Friday, 12 November 2021

Getting down to it: November report from BSBI President Lynne Farrell

November has been a time for getting down to it and it is a time to consolidate and enjoy what the Society has been doing throughout the year. 

On 6th November we held the Scottish Botanists' Conference by Zoom, and around 250 people tuned in, with many participating through talks, posters and photographs entered into the 2021 BSBI Photographic Competition

Videos of the talks will be available soon for those who missed this event on the actual day, but you can view the exhibits right now.

Next weekend, will be the Annual General Meeting on Friday 19th November in the evening, followed by the BSBI Annual Exhibition Meeting all day on Saturday 20th.

Again, this will be a virtual link, which in some ways is more flexible, enabling people from around Britain and Ireland (and overseas!) to join in, but it does involve much hard work behind the scenes, so thanks to our staff and volunteers for putting on the show, and thanks to our members for their contributions. 

I have been getting down to it in the field also, although I have to admit that is more challenging as I get older and certainly getting up from the ground is even harder (image below of me and fellow fungi-hunters lying on a cricket pitch to take photographs - taken by my friend Sue Brindle). 

However, there are some treasures to be found at ground level and with the generous amount of rain that has fallen during the past 3 weeks, many fungi have appeared very quickly, with different species emerging with each day. 

I am by no means a mycologist but that does not mean I cannot enjoy the sheer range and beauty of these ‘plants’ which have their own kingdom. Their names are equally as fascinating, including Orange Peel (image top right), Plums and Custard, Penny Bun, Violet Coral (image above left) and White Spindles. Please do leave these growing for others to see and enjoy, and just get down to fully appreciate them.

Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness: October report from BSBI President Lynne Farrell

The past month has consisted of many BSBI Zoom meetings- not my preferred activity but essential for keeping in touch with people in Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England, although I would obviously prefer to be able to meet at least some of you.

However, I have had a few visitors including friends and woodland ecologist George and Sue Peterken. George is writing a new book on Woodlands, so we were on Arnside Knott looking at the different forms of Juniper. This year seems to be a good year for berries (image on right). 

They gave me a copy of their book Art Meets Ecology, published in 2020, which aims to connect people who are happy to connect art with science- which certainly fits my interests. During a walk along the shore we found more black berries, this time definitely not edible, of Atropa belladonna, Deadly Nightshade (image below left).

Some trees have good crops of berries, with those on Rowan and Hawthorn being particularly abundant, whereas Oak and Beech have few fruits this year. The next day the bay was shrouded in mist and it took at least an hour to rise, so trying to capture the different phases meant sitting patiently for some time (image at the end of this blogpost).

Our coastline is very varied and always inspires me, and a short trip to St Abbs Head, Scottish Wildlife Trust reserve, and Marine Reserve, provided a stimulating walk, not only due to the stiff breeze but also for the excellent geology trail, fantastic scenery and the occasional rare plant of Crambe maritima. (image below right). 

A field of pumpkins nearby reminded me it’s time to make soup and chutney again!

Tuesday 12th October was Day of the Scientist, so I hope some of you enjoyed listening to the hour-long special edition of Jim Al-Khalili’s ‘ The Life Scientific’ on BBC Radio 4. There have been botanists on his programmes fairly recently.

Finally, I was very impressed with our new 'student membership' video which you can watch here. Congratulations to our volunteer Andrew Rowley who directed and produced the video, which is all about what student membership of the BSBI can do for you.. Excellent work Andrew. 

Monday, 4 October 2021

BSBI membership: we've just made it easier than ever to join us!

Small Scabious in Co. Durham
Image: BSBI member Heather Kelly 
In a rapidly changing world, our wild plants have never been more in need of the support, understanding and appreciation that BSBI is uniquely placed to provide. But we are entirely reliant on, and extremely grateful for, the contributions of our amazing volunteer members. If you haven't yet joined our growing ranks, then this is the best time of the year to do so. Read on to find out why...

First of all, it's great value for money! Join us in October for the year ahead and your membership starts at once, so you could enjoy up to 15 months of benefits for the price of 12 months, and no need to renew until January 2023. Our subscription rates are the same as last year, and with our newly-updated online membership form it has never been quicker and easier to become a member. 

Yellow water-lily in Warwickshire
Image: BSBI member Angelika Smith

So what do you get for your money?   

You'll become part of a diverse community of botanists, from national experts and specialists right through to plant-lovers who are just beginning to dip a toe into the world of identifying, recording and monitoring our wild flowers. You'll already have spotted some of the many free resources on our website but as a member, you'll be able to take the next steps to develop your skills. 

Looking for a short plant ID course? We can help you find one and you can apply for one of our grants to help with the cost. You don't have to be a BSBI member to apply for a grant but members are prioritised in the award process. We also have grants if you want to carry out more in-depth study or research. Find out more here.

Plant ID students
Image: BSBI Comms Officer Louise Marsh

Already studying plants? We have a package of support and opportunities tailored for students, and with our heavily-subsidised special student members' rate, you could end up paying as little as £1 per month! More info here

Interested in one of our series of Handbooks for tricky plant groups? We've published three Handbooks already this year and members enjoy some great discounts - 30% off the cost of our latest title, the Field Handbook to British and Irish Dandelions.

You'll be joining a society whose plant distribution data and analysis help policy-makers, conservation agencies, researchers and academics gain a better understanding of the changes happening right now to our wild plants and the urgent need to conserve important plant populations. 

Squinancywort in Co. Kerry
Image: BSBI member Jessica Hamilton 
In a time of biodiversity loss and climate change, the data gathered by BSBI's volunteer members and supporters have never been more important. 

Maybe you've taken part in one of our citizen science recording projects such as the New Year Plant Hunt, Plant Alert or the Garden Wildflower Hunt, or you've been out monitoring plants for the National Plant Monitoring Scheme, or been  recording in your local area

Or maybe you are just happy to know that your subscription is helping us to maintain one of the world's largest botanical databases (50 million records and counting!) and supporting our Science Team as they contribute to internationally important reports such as RBG Kew's State of the World's Plants and Fungi

Whether or not you are an active botanical recorder, by joining our growing ranks as a member you will be directly supporting our work to advance the understanding and appreciation of wild plants and support their conservation in Britain and Ireland. 

You'll be joining a community of people with a passion for plants, who share their knowledge and enthusiasm on social media; at our national conferences, workshops and field meetings; at local events organised by county flora groups; via our expert referee service (only available to members); and in our in-house periodicals such as our membership newsletter BSBI News which you'll receive three times a year. Here's a taster of what's in the latest issue and check out recent articles on wildflower ID books, on plant ID apps (how well do they work?) and how to ID those pesky dandelion lookalikes

Want more tips to get you started with plant ID? Check out these helpful hints

Keeled Garlic in Musselburgh
Image: BSBI member Chris Jeffree
To find out more about what our fabulous BSBI members - all 3,340 of them, a 7% increase compared to last October - achieved in the past year, why not take a look at our latest Annual Review

If you are already one of our members, we'd like to say a huge thank you to each and every one of you. If you haven't joined us yet, why not head over here and become member no. 3,341? 

With our new online membership form, it has never been quicker and easier to join BSBI and we can't wait to send you your bumper welcome pack! So if you share our vision of a world where wild plants thrive and are valued, right now is the time to join us.

Thursday, 16 September 2021

British & Irish Botany: issue 3.3 published

Snake's-head fritillary
Image: P. Stroh
We've just pressed 'publish' on the latest issue of British & Irish Botany, BSBI's online, Open Access scientific journal. 

This issue features ten papers, starting with a report by BSBI Head of Science Kevin Walker on the lovely Snake's-head Fritillary Fritillaria meleagris. Kevin's blogpost about this iconic plant, as part of our Wildflower of the Month series during lockdown, proved very popular and in this new paper he analyses its occurrence in different habitats and discusses its claim to native status. 

Next up we have a paper by Michael Braithwaite about the discovery of the local flora as reflected in BSBI vice-county datasets. Michael uses Berwickshire, where he was County Recorder for many years, as a case-study and his account makes fascinating reading for all botanical recorders in the run-up to publication in 2022 of our next plant distribution Atlas

Mayweeds on Orkney
Image: J. Crossley

Also in this issue we have a report on Sea Mayweed, Scentless Mayweed and their puzzling  intermediates in Orkney; and Mick Crawley considers the dramatic recent increase in abundance of Rat's-tail Fescue Vulpia myuros as a weed of winter wheat-fields - he reports on a long-term experiment at Silwood Park, Bucks. to discover what extent this increase is due to no-till cultivation, or to herbicide-resistance, or to autumn cultivation coupled with warmer winter weather.  

Authors of BSBI Handbooks have been busy too: Mark Lynes describes three new species of Lady's-mantle Alchemilla from northern Britain, ahead of publication, probably next year, of his long-awaited Alchemilla Handbook; and three new species of Dandelion are described by John Richards in the run-up to publication of his new Field Handbook to British and Irish Dandelions, due out next month. BSBI members should watch out for the special members-only discount offers on both these books.

Hepste Hawkweed
Image: T. Rich

Over to B&IB Editor-in-Chief Ian Denholm to tell us about the four remaining papers in this issue:

"Within the family Polygonaceae, Redshank Persicaria maculosa and Pale Persicaria P. lapathifolia are both common in Britain but subject to confusion through over-reliance on flower colour as a distinguishing feature. Michael Wilcox reviews contrasting taxonomic treatments and provides guidelines for rationalising considerable variation within the Pale Persicaria ‘complex’.

"Tim Rich continues his survey of the status of Britain’s Hawkweeds (genus Hieracium) with a report on Hepste Hawkweed H. apheles - an extremely rare endemic restricted to five plants in a single locality in the Brecon Beacons. This is one of several endemic taxa with a threat status of ‘critically endangered’ according to IUCN criteria, safeguarded to some extent by the deposition of seed in the Millennium Seed Bank.

"Finally, Clive Stace and Duilio Iamonico resolve issues of species typification within the genera Vulpia and Atriplex, respectively".

So, another jam-packed issue with something for everyone. British & Irish Botany is free to read (and free for authors to publish in) and there's no log in required - just head over here to start enjoying the latest issue and then why not browse our archive? We are now accepting submissions for the fourth and final issue of this third volume, due out in December - why not get in touch if you are thinking of contributing?

Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Plant monitoring on Mull: September report from BSBI President Lynne Farrell

Ro Scott helping Lynne mark out her
NPMS plot on Mull
Image: L. Farrell
Last month BSBI President Lynne Farrell was on South Walney, escaping the heat and looking at coastal plants. 

So where is she this month? On another island? Yep! 

Over to Lynne:

"I’ve been busy both in the field and in the office over the past month. In my vice-county, Mid Ebudes, I have re-recorded my plots on Mull for the National Plant Monitoring Scheme (NPMS). 

I set my plots up in 2016, shortly after the Scheme started

Tunbridge Filmy-fern
Image: Jonathan Keefe
The NPMS is one of the major projects to which many BSBI members have been contributing. If you would like to get involved, click here to find out if there is a square near you.

I have also been checking a few of the rarer species localities including the Tunbridge filmy-fern Hymenophyllum tunbrigense. Wilson's filmy-fern H. wilsonii is much more common but there are only a few sites for H. tunbrigense, although both have a similar distribution mainly along the western coasts of Britain and Ireland. 

Tunbridge filmy-fern - yes, the spelling is different in the Latin and common names - was first found in Britain in Tunbridge, Kent, hence the name.

The WILDGuides book Britain’s Ferns by James Merryweather came in useful as the photographs are excellent, so encouraging people wishing to learn more about these attractive species. The only drawback is that the pages are not waterproof. 

The location of the filmy-fern, at
the base of a Birch tree
Image courtesy of L. Farrell
However, the publication has been awarded the Presidents’ Award this year - this is the annual prize awarded by the Presidents of the BSBI and the Wild Flower Society

You can see more about the previous winners here.

James wanted us to see the beauty of this group of plants and to encourage us all to enjoy and easily identify them. Other books provide more detailed text, which complement this volume. 

Back in the office I have been writing my annual Message from the President for the new BSBI Annual Review, which will be mailed out to members inside the September issue of BSBI News and will be on the website soon after.

I've also been attending a meeting of the Board of Trustees and other Committee meetings, and planning for the BSBI Annual Exhibition Meeting and AGM in November. 

So, a busy month!"

Friday, 27 August 2021

Plant-hunting on Ben Nevis with BSBI Scottish Officer and Team RBGE

View south from the summit of Ben Nevis
Image: J. McIntosh
Jim McIntosh, BSBI Scottish Officer, regularly walks the hills and climbs mountains in pursuit of interesting plant records, but he was recently invited to join a particularly interesting expedition. 

Over to Jim to tell us more: 

"19th August 2021 was the 250th anniversary of the first recorded ascent of Ben Nevis – by botanist James Robertson, who had been commissioned by John Hope, the King’s Botanist and Superintendent of the Botanic Garden, to explore the native plants of Scotland.

"Robertson’s account of the day given in A Naturalist in the Highlands- James Robertson – his life and travels in Scotland 1767-1771 is very brief, and he doesn’t even record what species he saw except that ‘the plants here are similar to those on Ben Awin and Carngarm..’ (Ben Avon & Cairngorm - for which he provides detailed lists in earlier pages). 

"He continues tantalisingly ‘only here, at the west side near the foot I found the M…’ but gives no indication what species ‘M’ is though it must be particularly notable for him not to name it in full! He describes the ‘the third part of the hill towards the top is entirely naked, resembling a heap of stones thrown together confusedly’.

"Fittingly a visit to the summit of Ben Nevis was organised by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) to mark the occasion, and the group included today’s Regius Keeper, Simon Milne, and Director of Science, Prof Peter Hollingsworth, RBGE bryologists and lichenologists, representatives from land-managers the John Muir Trust and Jahama Estates; NatureScot, the Sanger Institute and me!   

Jim & #TeamRBGE colleague pressing specimens
Image: S. Jones (RBGE)
"The idea was to collect specimens for the exciting new Darwin Tree of Life project which aims to sequence the entire genomes of all (70,000) animals, plants & fungi in Britain & Ireland. And we also collected specimens of Alpine Meadow-grass Poa alpina and Mountain Sorrel Oxyria digyna to lodge in the RBGE Herbarium to mark this special occasion. Click on the links to see BSBI distribution maps for those species. 

"We chose to ascend Ben Nevis via the challenging Càrn Mòr Dearg and its famous arête. And, of course, I couldn’t help recording (for Atlas 2040 of course!) as I went along. 

Jim (on left) & colleagues on 
Càrn Mòr Dearg arête
Image: S. Jones

"Also, because Càrn Mòr Dearg itself is one of our top ten highest mountains, at 1220 m, I made a full list of all flowering plant species within 10 m vertical of its summit, while everyone else enjoyed a leisurely lunch as the mist and drizzle gradually cleared. I logged 20 species in total, including many arctic-alpines of more acid substrates as befits a granite ridge.  

"As we scrambled along the ridge, we noticed occasional patches of Moss Campion Silene acaulis, more commonly seen on base rich soils and crags but somehow also happy here. But a highlight was finding Sibbaldia  Sibbaldia procumbens on the ridge and pretty commonly on late snow line areas on the lower plateau of Ben Nevis. 

Simon Milne & Sibbaldia
Image: J. McIntosh
"This is an important species for RBGE, which was co-founded by Robert Sibbald in 1670 and now has Sibbaldia as its emblem. The Regius Keeper duly knelt and paid homage to the diminutive plant.

"After group photos at the perfectly still summit, and short interviews to camera by Simon and Peter, we began the descent, collecting more bryophytes and looking for some of the most exciting flowering plant species. 

"No point in recording here after the comprehensive and thorough North Face Survey involving botanists and climbing guides in 2014-2016, but nice to chance upon Brook Saxifrage Saxifraga rivularis (image below) beside a cairn at the top of one of the gullies.

"Even more exciting was renewing acquaintance with Tufted Saxifrage S. cespitosa nearby – it's one of our rarest and most important arctic-alpines, on Schedule 8 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act (W&CA) 1981 and listed as Endangered on the GB Red List.

[Ed.: Check out the BSBI Code of Conduct for the full lists of plants on Schedules 8&9 of the W&CA and read more about the GB Red List here.] 

"Late in the evening as we descended the main path the sun began to break through wispy clouds, low in the west. 

"We eventually returned to the carpark some 12 hours after starting off on the 20km, 1500m ascent expedition tired, hungry but very happy!"

From left: Neil Bell (RBGE/BBS), Pete Hollingsworth
(RBGE), Stephen Venables (broadcaster/ mountaineer),
Simon Milne (RBGE) & Jim McIntosh (BSBI) - 
on the summit!

Many thanks to Jim for this fascinating account - sounds like a great day! 

Being a botanist really can take you to the most amazing places. 

If Jim's account has left you hungry to read more about botanising on Scottish mountains, check out our 4-part 'Botanical Book at Bedtime' by Peter Llewellyn, all about his plant-hunting adventures in the Cairngorms - part one is here.

We'll leave you with an image taken by Jim of the view from the path on the descent - enjoy!

Thursday, 26 August 2021

Call-out for Restharrows

Botanist Mike Wilcox has been looking at Restharrows Ononis spp. and now he has a request - over to Mike:

"Recently, plants seen of Ononis do not fit the description in Stace (2019) for O. repens (on right) and not fully for O. spinosa (below left) even if using Sell & Murrell where O. repens is treated within the subspecies of O. spinosa

"Whether these are hybrids or not is debatable. In relation to the two taxa and putative hybrids, I would be interested in material (fresh) to have a look at in detail, including some anatomical aspects as they are given as two different chromosome numbers in Stace (2019) and looking at aspects such as stomata it might help decide what the two taxa are and or putative hybrids.

"It may be a bit late to start doing this but I will pick it up next year and hopefully see more material from different areas.

"Meanwhile, if you have one or both (or putative hybrids) I would be interested to see some material for a preliminary look at these taxa. Email me at for details of where to send your specimens".

Images courtesy of John Crellin at Floral Images