe and small patches of calcaerous grassland had thyme (Thymus polytrichus), primrose (Primula vulgaris) and limestone bedstraw (Galium sterneri). 
The alternatives for the second half of the walk was a steep uphill walk or a walk back via the meadows. Hilary and Alison decided to enjoy their day by shortcut back to the village and a cup of afternoon coffee at the Queen's Head. Their pottering in the village gained an introduction to a proud local house owner and an offer to see her wild flower meadow.
Myself, Russell and Kay walked further up the valley, finding Good King Henry twice more and also coppery monkey-flower (Mimulus x burnetii).

Melancholy thistle
Image: C. Smith
6. You win some, you lose some
We had hoped for limestone pavement in the second visited monad above Nether Helseden, but the limestone was quite broken and few new species were found. Negative records from comprehensive surveys are good data for Atlas 2020, so knowing the diversity of the grassland in the tetrad was helpful. 
Springs were dry on the hillside, but the hollow spring heads still supported marsh arrow-grass (Triglochin palustris), yellow sedge (Carex lepidocarpa) and star sedge (Carex echinata), and made for a good lunch spot.

7. Always expect the unexpected
The lanes returning from Halton Gill had wide uncut verges filled with sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata). Melancholy thistle (Cirsium heterophyllum) was a cheery Cirsium species to see, but more unexpected were the giant blooms of giant bellflower (Campanula latifolia) as well as peach-leaved (C. persicifolia) and nettle-leaved (C. trachelium). 

8. Binoculars are good for botanists as well as birdwatchers
Giant bellflower
Image: C. Smith
Binoculars are very helpful for identifying species when walking a tetrad and time or access don't permit a close view.
Heather was added on the hilltops and Carex acuta and a second Mimulus guttata by the river. We also say large flocks of post-breeding lapwings on the shingle spits of the still flowing upper reaches of the river.

9. A quick snip saves time

Woodland was a new habitat for the day and hairy brome (Bromopsis ramosa) reached over Kay's head from Springs Wood. 

Brambles and roses are not easy to identify confidently in the field. A quick snip with pair of secateurs gathered material from two roses and a bramble.

The fieldwork was nicely rounded off by a pint of Theakstons in the Queen's Head.

Russell with essential botanist's kit:
the map, the Weatherwriter, the smartphone, the
pint of Theakston's and the satisfied smile.
The beard is optional.
Image: C. Smith

10. A botanist's work is never done
One of the other pleasures of BSBI field meets has been evening identification work in the Malham Tarn FSC classrooms, where the bag of cuttings confirmed Rosa mollis, R x mollis/vosagiaca and Rubus lindebergii.

These extra species raised totals for the tetrads to 160 and 193 - not a huge number, but all valuable records for the BSBI's Atlas 2020 project".

Many thanks to Colin for sharing these top ten tips for any botanist visiting a BSBI Summer Meeting! 

The teacake and the pint are both optional but the great plants and the equally great company are mandatory.

The botanists are in the home stretch now but there are still two more days of botanising to come, so watch this space for further reports. 

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