Tuesday, 3 January 2023

New Year Plant Hunt 2023: Days Three and Four

Dave points out one of three
lovely species of Fumitory
found by the Mevagissey
Image: D. Ryan
Days One and Two of the 2023 New Year Plant Hunt were fairly quiet, with miserable weather keeping plant-hunters at home across much of Britain and Ireland, but on Day Three (Monday), the sun came out for many of us, so the Hunt was well and truly on! 

A good job too, because those hunters who waited until Day Four got very wet, when the rain came back with a vengeance. 

In Cornwall yesterday the sun shone and Dan, Dave and the Mevagissey plant-hunters found 52 species in bloom, including Field Madder, Scarlet Pimpernel (which many other hunters have found elusive), a hybrid Viola (the cross between Field and Wild Pansy) and no fewer than three different fumitories. 

By today, the Cornish weather had turned -  David Pearman and the Botanical Cornwall Group found some nice Field Woundwort but got "absolutely sodden" and it was the same story on the east coast of Ireland, where the Balbriggan Climate Club got drenched recording 20 species in bloom.

Strawberry Tree in Dublin
Image: E. Gallagher 
Despite the weather, people have still enjoyed getting out and about for the Hunt across Britain and Ireland, even when they found slimmer pickings this year. Jessica and the Kerry team recorded 21 species in flower yesterday, "missing a few usual suspects" but the famous Strawberry Tree at Muckross in Killarney was in bloom, as in previous years. 

Eanna Gallagher also saw Strawberry Tree in flower in Dublin during one of his Hunts; Olly Milner notched up 11 species at Lough Gur near Limerick and Martine Brennan found 16 species blooming in south Laois, although again this was "probably the lowest number ever" for her. A similar story from the Glengarriff team in Co. Cork, and just look at the frost on some of their 19 species in bloom! 

The Hunt has been going for twelve years now and many hunters try to follow the same route each year, which makes it particularly interesting to hear their observations on what is, and isn't, flowering from year to year. Eminent meteorologist cum botanist Jonathan Shanklin (yes, the 'Man who Found the Hole in the Ozone Layer' is also one of BSBI's top botanists!) carried out four Hunts in Cambridgeshire, where he lives and is BSBI's County Recorder. Jonathan emailed us that he was only seeing "roughly half the number seen in the same area last year".

Simon Harrap's team hunting
in a weedy field in Norfolk
Image: S. Harrap

Simon Harrap, author of the much-loved 'Harrap's Wild Flowers', tweeted that for him and his team, "a weedy field and a building site were the top locations this year, most of our 'hangers on' had been zapped by the cold spell" and Wendy Tagg told us that her total of 22 species in bloom in Uckfield was also "much lower than recent years".

It was also interesting to hear which species people weren't seeing this year - author and broadcaster Trevor Dines, based in north Wales, tweeted "just 10 species in flower... less than half my normal count for the usual route", and noted that last month "the lanes had more Herb Robert in flower than ever before, but now there's not a single bloom". 

Annual Knawel in Pattingham
Image: A. Roberts

There were a couple of long lists from south Wales however; County Recorder Steph Tyler notched up 43 species in bloom including no fewer than four different fleabanes, while in Glamorgan Tim Rich who, with Sarah Whild, carried out the first ever Plant Hunt back in 2012, spotted 41 species including Goat's-beard and Four-leaved Allseed. There were also some nice plants spotted at locations across England - Andy Roberts, for example, saw Annual Knawel in Pattingham and in Wiltshire, Fran Sinclair found a garden escape in bloom - we think it is probably a Calibrachoa, one of the 'Million Bells' cultivars, which has rarely been recorded naturalised in the wild before, let alone blooming at New Year! But our experts are still double-checking this record. 

Gorse blooming in frosty Killin
Image: S. Watts
Several plant-hunters, such as Sarah in Killin and David in Kent, found only one species in bloom- usual suspects such as Gorse and Groundsel - and some found none at all but as Leif Bersweden, regular New Year Plant Hunter and author of 'Where the Wildflowers Grow' says, that's "still valuable information for BSBI" so "if you've done a hunt & like me failed to find anything, still submit on their website". You can either use the app and enter the 'nil records' field or email us the grid ref where you hunted and let us know that you didn't find any wildflowers in bloom. 

Some people were joining the Hunt for the first time this year - Kate Wright and the Church Fenton Environment Group; Malcolm Smith; and Sam Amy. Thanks to all of you and we hope you will take part again next year. Lots of people thanked us for getting them out and about at New Year. It was also lovely to see the return of some plant hunters after a few years away - great to have you back Karen Woolley and to hear that the bus stop near you is still supporting some great winter-flowering wildflowers, even if there were fewer this year. That bus stop is right up there with Mick Lacey's Mecca Bingo car park as top New Year Plant Hunt locations! 

Red clover at the bus stop!
Image: K. Woolley

So as the sun set on the fourth and final day of the 2023 New Year Plant Hunt, hundreds (thousands?) of plant-hunters across Britain and Ireland were hanging their wet clothes up to dry, basking in the glow of a job well done and submitting their records. 

The Results board shows more than 800 surveys submitted so far, comprising more than 8,000 unique records of 435 different species and there's still a few days left for you to get the rest of your records to us. 

The deadline is midnight on Sunday 8th January so we can start analysing the data on Monday morning. We'll report back to all of you later this month. 

Until then, just a few things left to do:

  • To thank the six volunteers (Billy, Isabella, Jo, Lore, Moira and Ryan) and five fellow staff members (James, Matt, Paul, Sarah and Tom) who have been working shifts on the Support Desk, on social media, entering data and checking plant IDs over the past four days. Great work team! 
  • To thank all of you who took part - there would be no Plant Hunt without you and we are all very grateful for your contributions, from the longest lists to the 'sorry couldn't find anything' emails and tweets. All valuable, all much appreciated. Thank you!
  • To remind you that BSBI's 2023 round of grant applications is now open, so whether you are an absolute beginner at this botany lark and would like to take a training course to learn a bit more, or whether you are a bit further along your botanical journey and would like to carry out some research, we have grants available to help you. Check out the grants page, get your application in and let us help you get ready for a flower-filled year ahead! 

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!

Saturday, 31 December 2022

New Year Plant Hunt 2023: Day One

Red Dead-nettle by flashlight
Image: G. Scollard
We opted to start our twelfth New Year Plant Hunt on New Year's Eve 2022, as it was a Saturday so many people were off work and free to go out plant-hunting. Weather forecasts were not great and rain stopped play in many places but neither bad weather nor even pitch darkness can stop some botanists: once again the inimitable Ger Scollard was out with a flashlight and, within minutes of the Hunt starting, had recorded Red Dead-nettle in bloom near Tralee. What a legend! 

Once the sun was up, botanists were out hunting from Guernsey (31 species recorded, including Lesser Celandine, Pellitory-of-the-wall and and Common Dog-violet) up to Westray in the Orkney archipelago (4 species including Sea Mayweed) and from Earlham Cemetery in Norwich (21 species including Winter Aconite and Common Fumitory) over to Galway in the west of Ireland (8 species including Great Mullein and Yarrow). 

Our intrepid plant-hunters wandered along country lanes, around urban industrial estates and car parks, and into cemeteries, peering at road verges and pavement cracks, looking for wild and naturalised plants in bloom. 

Leicester botanists chuffed to find Annual
Mercury blooming on an industrial estate
Image: L. Marsh

By around 10pm, the Results page was showing that 836 unique records had been submitted and 169 species recorded, with Daisy, Dandelion and Groundsel (aka the Usual Suspects) topping the list of most frequently recorded plants. 

Botany groups out hunting in Somerset and the Bristol area, and ace botanists such as Paul Green, BSBI Ireland Officer, hunting in Co. Wexford, notched up some of the longest lists.

But as Moira from the New Year Plant Hunt Support Team reminded people, the Hunt isn't about competing for longest lists, it's about recording which plants are in bloom so we can compare across the years and against Met Office data, and learn more about how a changing climate is impacting our wildflowers. The Hunt is great fun but it's also an important Citizen Science initiative... with optional cake and hot chocolate ;-)

Jack and Florence consult Francis
Rose's Wildflower Key to check the
Ragwort that Florence found:
it was an Oxford Ragwort.
Image: L. Marsh
Lots of people who follow the same route over the years are reporting that they only found around half the usual number of species in bloom. I was out hunting today with my local botany group and although we had 16 pairs of eyes scrutinising the exact same area where we found 57 species in bloom in 2019, this time we only found 27 species, even though we had the benefit of the incredibly sharp eyes of Florence, one of our excellent young plant-hunters. It seems the cold snap a few weeks ago zapped a lot of species. 

But we had a brilliant afternoon - peering at plants in the company of lovely botanists really is one of life's great pleasures! 

If you haven't made plans yet to go out hunting, and you'd appreciate some company, try contacting your BSBI County Recorder to find out if there are any group hunts happening in your area, or check our New Year Plant Hunt Facebook group

You can also go out on your own, with family and friends or follow the example of Kerry botanist Jessica Hamilton and head out with a canine companion or two

Happy hunting - we can't wait to hear about what you find tomorrow!

Thursday, 15 December 2022

December brings the final blogpost from outgoing BSBI President Lynne Farrell

Last time we heard from Lynne Farrell, she was just back from the Scottish Botanists' Conference and was preparing to hand the Presidential reins over to Micheline Sheehy Skeffington. 

So now here is Lynne's last message for you in 2022:

"The British and Irish Botanical Conference in mid-November was a great success with people travelling from all round Britain and Ireland. Well done to everyone for getting there despite various transport companies trying their best to ‘de-rail’ us. There were many interesting talks and exhibits but the best thing all agreed, was being able to meet in person to discuss and share plants and views with each other. I gave a talk titled 'Plants, Conservation and Me' which we recorded for the BSBI YouTube channel - you can watch the video by clicking on the link.

"You can see all the videos, photographs and exhibits from the Conference on this page

"The next event takes place at the end of this year and beginning of next. The 12th New Year Plant Hunt will run from Saturday 31st December 2022 to Tuesday 3rd January 2023. This time around, we should be able to potter about in groups, so I hope you can arrange to meet up with a few botanical friends and have a good day out recording. Last year 1,895 people took part and recorded 669 taxa in bloom. But will the recent cold spell knock some of them back this time?

"Last month, BSBI Chief Executive Julia Hanmer and I I wrote to the UK Govt to express the Society’s concerns over land use issues and their effects on nature conservation (you can read the BSBI Policy on Nature Conservation here) and management of habitats and plants. We mentioned BSBI’s role in recording plant and habitat changes over many years and how our data highlighted these. A reply was received on 13th December, which was good in that we know our letter was read. Here is the Government response; much of it concerns farming but there are links through to other proposals which could help in the longer term eg Nature Recovery Green paper.

"Writing the monthly blog has kept me on my toes and made me more aware of what is happening around me, and now I am handing over in 2023 to our new president Micheline Sheehy Skeffington. The image above left was captured by our Hon Gen Sec Steve Gater, and shows me and Micheline at the British and Irish Botanical Conference.

"But just before I hand over, here is a sample of what I have been doing in the outdoors over the past month, not necessarily botanical:

  • searching for Brown Hairstreak butterfly eggs - we found 99 in two hours between 12 of us, which is actually a good observational rate; 
  • watching starling murmurations at Leighton Moss;
  • finding collared puffballs;
  • catching the Windermere ferry (above right) across the lake to see an art exhibition, and
  • standing on Arnside pier waiting for the sun to go down (on left).
"There may well be snow in December and it is definitely frosty this morning, so keep warm and enjoy the fresh air."

Huge thanks to Lynne for this final blogpost and for all her monthly blogposts over the past three years of her Presidency. During the darkest days of lockdown, Lynne's monthly posts really helped us all stay connected while we weren't able to meet up in person. 

Thanks Lynne, for the blogposts and for serving as BSBI President for the past three years!

Thursday, 10 November 2022

Reconnecting: November blog from BSBI President Lynne Farrell

Last time we heard from BSBI President Lynne Farrell, she was checking churchyards for interesting fungi and was getting ready for some big changes. Here's Lynne's latest report: 

"Wet and windy weather recently and that has encouraged people to meet again indoors at several excellent events for botanists to gather and reconnect. In late October, a Recorders’ Meeting was held at FSC Preston Montford near Shrewsbury, at which botanists from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales came together to discuss topics, try and identify the more critical groups such as Cotoneaster (image on right), and generally catch up with each other - splendid. We also fitted in field trips and our group investigated four churchyards, one of which had the Darwin family grave in it, plus several interesting waxcap fungi.

Jim and his dog Rannoch
Image courtesy of S. Drysdale

At the beginning of November, I was at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, for the Scottish Botanists’ Conference, which was also well-attended. Workshops, talks, exhibits, herbarium tour and discussions took place. It was a special occasion too, to mark the retirement of Jim McIntosh (image on left), who has been our Scottish Officer for the past 18 years. A packed programme kept us all busy but there was time, just, to chat to people you had not seen for several years, in between the arranged events. I always run out of time to meet all the people I would like to have chatted to, but did manage to catch up with some ‘old’ acquaintances and meet some new members and local botanists. Most of the talks have been recorded so you will be able to view them in future on our YouTube channel

So now I enter my final stint as President and will be attending the British and Irish Botanical Conference at the Natural History Museum on Saturday 19th November, despite there being no trains from Oxenholme to London, so I will be coming by a devious route and driving most of the way. December will be my last blogpost before handing over to incoming President Micheline Sheehy Skeffington.

Thursday, 13 October 2022

End of a season: October blog from BSBI President Lynne Farrell

Comma on Bramble
Image: L. Farrell
Last month saw BSBI President Lynne Farrell in the Outer Hebrides, looking at some of our tiniest plants and spreading the botanical word to passers-by. This month, as the season turns, she is back in Cumbria - here is her latest report:  

"Now we are well into autumn with leaves falling and blowing around. Most of the flowering plants are fading, although producing fruit, and soon it will be time for another group or even kingdom to take their place. 

"Changes are taking place in the BSBI also, with Jim McIntosh, Scottish Officer, retiring and Matt Harding replacing him, and James Harding-Morris becoming our Countries Support Manager. We welcome the ‘new’ and also appreciate the ‘old’. Soon it will be time for me to stand down too and hand over the presidency to Micheline Sheehy Skeffington.

"Before that, I’ve been grovelling in churchyards, although not quite with one foot in the grave yet. These areas do have good fungi and are often old, mature grassland, which are not mowed frequently, and as a result can support a variety of wild plants and fungi. 

Apricot Club Fungus in 
Hemingford Grey Churchyard,
Image: L. Farrell

"I've invited Caring For God’s Acre, the churchyard conservation group, to exhibit at our British and Irish Botanical Conference (the event formerly known as the Annual Exhibition Meeting) at the Natural History Museum on Saturday 19th November, an opportunity to meet fellow botanists again. I'll be giving a talk at the Conference called 'Plants, Conservation and Me'. 

"Before that, on Saturday 5th November, the Scottish Botanists’ Conference will take place at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. 

"I very much hope to see some of you at these meetings, as I have missed sharing plants with other ‘plantoholics’ over the past three years. Micheline will also be at the British and Irish Botanical Conference so it will be a chance for people to meet both the incoming and outgoing Presidents. This will be the first time in the Society's 196-year history that both the incoming and outgoing Presidents have been women. Let's hope we don't have to wait another 196 years for this to happen again!"

Many thanks to Lynne for this report, and if you'd like to catch up with her at one of our autumn events then please use the links above to book your space. We hope to see you there!

Sunday, 2 October 2022

BSBI membership: save money with our autumn special offer!

Tall herbs on Craig an Lochan
Image by BSBI member Sarah Watts
Last autumn, we launched our membership special offer by saying that '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'. Well frankly, that applies even more this year: we have never been more reliant on, and grateful for, the contributions of our fabulous volunteer members. 

So today we are inviting you to join our growing ranks, if you haven't already, and asking our members to help us spread the word about the benefits of BSBI membership - for you and for our wonderful wild flowers. 

So, at a time when we are all counting the pennies, why join BSBI?

First of all, if you join BSBI in October, your membership starts at once so you could enjoy up to 15 months of membership benefits for the price of 12 months. You wouldn't need to renew your membership until January 2024.

Yellow Monkswort
Image by BSBI member Simon Harrap

Secondly, we've expanded our range of membership benefits in the past year and there are even more in the pipeline. As well as the three issues each year of our membership newsletter BSBI News (check out the free sample issue and this article to give you an idea of the contents), membership brings you big discounts on BSBI Handbooks and other selected botany books, favoured status when applying for BSBI training and plant study grants, exclusive access to 100+ expert plant referees to help you with identification... Find out more here about all these long-standing benefits.    

This year, we also launched an environment-friendly paperless membership option; we revamped the password-protected members-only area of our website with a range of new resources, such as 100+ scientific papers free to download and a free pdf of one of our most sought-after out-of-print Handbooks; we offered members-only volunteering opportunities; and we launched two new awards for outstanding contributions to botany at local and national level. We will also be offering a whopping 50% discount to any member who wants to buy our third plant distribution atlas, due to be published in March 2023.

Narrow-leaved Helleborine
Image by BSBI member Patrick Marks

There is a third reason to consider joining us. Many of our 3,706 (as of today!) members carry out amazing work studying, recording, monitoring and helping to conserve wild plants across Britain and Ireland. But many others are simply happy to know that their subscription helps support our work to advance the understanding and appreciation of wild plants and to support their conservation across Britain and Ireland. Check out our nature conservation policy and our strategic plan to find out more, or leaf through our latest Annual Review to find out what the Society achieved last year thanks to our wonderful members.  

If you are already a BSBI member, we'd like to say a huge thank you to each and every one of you for all that you do, and ask you to spread the word to friends and colleagues who you think might enjoy becoming a member - and don't forget that a gift membership of BSBI makes a great present for a loved one!

Our ranks are growing - an 11% increase compared to last October - so if you haven't yet joined us, why not head over here and become our next new member? We can't wait to welcome you and send you your membership welcome pack. Together we can keep working towards a world where wild plants thrive and are valued - and so are the thousands of BSBI botanists who support them.