Around 50 participants signed up for the course. The £15 full fee (a discount was available to students) covered the cost of sending each participant a copy of Faith Anstey's excellent book, a Pocket Guide to Wildflower Families. The course was based on Faith's user-friendly approach to teaching plant families and how to use the kinds of keys found in many plant ID guides.
|One of Faith's pre-Covid workshops
BSBI's new Chief Executive, Julia Hanmer, decided to sign up
for the course, to see how it worked and to refresh her plant ID skills. Since
the Covid lockdown, we are hearing from more and more people who studied botany
years ago and are now looking to brush up those ID skills and reconnect with
the plant world and nature conservation, so online refresher courses are likely
to become increasingly important – but do they really work?
Julia received her copy of Faith's book through the post a
few days before the course so at 10a.m. on the day, she was all set for two
hours of botanical training. Julia told me "I really enjoyed the course.
It was well structured and presented and great fun to do. There were three
short interactive sessions led by Aileen, punctuated by breaks, where we were
given tasks to do on our own, IDing plants using Faith's book and then coming
back together to look at how we had done. It all worked well online, with
Aileen teaching and Jim McIntosh, BSBI Scottish Officer, facilitating and
answering the many brilliant questions posed by participants, through Zoom’s
Great to hear that the format worked so well! What about
Faith's book? Julia said "Yes I love the diagrams that feature on almost
every page of the book, showing for example the different kinds of flower
structures (image on right), or what 'whorled leaves' look like. I also liked the way Faith’s
pocket guide has a glossary of plant terms and uses straightforward language
wherever possible, e.g. she talks about flowers having either radial
symmetry (slice them in half anywhere you like and the two halves would be
identical) or else mirror symmetry (where there's only one place to slice them
if you want two identical halves). Many beginner botanists will find that
easier to understand and remember than 'zygomorphic vs actinomorphic' as used
in Stace's ID keys."
Faith has certainly been building a reputation in recent
years for helpful workshops and user-friendly booklets that help demystify how we
identify plants including grasses, sedges and rushes, and those tricky yellow composites aka dandelion lookalikes. If you missed out on this online workshop, you can
order all Faith's booklets from her website.
Jim McIntosh said “Faith’s Pocket Guide to Wildflower Families is a great way into the
sometimes confusing world of wildflower ID! A total of 46 people participated on
the day, and Aileen, our tutor, guided students clearly and concisely through
naming plant parts, how to use the booklet to identify common plant families (e.g. the Rose family, image on left) and how to use books like Collins Wild Flower Guide to pinpoint the species. We
used the breaks to give students short exercises and asked them to photograph five
flowering plants and identify their families, and the species, as (optional) homework.
Participants were able to ask questions at any time during the session and we had a bit of fun
with an interactive online poll. The session was recorded and you can watch the video here on the Training playlist on our BSBI YouTube channel”.
|Another of Faith's pre-Covid workshops
Julia said that "Getting
out and practising after an online course certainly helped consolidate our
learning. The whole workshop really made me think about the different ways we
ID plants - it's so easy to play 'plant snap' and try to match our plant to a
picture in a book, rather than keying it out properly, but picture-matching is
not always reliable - much better to learn how to do the job properly, and this
online workshop was a huge step in the right direction"
So, a vote of confidence from Julia but how does an online workshop compare against a more conventional beginner ID session in the field? We'll soon have a chance to find out because on the same day that Julia was attending the online workshop, BSBI's new Fundraising Manager Sarah Woods was attending a field meeting for beginners in Cambridgeshire with County Recorder Jonathan Shanklin. She has promised to send a short report so watch this space!