Thursday, 28 November 2019

Interview with outgoing BSBI President Chris Metherell

Chris in the herbarium at Univ Reading
Image: A. Culham
Two years ago, Chris Metherell became BSBI President, taking over from John Faulkner. At the 2019 Exhibition Meeting, when Chris handed over the presidency to Lynne Farrell, it seemed a good time to catch up with Chris again and find out a bit more about what he feels he managed to achieve while President.

LM: Chris, many thanks for talking to us again, now that you’ve handed over the presidency to Lynne. So, did you enjoy being at the helm of the leading botanical society in Britain and Ireland?

CM: It was a great privilege. One looks back at the names of illustrious previous incumbents and then wonder, how on earth did I get here?

LM: What would you say have been your main challenges as President?

Chris & Helena looking at eyebrights in Devon
Image: F. Rumsey
CM: Keeping everything moving forward. Every society is weighed down by its history and there is a natural desire to keep things "as they've always been". But we are coming up to the end of an important phase with the conclusion of Atlas 2020 monitoring and have had to decide what to do next.  A serious challenge!

LM: And what did you most enjoy?

CM: Getting out around the country, meeting the members and talking botany. One weekend I traveled from Shetland to Devon! Of course finishing the BSBI Handbook on Eyebrights Euphrasia with Fred Rumsey was a real milestone. Biggest achievement was probably getting the herbarium listing published. It's been such a long gestation period that it was good to have finally achieved publication on my watch. And of course herbaria are a particular passion of mine.

Chris and Fred at the Natural History Museum
for the launch of the BSBI Eyebright Handbook
Image: J. Mitchley 
LM: Yes so we've noticed! You also awarded the Presidents’ Award twice; for the New Flora of the Isles of Scilly in 2018 and for the Flora of Bute earlier this month. But is there anything that you were really hoping to do as President but just didn’t manage because you ran out of time?

CM: Not really, there were some things like the new County Recorder guidelines which it would have been good to get finished but it would have been silly to do that until Atlas 2020 was finished. The book to accompany Atlas 2020 is still rather up in the air. I feel I've left my successor a problem there!

LM: You certainly got around during your Presidency! Can you just remind us of some of the BSBI events you attended (at your own expense) and people you met? Are there any that particularly stand out and if so, why?

Chrisses Metherell & Packham
talking about nature conservation
Image: Andy Taylor
CM: It would be invidious to pick one or two out. But happening upon Chris Packham when I was teaching a ferns course gave me the opportunity of selling the BSBI message. I've always tried to mix meeting with some hardcore botany (usually looking at Euphrasia specimens in herbaria!) so visiting Dublin has always been a great pleasure: a great herbarium and a fantastic botanic garden. Not to mention the Guinness…

LM: And were you still able to get out and do much recording for Atlas 2020 in your local patch in Northumberland, where you are County Recorder?

CM: Yes indeed, although I had some fantastic local recorders to help. We were on an over 85% refind rate at the beginning of the year. It should be even better now.

LM: What plans do you have to fill that post-Presidency gap?

Chris and Martin examine one of the oldest
eyebright specimens in the NHM herbarium
Image: A. Twyford
CM: Writing a monograph on Euphrasia. Visiting more herbaria - a visit to Uppsala planned in January next year. And spending more time on historical records for my vice-county.

LM: Are there any words of advice that you’d like to pass on to your successor?

CM: I found Twitter a great way of getting the message out. I'm handing over my #BSBIPresident hashtag and hope people will follow her on Twitter. So my advice to her would be - get a good mobile phone.

LM: I’m sure the members will want to thank you for all the hard work you’ve put in over the last two years as President, and for which of course you’ve received no financial recompense at all – such is the lot of a BSBI President… I noticed that you were the recipient of many handshakes and slaps on the back at the weekend’s Exhibition Meeting! Your short talk also seemed to go down very well – we’ll be uploading that to the website soon for the benefit of anyone who wasn’t able to get along to the Meeting.

Chris looking at eyebright specimen
in the herbarium at Univ Leicester
Image: L. Marsh 
So one final question before we let you go: will you be taking part in the 2020 New Year Plant Hunt (NYPH) which will run from 1st to 4th January?

CM: I surely will. I'm also a trustee of the Northumbria Natural History Society and have challenged one of their staff, BSBI member James Common, to see who can come out top in the NYPH. I'm leading the troops out on Lindisfarne and he's doing Newcastle.  He'll get more aliens but Holy island is a much nicer place. Bad luck James.

LM: Ooh that competition will be one to watch on the NYPH interactive map – and we’ll be following it on social media! Many thanks to Chris for talking to us. Coming in a few days: an interview with incoming President Lynne Farrell.

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