Tuesday 31 March 2020

Hawkweeds of south-east England: BSBI Handbook #20

The cover of Hawkweeds of
south-east England
There’s a new addition to the series of BSBI Handbooks. Handbook no.20 Hawkweeds of south-east England is due to be published in April and botanists will be able to benefit from an exclusive introductory offer of £25.50 (plus P&P) which will save them £9.50 compared the RRP of £35.00.

There has been a previous Handbook dedicated to hawkweeds, but it focused on section Alpestria. This new Handbook will be the first one to focus on those species found in one geographical area, south-east England. I caught up with author Mike Shaw and asked him to tell us a bit more about Hawkweeds of south-east England.

LM: Mike, the new book is 250 pages long and covers the 58 species that have been recorded in the south-east of England. When did you start working on the book?

MS: This was back in 2015 Louise. I had developed an interest in hawkweeds while recording for and writing the Hieracium species accounts for the new Flora of Sussex.

Mike Shaw examines a stand of
Hieracium neosparsum in Kirdford
LM: Ah this was while you were BSBI’s County Recorder for West Sussex?

MS: Yes, I realised from my own observations and feedback from fellow botanists that little was known about the distribution of hawkweeds in Sussex, and in south-east England generally, and thought that a book to provide further information on this and help with identification would be welcomed.

LM: Could you give us an example please of one of the species you cover and what we can expect to find out from the new Handbook about its identification, distribution and current status?

Sample page with photos,
notes on ID and distribution,
and map
MS: There are a couple of hawkweed species endemic to south-east England, one of which is Hieracium surrejanum, found only in Sussex and Surrey. The species account includes historical information about its discovery at Witley, Surrey by E. S. Marshall in 1889, the IUCN threat category, a comprehensive description following Sell & Murrell, details of status, habitats and flowering times, notes on any observational differences from the standard description and a section on diagnostic features to help separate it from related species. Its distribution in south-east England is described, illustrated with a map, and examples of some reliable locations are given.

LM: You must have visited a lot of locations across the south-east in the course of your research. Are there any that particularly stand out in your memory?

MS: Yes, I certainly covered a lot of ground. The Hieracium pollichiae which has adorned the walls of the Bishop’s Palace gardens in the grounds of Chichester Cathedral for 200 years is impressive, but Box Hill in Surrey must stand out as the best hawkweed location in south-east England, not only for its natural beauty but for the sheer number of species which have been recorded on and close to it—19 out of the total of 58 found in south-east England.

LM: How about herbaria – I think you also looked at herbarium specimens?

Sample pages with herbarium specimens & images
MS: Yes, I have visited several herbaria including BM, CGE, MNE, HCMS, BTN and PTM, most on more than one occasion [LM.: these are the codes for the various herbaria.]. I have also corresponded with others, both at home and abroad, such as OXF, NMW, S, LU, LY and ANG. In all cases I have found the curators extremely helpful in providing access to specimens, scanning and photographing specimens and responding to specific enquiries.
Study of herbarium collections is crucial to understanding the variation within critical species, and in many cases allows examination of type specimens upon which the original species descriptions were based. British herbaria are a vital resource, and some of the smaller ones are under financial threat of closure. The more botanists visit and use herbaria collections the more likely their future will be secured.

Sample page with close-ups and
images of plants in situ
Some institutions are developing on-line access to their collections and these are extremely useful, though care must be taken where specimens have not been expertly determined. Perhaps the best example I have seen is Sweden's Virtual Herbarium, although nearer home, HerbariaUnited promises to be an excellent resource as it becomes more comprehensive.

LM: Illustrations are an important part of any BSBI Handbook and I see that Hawkweeds of south-east England is illustrated with more than 400 full colour photographs. Who provided them – were you the photographer as well as the author?

MS: Many of the photographs are mine. There is a scanned or photographed image of a herbarium specimen for each species and these were mostly done for me by the curators at BM and CGE. Where the specimens themselves were not from my own herbarium the source is credited in the image caption. Most of the detailed micro-photographs were done for me by John Hunnex at BM and I am indebted to him for his time and patience while we worked together on them.

Sample page shows notes on
geology and a coincidence map
showing number of hawkweed
species per hectad
LM: And are there BSBI distribution maps for each species?

MS: All the distribution maps in the book were produced by me using DMAP software (by Alan Morton). There are maps for each species in south-east England based on verified data. The data sources (including the BSBI Distribution Database) and validation methods are fully explained in the book. Additionally, there are maps showing the wider distribution of locally extinct species in Britain and Ireland, and coincidence maps for several hawkweed sections, all based on data collated and shared by David McCosh.

LM: And I’m guessing that you also got a lot of feedback from BSBI County Recorders and many of our “ordinary members” who go out plant recording?

MS: Yes Louise, they all thought I was mad tackling hawkweeds! Seriously though, the enthusiastic support from the neighbouring County Recorders — Martin Rand, Tony Mundell, Ann Sankey, Geoffrey Kitchener and Colin Pope — when I first discussed my plan to write this book with them, gave me lots of reassurance. They were happy to provide detailed information, they collected specimens for me and often joined me on field trips.
Leaves of various hawkweeds
I had received tremendous support from members of the Sussex Botanical Recording Society with the Flora of Sussex and this continued throughout work on the hawkweeds Handbook. There is insufficient space here, but many other people who have provided generous and invaluable contributions are acknowledged at the start of the book.

LM: Botanists are a helpful bunch! Finally: all BSBI authors benefit from an editor to help them through the process towards publication. Who was your editor?

MS: I was very fortunate to have Tim Rich as my editor. He devoted a huge amount of time to reading the drafts and offering many suggestions for revisions and improvements based on his wide knowledge of hawkweeds specifically, and as an experienced author. The book is much improved and more accurate thanks to his input.

Tim Rich, Mike's editor on
 Hawkweeds of south-east England,
with Attenborough's Hawkweed 
LM: For anyone who is new to  British and Irish botany: Tim is the author of numerous BSBI Handbooks and scientific papers about hawkweeds (and many other plants!), the co-editor of the Plant Crib and a regular contributor to this News blog. You may have seen Tim on television a few years ago when he presented a potted specimen of Attenborough's Hawkweed Hieracium attenboroughianum, the hawkweed he discovered and named after his natural history hero, to Sir David himself.

I asked Tim what he thought about Hawkweeds of south-east England and he said: "What a fantastic contribution to make hawkweed identification in South-east England clear and accessible - I hope this will inspire others to get out and look at hawkweeds and enjoy these wonderful plants"

Sample page with detailed ID
notes for Hieracium vagum
So, thanks to Tim Rich for his editorial contribution and thanks to author Mike Shaw for talking to us about the forthcoming BSBI Handbook. We’d like to congratulate you both and thank you for all the hard work that has gone into this new addition to BSBI’s publications portfolio

Can’t wait to see the book once it’s published!

Now you just need to know how to get hold of a copy of the new BSBI Handbook. 

Please head over to this page and use the secure PayPal facility below if possible. You don’t need to have a PayPal account in order to pay this way: it’s quick and easy for you and it’s efficient for us.

Another option is to fill in the order form which you will find on the same page and post it, along with a cheque made out to BSBI, to BSBI Membership Secretary Gwynn Ellis. We hope you enjoy Hawkweeds of south-east England

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