Tuesday 7 January 2020

New Year Plant Hunt 2020: Day Four

Thyme-leaved sandwort, Aberdeenshire
Image: A. Peaker
As the sun set on the fourth and final day of the 2020 New Year Plant Hunt, the last few Group Hunts were taking place in Kirkcudbrightshire and Co. Galway, in Exmouth and Somerset, Hampshire, Norfolk, Warks., Yorkshire, Co. Durham, Denbighshire... and the last few weary botanists were heading home. 

Interesting and/ or unexpected species had been spotted, such as thyme-leaved sandwort found by Alison in Aberdeenshire or the fern-leaved beggarticks spotted by Wendy in Uckfield.

The members of the New Year Plant Hunt Support Team were all looking slightly the worse for wear after four solid days on the Help Desk, answering enquiries, helping with IDs and consoling people who had failed to find anything in bloom. 

As we kept reassuring people, those nil records were important too!

Plant hunting at Staveley NR, SW Yorks.
Image: C. Pinches
Kevin Walker, BSBI Head of Science, was out leading a group hunt at Staveley Nature Reserve in SW Yorkshire with Clare Pinches and Harrogate Nats. They found 14 species in bloom compared to 25 at the same site last year.

 As we said yesterday, Kevin's analysis of this year's results, checked against meteorological data, is going to be very interesting this year. He's hoping to publish his analysis on 20th January on these pages so watch this space.

Looking out for plants in bloom is a hard habit to break once you've started! Botanist Jerry did two plant hunts on his home patch (Notts.) then travelled over to Stamford to join the Northants. and Lincs. botanists on their hunt, where their finds included musk stork's-bill, bur chervil (the first record for the town since 1996) and dappled hawkweed.

Plant hunters from Northants., Cambs., Notts., 
Lincs. & Leics. in the historic town of Stamford
Image: J. Clough
As Jerry travelled home on the train, changing at Leicester, he couldn't resist doing a mini-hunt from the train window and spotted Oxford Ragwort blooming on the tracks as the train pulled in to Leicester station! 

Very fitting because this plant, originally from the volcanic slopes below Mt. Etna and introduced into Britain in the C18th as an ornamental, famously "jumped the fence" of the Oxford Botanic Garden, felt right at home on the cinder-strewn railway sidings and spread along railway tracks throughout the C19th as the Industrial Revolution brought the railway to cities across Britain and later Ireland. 

Winter heliotrope
Image: E. Delaney
Read more about Oxford ragwort here, then check out its BSBI distribution map and follow its progress over time and space!

Oxford ragwort doesn't show up on the Top 20 list of most frequently-spotted plants but winter heliotrope does. It's at number 18 with 182 sightings across Britain and Ireland. The plant on the left was spotted by Eamon Delaney, County Recorder for Co. Galway.; he and Hazel found 22 species in bloom in Headford.

By the end of Day Four, 600 lists had been received and were displaying on the Results map and 571 species had been recorded.

Tim Rich was out plant-hunting in the Cardiff area and recorded 76 species in bloom. He and Sarah Whild did the first Plant Hunt back in 2012 because they were surprised at how many plants they had noticed blooming along roadsides near them in the middle of winter. They took to social media (yes they were pioneers on social media too!) and told botanist friends about their New Year Hunt, word spread and now, eight years on, hundreds and hundreds of people are out hunting! 

Galway botanists head home from Merlin Woods
 where they spotted 42 species in bloom
Image courtesy of
Merlin Woods Community Garden
On Facebook at the end of Day Four, Tim posted photos of some of the 76 species he'd recorded and the friends he'd hunted with this year. He captioned his photo of a Gorse bush with "I have seen this gorse bush flowering over New Year every year for the last 9 years, an old friend".

He also tagged Sarah, who notched up 54 species in bloom in Shrewsbury, saying "When you see how many people have joined in and had fun, it just amazes me what we started" and Sarah replied "we had no idea!!!" 

Let's all raise a glass to both of them and say a huge thank you to these two lovely botanists who founded the New Year Plant Hunt! 

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