Sunday 1 January 2023

New Year Plant Hunt 2023: Day Two

Gorse on the north Cornwall coast
Image by Kiki
New Year's Day and the second day of the 2023 New Year Plant Hunt. After yesterdays' rain, the sun shone today for some of us, but others experienced rotten weather - Lizzie in the Brecon Beacons and Dave in Wadebridge both endured hailstorms but still notched up some nice records. 

For many plant-hunters in Scotland, Gorse was pretty much the only species in bloom but others, such as Helen in Perthshire, were snowed in and couldn't even get outside to try and hunt down a Gorse bush! 

Solo hunters who did manage to get out today included Eanna who spotted a Strawberry Tree flowering in Dublin; Rosie, Executive Director of the Field Studies Council, who spotted the tiny female flowers of Hazel (currently no. 13 on the list of most frequently-recorded species) and Brian 'Eagle-eyes' Laney, joint BSBI County Recorder for Northants. 

Female flowers on Hazel
Image: R. Teasdale

Brian is usually at the centre of a large group of plant-hunters, watching him carefully to try and work out how he manages to find so many species new for his county, but today he went out to do his first ever solo Plant Hunt and notched up 24 species in bloom in Rothwell.

Some of us had to fit our Hunts in around family commitments: Newcastle-based Ho-Yin managed to spot four species in bloom before being "dragged away by the family" while in nearby Heaton, we hear that County Recorder James resorted to bribing partner Matthew with chocolate! James and his team managed to record 30 species in bloom including the lovely little Fern-grass and some Water Bent, the latter a plant which hardly any of us had seen until the 1990s but since then it is spreading rapidly northwards.

Urban botanists looking for Water Bent
Image courtesy of James Common
One way to get round the quandary over whether to spend quality time over the holidays with loved ones or to look for flowers is to combine the two and go plant-hunting as a family. 

Entomologist Richard, who leads the Bumblebee Conservation Trust's science programme, and partner Kate, Senior Lecturer in Biology at Univ Worcester, took baby Lucy on her first two Plant Hunts in Cheshire. Her parents and grandparents spotted 13 species in bloom, while Lucy slept through both Hunts, but as Mum Kate says, it's the taking part that counts ;-)

Kate & Richard introduce Lucy to
her first New Year Plant Hunt
Image: S. Ashbrooke

Many of the longest lists so far have come from southern and coastal locations, such as the 55 species Paul Green recorded in bloom at Saint Kierans, Co. Wexford,. but micro-climate and exposure can have a huge impact on the number of species in bloom. 

On the more exposed north Cornwall coast for example, Kiki found a glorious Gorse bush (top right) in full flower but no much else; Gorse is a New Year Plant Hunt stalwart - it's currently at no. 9 on the list of most frequently spotted plants, with 100 records so far of it blooming across Britain and Ireland. 

50 miles away in Fowey, however - a more protected location on the southern coast - the Botanical Cornwall group spotted 58 species in bloom, including Betony, Rosemary, Navelwort and Hedge Veronica - the second longest list so far. More pairs of eyes are helpful but so is a more sheltered location.

Thrift in Co. Wexford
Image: P. Green 

The longest list so far is from solo hunter David in Swanage with 71 species, but his Swanage list from 2019 was for 120 species, so maybe even in those sheltered southern locations, and following familiar routes which have yielded many species in bloom in past years, we are seeing the effects of the recent cold snap?

Plant hunters in Cambridgeshire, Derbyshire and Cheshire visiting familiar haunts have also said they are spotting fewer species this year but we should wait until all the data are in and analysed properly before we start jumping to conclusions! 

Looking forward to seeing what you all find tomorrow, Day Three of this year's Hunt - fingers crossed the weather is kind to you!

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