Wednesday 8 June 2022

Botanical heatmaps will ensure 'Right Tree, Right Place' - thanks to BSBI's volunteer recorders

BSBI volunteer recorders identifying
 and recording the plants they spot
Image: M.Crittenden
At BSBI, we are sometimes asked - by those who are new to the Society and our work - how exactly the botanical records that our volunteer members collect help us to fulfil our goal of addressing biodiversity loss and climate change (one of the three goals in our strategic plan). Well, today we can tell you more about one recent initiative which uses the plant records in the BSBI Database to help protect both our wildlife and the sites on which we rely for carbon sequestration. 

This initiative - botanical heatmaps - has been developed by BSBI in partnership Natural England, and I asked BSBI Head of Science Kevin Walker to tell us more.    

LM: So Kevin, what exactly is a botanical value map/ heatmap?

BSBI's Kevin Walker recording sedges
Image: P. Stroh
KW: “The ‘heatmaps’ are basically coincidence maps that summarise of all the amazing botanical records that BSBI volunteers collect. In the case of the tree-planting maps, these summarise the coincidence of rare, scarce, threatened species as well as habitat specialists that indicate the presence of good quality habitat on the ground. 

"We have produced a number of maps for the ‘Right Tree, Right Place work’: maps for rare, scarce and threatened species at 100 x 100 m resolution, habitat indicators at 1 x 1 km resolution and an overall ‘botanical value’ map which combines all these datasets”.

LM: What should a landowner do if they are thinking of planting trees on their land and want to make sure they are going to end up with the right tree in the right place?

Tree-planting was due to take place on this
 species-rich peatbog in Cumbria, which
 supports sundews and cranberry
Image: K. Watson  
KW: “These maps will help landowners to see if their land is likely to have open habitats of interest that should not be planted on. These might include species-rich grassland or blanket bog with deep peat. From July the ‘botanical value’ maps will be free to access online – these will indicate if the 1-km within which a planting site is located has species of conservation interest. The more detailed data-layers will be available to organisations that are likely to be involved in planting proposals such as Woodland Trust and Forestry Commission”.

LM: How did the idea for the heatmaps come about?

Botanical heatmap showing
priority plant species
(yellow = high priority)
KW: “The UK government’s ambitious tree-planting targets have unfortunately led to some planting of trees on open habitats rich in wildlife and/or important for carbon sequestration. In some cases, it was apparent that BSBI held data which could have been used to avoid such damage and so we worked closely with Natural England and the Woodland Trust to see how these data could be most effectively used. 

"The heatmaps are the product of this work and have taken about 18 months to produce, working in partnership with colleagues in Natural England, the Woodland Trust and the Forestry Commission. The most recent development has been funded by Defra, through the Natural Capital and Ecosystem Assessment (NCEA) programme".

LM: As you mentioned before, the data underpinning the heatmaps comprises all the plant records that have been collected over the years by our wonderful BSBI volunteer recorders. How many records are currently held in the BSBI database? 

KW: "As of today, the BSBI database contains a staggering 50,688,285 records, mainly collected by our amazing volunteer recorders, who go out in all weathers across Britain and Ireland and submit their records to the BSBI Distribution Database. In recent years this total has been augmented by about a million more records each year, and all these records are being increasingly used for nature conservation and scientific research".

Aspens silhouetted against the skyline:
the right tree in the right place!
Image: P. Smith
LM: That's impressive Kevin, and three cheers for all our wonderful volunteer recorders. Final question, if BSBI members and supporters want to find out more about the heatmaps, where should they look? 

KW: "We produced a great summary in our membership newsletter, BSBI News – and we've made the article freely available here so non-members can read it too. On the Natural England website, there's also a technical report and a blogpost about the heatmaps". 

LM: Thanks Kevin, readers can download a copy of the technical report by following the link on this page

Many thanks to Kevin for telling us about the botanical heatmaps and for all the hard work that he and our partners at Natural England, the Woodland Trust and the Forestry Commission have put in over the past 18 months to launch this exciting new initiative. And of course, thanks again to our fabulous volunteer recorders, without whom those botanical heatmaps would be completely empty! 

Finally, a call-out to any readers who haven't yet tried botanical recording but are inspired by hearing about the botanical heatmaps - there's lots of help and support on offer if you want to get involved: Check out these helpful hints to get you started, these resources to help you identify the wildflowers you spot and then try using the form on this page to submit your first ever plant record. 

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