Friday 13 August 2021

BSBI Training Grants: Supporting botanists in 2021: Part Two

View of Salisbury from Old Sarum Castle
Image: K. Mason
Following on from Mike's account of the 'Using a Flora' course, which he was able to undertake thanks to a BSBI Training grant, we now present Kevin's account of the course he attended in May:

"My journey in plant identification began when I studied a degree in Animal biology and conservation, and more recently my passion for wildflowers has been fed in my current role as a Wildlife Trainee with the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust. My position means I get to spend my days in amazing habitats from floodplain meadows to ancient woodlands. 

Rough chervil with
purple blotching on the stem
Image courtesy of
John Crellin/ Floral Images

The incredible diversity of wildflowers I see each day is both beautiful and daunting, and it seemed that as soon as I got to grips with identifying one species, countless others would spring up around me as the season went on. While I like to attempt identification by myself, I felt attending a course in wildflower ID would give me an edge. Thanks to a training grant from BSBI I was able to book myself onto a course.

The course I had chosen was the ‘Wildflower Identification and Survey - Neutral and Calcareous Grasslands’ course, run by the Species Recovery Trust. We met on a rather wet day at Old Sarum Castle on the edge of Salisbury, the cathedral barely visible through the steady rain. Despite the weather, spirits were high and I was really keen to get out into the grassland with the other attendees. 

Our tutor for the day, Dominic, started us off with some common but important species of grasslands and meadows. While I could already quite confidently identify Trifolium pratense and T. repens (Red and White clover), I learned that you can quickly get an idea of the nutrient levels of a grassland by how much White and Red clover is present – more White clover generally means higher nutrient levels. We soon found Lotus corniculatus (Common bird’s-foot trefoil), another common but important grassland flower, told apart from Lotus pedunculatus (Greater bird’s-foot trefoil) by the latter having a hollow stem.

Image: K. Mason
After we had gone over most of the flowers at Old Sarum Castle, we got back in our cars and made the short trip up the road to Figsbury ring, an Iron age hill fort managed by the National Trust. The entrance track was more suited to a tank than my little car but I eventually made it in one piece. We regrouped in the car park and had a quick look at the surrounding flora. 

The group had spotted a large white umbellifer and had misidentified it as Anthriscus sylvestris (Cow parsley), as had I. Dominic told us that cow parsley would mostly have gone over by the end of June, and that what we had found was actually Chaerophyllum temulum (Rough chervil), identified by the purple spotting on the stems. After a quick brief on the history of the site we walked on to see what we could find.

Immediately it was obvious that the flora was more diverse at Figsbury, which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to the quality of the chalk grassland present. My eyes were instantly drawn to the orchids – Anacamptis pyramidalis (Pyramidal), Dactylorhiza fuchsii (Common spotted) and Gymnadenia conopsea (Chalk fragrant). Moving on we saw my personal favourite, Hippocrepis comosa (Horseshoe vetch), with bright yellow pea-like flowers arranged in a horseshoe and 4-8 pairs of pinnate leaflets.

Unlike Maria (above), Kevin didn't see
Frog Orchid - let's hope he sees it soon!
Image: L. Marsh

The short sward of the chalk grassland was ideal for spotting small, low-growing wildflowers such as bright pink Thymus polytrichus (Wild thyme) whose leaves had a disappointingly weak scent, and the memorably named Squinancywort  Asperula cynanchica with attractive pale pink, 4 petaled flowers. Earlier on in the day Dominic had shown us how to make a “gun” with the flower head of Plantago lanceolata (Ribwort plantain), which is quite drab as flowers go, so when we saw Plantago media (Hoary plantain) I was impressed by how bright it was with its white flowers and purple filaments.

After a final unsuccessful search for Dactylorhiza viridis (Frog orchid) which are reportedly present at Figsbury Ring, Dominic decided that it would be sensible to finish early and get out of the rain. While a part of me was disappointed to finish the day early, I was also very relieved that I could finally get a little drier. Despite the rain I had a great day out and learned so much from Dominic, and I am already looking for the next plant ID course to attend!"

Thanks Kevin, we're delighted that you were able to enjoy the course!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave a comment!