Friday 1 January 2021

New Year Plant Hunt 2021: Day One

Ragwort blooming on New Year's Day 2021
in mid-Laois, Republic of Ireland
Image: M. Brennan
The tenth New Year Plant Hunt kicked off today and it was a very different affair to the previous nine! 

No group Hunts; no gangs of botanists proceeding very slowly along city streets, pointing at pavement cracks, dropping to their knees and attracting bemused glances from passers-by; no comfort stops in the pub or rowdy communal lunches after a morning Hunt... 

We weren't sure how many people would even take part in the Hunt in this strangest of years!

Daisy blooming through the snow in Buxton
Image: J. Mortin

But here we are approaching midnight on Day One and the Results page shows that more than 200 lists have been received, almost twice as many as on Day One of the 2020 Hunt

A similar number of species have been recorded in bloom (344 compared to 327 last time) but some botanists in northern England reported very nasty weather which forced them to curtail their hunts for safety's sake. 

This was, of course, the right thing to do. The 2021 New Year Plant Hunt is all about staying safe and protecting oneself from both Covid and treacherous icy conditions underfoot.

Once again the first flower of the Hunt was recorded by Ger Scollard in SW Ireland - he recorded Herb-Robert in bloom at 00.07 on New year's Day! Many more records throughout the day of the usual suspects - Daisy, Groundsel, Dandelion and Annual Meadow-grass - once again appeared at the top of the list of most frequently-recorded species

White dead-nettle, one of the 
New Year Plant Hunt "usual suspects"
Image: S. Harrap
The longest list so far is also from the Republic of Ireland - Paul Green, BSBI Ireland Officer and County Recorder for Co. Wexford, was out in his local area - Irish botanists must not stray more than 5km from home - and recorded species 72 species in bloom, many of them natives such as Common Centaury, Water Figwort and Scarlet Pimpernel, with a couple of garden escapes such as Snapdragon and Garden Pansy. 

Up in Heaton in Northumbria, James and partner Matthew also recorded Snapdragon and Mexican Fleabane on a list of 41 species in bloom while a few miles away, naturalist Ryan Clark (who has been a key member of the team behind the New Year Plant Hunt since 2015) and partner Charlotte notched up 40 species in Gateshead before Ryan headed home to put in four hours on the help desk, assisting first-time Hunters with their lists. Great work as always Ryan!

Ryan & Charlotte with
warm hats & handlenses
- essential kit for botanists
(some would add cake & gin
to that list!)
In Norfolk, Simon and Anne Harrap recorded 50 species in flower including Annual Knawel, which you don't see every day - they just pipped Jo and Bob (current and former Secretaries of BSBI's Science & Data committee) in nearby Hemsby, who had 47 species. 

Chris Preston's list from Cambridge - following the same route he has walked every year since 2016 - was of 57 species in bloom, his highest ever total, and included Mediterranean Nettle, recorded in bloom outside the Isaac Newton pub. 

Last winter, Chris turned his observations on the species he recorded during his New Year Plant Hunts 2016 to 2019 into a paper for British & Irish Botany called 'The phenology of an urban street flora: a transect study'.

On the other side of the country, no list from north Wales has yet exceeded 30 species, probably reflecting bad weather there, and further west still, 20 species were recorded by Ciaran in Galway and 30 by Darren in Kerry

Mediterranean nettle in Cambridge
Image: C. D. Preston
Unsurprisingly, we saw some long lists from the south: 48 species on Alderney, 71 from Hayling Island and in Midhurst, Plant Hunt co-founder Tim Rich and his mum recorded 39 species in bloom, but in the north of Scotland it was much harder to find as many species in bloom: 7 species recorded in Caithness and only three over in Tobermory, although Ian notched up 31 species in Moray, but Sarah reported that snow stopped play on Ben Lawers and she came home empty-handed. Short lists and nil records are also valuable - several people have emailed us with the grid references of locations where they hunted and found nothing. 

Ellen Goddard and BSBI Head of Science Kevin Walker will be analysing the Plant Hunt data this year: they will be checking Met Office data and looking at how list lengths correlate with temperature anomalies for November and December 2020, to help us better understand how our wild and naturalised plants are responding to changes in autumn and winter weather patterns. 

Feverfew blooming in the Mecca
Bingo carpark, Chesterfield
Image: M. Lacey
Some of the plants recorded in bloom today do seem to indicate the effects of a changing climate. In Derbyshire, Mick Lacey recorded Water Bent, Annual Mercury and Jersey Cudweed. Rebecca, doing her first ever New Year Plant Hunt, also recorded the Jersey Cudweed in London and there were records too of Narrow-leaved Ragwort. Take a look at the BSBI distribution maps for all these species and see how their distribution has changed in the last 20 years or so. 

One of Mick's sites for interesting plants was the Mecca Bingo carpark in Chesterfield while in Uckfield in Sussex, New Year Plant Hunt regular Wendy Tagg found the by-pass near the Fire Station to be "the gift that keeps on giving". 

Chickweed growing through artificial turf
Image: W. Tagg
Urban botanists are definitely finding some fascinating species in some of the most unexpected places in their local areas. To what extent this is due to the urban heat-island effect and to what extent it's down to opportunities for alien plants to escape from city and suburban gardens, remains to be seen. 

We missed seeing a photo of Wendy's usual lunch-time pit-stop (a still-life of wine-glass, plant ID book and handlens!) but she notched up an impressive list, 46 species including fennel, a couple of fumitories and, perhaps my favourite find of the day, a chickweed plant growing through artificial turf. As Wendy says, "nature always finds a way".

So, what will Day Two bring?

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