Tuesday, 18 September 2018

The People's Walk for Wildlife

BSBI is honoured to be named on
Chris Packham's 'People's Walk for Wildlife'
poster - can you see us
near the base of the heart?
This Saturday 22nd September, the People's Walk for Wildlife takes place in London. Wildlife champion and natural history TV presenter Chris Packham is the driving force behind this event which is aimed at "all the people who care about wildlife".

BSBI President Chris Metherell says: “I had the pleasure of meeting Chris Packham in July when he was touring the country with his UK Bioblitz 2018 to highlight the extent to which the nation’s wildlife is under threat. I applaud his sterling work supporting nature conservation and getting the next generation involved. As Chris says, “nature reserves are not enough!” Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend this Saturday’s People’s Walk for Wildlife myself as I have a prior engagement in Northumberland but I would encourage BSBI members to consider taking part. Find out more about the Walk here”.

One person who will be on the Walk with his family is Dr Kevin Walker, BSBI’s Head of Science. Kevin said “Whether you are into plants, bugs, birds, butterflies or you just enjoy walking in the countryside then the People's Walk for Wildlife is an event you can't afford to miss. This is our chance to make a stand for our nation's wildlife and a clarion call to government, industry and wider society that we need to do more to protect it. I'm planning to be there with my kids as it is the countryside that they will inherit and the current generation are not doing enough to protect it. So let’s all get together on the 22nd September (my birthday!) and start to do something about it”. 

The Wild Flower Hour poster
Courtesy of Rebecca Wheeler
Chris Packham said "This is an exciting opportunity motivated by a desperate concern in troubling times to make a real difference. I think we need unity, to stand together and demonstrate that if we can collectively see the bigger picture then we will find the strength to tackle the bigger problems. Because at the moment, for all our abilities, energies, passions and practices we are not stopping the rot in our countryside. And we can. We have a superb toolkit for effective conservation, it’s been trialled, tested and proven to work but it’s not been put into play rapidly or broadly enough. So now, before it’s too late, we have to be bold and brave, we must shout without raising our voice, we have to get up and get on with it, and we can start by turning up in London on the 22nd of September".

If you can't attend the walk in person you can still take part via social media. On Twitter, keep an eye on #ThePeoplesWalkForWildlife hashtag to follow the action from 1pm. You can also use the hashtag yourself on the day to show your support. 

If you want to double the impact and show that you are supporting the People's Walk for Wildlife because you care about the plight of our wild flowers, you can also use the #wildflowerhour hashtag and/ or download and share the image above left on your feed.

Between 1 and 2pm, both the BSBI Twitter account and the @wildflower_hour account will be retweeting any tweets that feature both hashtags. So even if you can't make it down to London you can still show your support for Chris Packham's initiative and stand up for our wild flowers!  

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Dublin BSBI excursions

About to set off botanising in Castletown Estate
Image: C. Clarke
Today's guest blogpost is from Irish botanist Cliona. She was a bit apprehensive about leading a local botany group meeting for the first time. So, how did she get on? Read on to find out:

"Those of you from outside the Dublin area might not know this, but Dublin has its very own botanical group. And what a group it is! This year I had the pleasure of leading two botanical outings: one at Castletown Estate in Celbridge and the other at Ballynafagh Lake outside Prosperous. Both are glorious locations with lovely plants and very different habitats. Both outings are over now so I can look back fondly and reminisce about some of the things I’ve learned and enjoyed. This is just a little write-up about those trips and why my worries about leading a group for the first time were unfounded.

Hypericum hirsutum
Image courtesy of John Crellin/ Floral Images
"It’s totally fine not to know everything even if you’re leading a group, I must admit I felt I wouldn’t be up for the task at hand and would encounter too many plants that were beyond my identification skills. This wasn’t the case at all, and even when we did come across some strange unidentified green life-form, this only meant it was time to break out the plant keys! I’m surprised to say that one of the nicest parts of leading a group is finding something that everyone is uncertain about. It’s a chance to slow down, talk, reorganise your thoughts and of course share a refreshing sense of botanical camaraderie.

"I’m sorry to say one of the biggest mistakes I made was being far too over prepared. That might sound silly; I mean how can you be too over prepared? Well you can check out every inch of a site before bringing a group there or key out everything within a three mile radius (Kidding). Recording everything in advance also defeats the purpose of leading a recording group in the same area. Overall it was a pleasant experience and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in leading a group. Botanists are lovely people so be confident and lead on!

A bit of mud and rain
never stopped a botanist!
Image: C. Byrne
"The Castletown Estate event was held on a lovely bright sunny day in late June, people came along to enjoy not only the plants but also the sun and scenery of this beautiful area. Castletown is made up of parklands and a large Palladian style house built in the 1720’s. On site there are a number of habitats; arable land, woodland, a wildflower meadow and the River Liffey flowing along its boundary. Although the parklands are managed as a public amenity and often brimming with people, they are still home to a few rarities.

"We were delighted to find Hairy St. John's-wort Hypericum hirsutum enjoying the sweltering heat; maybe a week later and these hairy plants would have been in flower for us to enjoy. We were content to see a faint glimmer of yellow petals emerging between the sepals. Each area of the park had its own merits; the meadow was brimming with grasses, yellow-rattle and many other flowering herbs, the woodland in the park provided a much needed reprieve from the never-ending sunshine and the ha-has (a strange landscape design) were brimming with biodiversity. One of the highlights of the day was sitting down to a pleasant lunch with lovely people overlooking the beautiful River Liffey; it doesn’t get much better that that!

Pyrola rotundifolia
Image courtesy of John
Crellin/ Floral Images
"The second outing to Ballynafagh Lake was a walk in the park (pun intended) due to my now extensive experience of leading one whole previous excursion; well truthfully it was due to the appearance of the one and only Rory Hodd. Thanks Rory. No plant went unidentified (with the exception of one awkward willow but I think that is very forgivable!). What this outing lacked in sunshine, it made up for in interesting plants. We admired all sorts of boggy wonders on the day and even saw Round-leaved Wintergreen Pyrola rotundifolia and two very impressive patches of Variegated Horsetail Equisetum variegatum. We practised our berry foraging skills along the way, munching on bilberries, raspberries and blackberries.

"Most importantly I want to thank all those who have taken the time to come along to any of the Dublin BSBI outings; I hope you had a fabulous time! Anyone interested in coming to one of our future events, please email dublinbsbi@gmail.com to be added to our list".

Thanks Cliona - now that you have two botany meetings under your belt as leader, there will be no stopping you!

Friday, 7 September 2018

Hunting urban plants in Strathpeffer

Recording urban wall plants
Image: M. Dean
You'll be well aware that BSBI botanists have been out recording this year in the run-up to Atlas 2020 but did you know that our members also contribute plant records to other projects? There's the National Plant Monitoring Scheme of course, in which BSBI is a partner. You can find out more about what NPMS surveyors have been recording this year in the latest NPMS newsletter which has just been published. 

But maybe you weren't aware that BSBI members in Scotland have also been contributing to projects run by the Botanical Society of Scotland (BSS), such as the Urban Flora of Scotland project.

Lancashire-based botanist Mary Dean has been in touch to tell me about the field meeting  in late June which she co-led with Brian Ballinger, County Recorder for Easter Ross. The meeting was a joint BSBI/ BSS meeting and it was held in Strathpeffer, an attractive and popular small spa town. As well as recording for Atlas 2020, the plan was to record for the Urban Flora Project. 

Recording in a dried-up lochan
Image: M. Dean
So they ventured into the lochs and woodland outside the town to try and update records for Corallorhiza trifida (Coralroot Orchid) and Pyrola and Orthilia species (Wintergreens). They also hunted in the town itself for urban species that had been recorded in the past, such as Thalictrum minus (Lesser Meadow-rue), Dactylorhiza maculata (Heath Spotted-orchid) and various neophytes.

The final species list hasn't been published yet but highlights will appear in the next BSBI Yearbook (which is sent out to all BSBI members) and in Brian's annual report on the Easter Ross webpage, alongside useful local resources such as a Rare Plant Register, a list of plants on walls in Easter Ross, a list of local epiphytes, a Graveyard Flora of the county and a Flora of Far North Railway Stations.

Friday, 31 August 2018

Autumn treats for botanists

Whether you'll be in the UK or in Ireland this autumn, we have two lovely indoor meetings for you!

Rory and some of the gang at the
2017 Irish Autumn Meeting
Image: M. Long
For botanists who will be in Ireland on 22nd September, the BSBI Ireland Autumn Meeting 2018 (including Irish AGM) is taking place at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin. Irish Officer Maria Long tells me that "the plan for the day includes a talk by Úna FitzPatrick on the pilot ‘Rare plant monitoring scheme’ run by the National Biodiversity Data Centre, a report back on the Charophyte Workshops run earlier this year, a session by Paul Green entitled ‘Atriplex around the Irish coast’, and lots more". 

The event is aimed at everyone who wants to know more about wild flowers in Ireland, regardless of whether they're a botanical expert or a BSBI member. It runs from 10am to 5pm, it's free and booking is not required, so head over to the new Irish Autumn Meeting webpage to find out more. 

Vegetative ID session with John Poland
at the 2016 BSBI Recorders' Conference
Image: R. Mabbutt
For botanists who will be in Britain between 12th and 14th October, the 2018 BSBI Recorders' Conference is taking place at FSC Preston Montford. This event is residential (so not free, sorry!) and it's aimed at active recorders (whether advanced botanists or just starting out with recording). 

There’s a selection of 13 different workshops or drop-in sessions to choose from on subjects such as recording docks, brambles, oraches and firs, and there are sessions on dandelion and grass ID for beginners; there are 11 talks, ranging from Tim Rich & Andy McVeigh on new Gentianaceae taxa to Geoffrey Hall on ‘citizen science and the recorder’ to Pete Stroh on 'Atlas 2020: the final countdown'. 

There’s a field trip on the final day with John Poland to road-test his new Twig Key, and of course there will be Summerfield Books’ pop-up shop to browse and lots of networking opportunities. To find out more and to book your space, head to the Recorders Conference page

We like to think that we offer botanists a range of indoor and outdoor meetings to suit all tastes, wherever you live across Britain and Ireland. But if you're sitting at home thinking "Why oh why do they never have meetings in my area to help me ID my favourite group of plants" - email us and we'll see what we can do! BSBI's Meetings & Communications Committee meets next month to plan next year's programme so we're keen to hear your suggestions.  

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Flora of Great Britain and Ireland: special offer for BSBI members

We were delighted to receive this note from Philip Oswald:

"The last of the five volumes of Peter Sell’s and his long-term colleague Gina Murrell’s Flora of Great Britain and Ireland was published by Cambridge University Press on 12 April this year, the culmination of over 30 years of dedicated labour based on the Cambridge University Herbarium (CGE), where Peter was employed from 1944 till 1997 and continued to work after his retirement; when he died in 2013 a small team of his friends undertook to see the last two volumes through the press.

"This definitive Flora provides detailed accounts of the native species, naturalised species, frequent garden escapes and casuals found in Britain and Ireland, including some newly described ones. 

Gina Murrell delivers her address at this year's
event celebrating the publication of the
final volume of Sell & Murrell's Flora.
Image: P. Oswald
"Full keys and descriptions enable the user to name all plants occurring in the wild and some ornamental trees and shrubs. For the first time, accounts of all the large apomictic genera are included. 

"Each species entry begins with the accepted Latin name, synonyms and English name. A detailed description follows, with the flowering period and chromosome number. Separate descriptions are provided for infraspecific taxa and many hybrids. 

"The status, ecology and distribution (including worldwide distribution) of the taxa are also given. 

Martin (son of Max) Walters &
BSBI Membership Secretary Gwynn
Ellis at the celebratory event,
Cambridge, June 2018
Image: P Oswald
"Black and white line drawings illustrate an extensive glossary and illuminate the diagnostic features in several genera. 

"Volume 1 includes historical and taxonomic introductions to the whole project and a combined index of accepted names and selected synonyms of families and genera in all five volumes. 

"Katrina Halliday of Cambridge University Press and Lauren Gardiner of the Cambridge University Herbarium organised a celebration of the publication of the final volume of the Flora of Great Britain and Ireland on 28 June 2018, at which Gina thanked all those responsible and outlined the history of the project. 

"The text of her address has been added to the tributes to Peter delivered at the event to celebrate his life on 18 July 2014, which are on the BSBI website's Obituaries page.

"With the approval of Cambridge University Press, Gina Murrell and Peter Sell’s son Tim Sell, Peter’s fascinating discussion of variation on pages xxxiv–liii of Volume 1, with many examples from his unique first-hand experience over many years, is available as a downloadable pdf from the BSBI website: click on Variation in Sell & Murrell’s Flora

Gina Murrell and Peter Sell in
the Herbarium, Cambridge, 2011
Image: P. Oswald
"Publication dates are as follows: Volume 1 – 12 April 2018; Volume 2 – 18 December 2014; Volume 3 – 12 February 2009; Volume 4 – 6 April 2006; Volume 5 – 10 April 1997.

"BSBI Members can receive 20% off all five volumes of Sell & Murrell’s Flora. When ordering go to www.cambridge.org/flora and enter FLORA at the checkout".

Many thanks to Philip for this note and for arranging the 20% discount for BSBI members.

Monday, 27 August 2018

Scots Pine: in history and in Byron's Gin

Scots Pine
Image courtesy of John Crellin/ Floral Images
Ancient pollen deposits suggest that Scots Pine is native to north-west Scotland (north of the Highland Boundary Fault) and forests of this beautiful tree once covered much of the Highlands.

Flora Celtica tells us that "the deteriorating climate, from the Mesolithic era onwards, did much to favour the development of bogs at the expense of pine forests from around 9000BC". The next impact on the forests occurred from the C17th onwards, as human populations increased and pines were increasingly felled for timber and transported southwards. Huge numbers of logs could be floated down rivers such as the Dee and the Spey when they were in winter spate. Once the timber reached the Central Belt, it was used to make cladding for houses, for furniture and for naval uses (oars, masts, spars and bowsprits).

Other parts of the pine trees were also used: split roots were used as tapers (candles) in poorer homes and to make creels (for lobsters, or for carrying seaweed up from the beach to spread on the fields). 

Scots Pine: female flower
Image courtesy of John
 Crellin/ Floral Images
Resin from the bark was also used as a medicine, mixed with beeswax and hog's lard to make poultices for sores. Pine oil is still used as an antiseptic today, for example in aromatherapy.

Today, native pinewoods cover only around 17,000 hectares in Scotland - this is believed to be only around 1% of the area originally covered. The tree is however widely planted in areas outwith its native range, and now extends from southern Spain northwards to Scandinavia, and from Scotland eastwards to Siberia. This BSBI distribution map shows where our members have recorded Scots Pine across Britain and Ireland.

Scots Pine has also been used since the 18th century to flavour beers and now small amounts of it are used in the award-winning Byron's Gin: Melancholy Thistle, along with other botanicals, such as Sweet vernal-grass, Rowan, Aspen, Downy Birch and Juniper, which grow in the grounds of Speyside Distillery and environs. 

If you want to identify Scots Pine when you are out walking: all pines have needle-like leaves grouped together in clusters of 2, 3 or 5. On Scots pine there are just 2 leaves in a cluster and they don't exceed 10cm (longer than that and you probably have Corsican Pine rather than Scots Pine). The bark on Scots Pine can also have a distinctive pinkish tinge to it which should help you identify it. 

And once you get home from your walk, you can enjoy a glass of Byron's Gin happy in the knowledge that for every bottle sold, a contribution is made by Speyside Distillery towards BSBI's training programme so that we can help more people learn to identify wild flowers, including aquatics, grasses and Scottish orchidsferns and trees. 

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Oxfordshire's Threatened Plants

Today's guest blogpost is by David Morris, the County Recorder for Oxfordshire, about a rather important book launch he attended last month. 

Over to David:

"This summer saw the publication of over ten years work on the Rare Plant Register for Oxfordshire, adding one more to the ever increasing collection of these invaluable documents. 

"Published by Pisces Press, Oxfordshire’s Threatened Plants departs from some other county Rare Plant Registers in covering the modern administrative county, i.e. the vice county of Oxfordshire (VC 23), the Vale of White Horse (known locally as Occupied Berkshire, VC 22) and tiny areas of some other neighbouring vice counties.

Parnassia palustris, lost from
several fens in the county
Image: D. Morris
"The book charts the fortunes of 274 studied species, around a third of the county’s natives. 

"Based on records of nationally or locally rare and scarce species gathered up to around 2012 when field work for the project ended, the book describes the ravages of the twentieth century on our indigenous flora. 

"While a small number of species studied are not doing so badly as first thought, most have fared rather less well, with more than fifty considered to have become extinct, around ten per decade between the 1970s and ‘90s.

"Oxfordshire’s Threatened Plants goes beyond a mere list of plants, however, providing some ecological analysis of the carnage. 

Another loser: the formerly rich
flora of Oxon's waterways, hanging
on at places such as Otmoor
Image: D. Morris
"Unsurprisingly, the losses are concentrated among stress-tolerating species, such as many arable plants and those of low-nutrient habitats such as fens. 

"Many also demand suitable grazing or other management, which it is increasingly difficult to provide except by dedicated volunteer work. These trends are lucidly described and illustrated in the book.

"All is not gloomy, however. Fortunately, a small number of the plants listed in the book as having lost out in modernity’s race to the bottom have been rediscovered in Oxon recently. 

"These brilliant records, such as Potamogeton nodosus (Loddon pondweed), are described on my blog with much fanfare. 

"The book also highlights the critical work of the Oxfordshire Flora Group and Wychwood Flora Group in staving off extinction of our most important and threatened plants, several of which grow almost nowhere else in these islands.

Apium repens
Image: J. A. Webb 
"As a final thought, if the efforts of Oxon’s plant conservationists come to nothing and in fifty years the situation in the county is even more dire, then at least there is now a colourful and boldly worded document out there in the public domain to say ‘we told you so and tried to do something about it’. 

"Please buy a copy and support this work".

Many thanks to David for telling us about this new publication and about the threatened plants in his county. See also Threatened Plants in Britain and Ireland by Kevin Walker, Pete Stroh and Bob Ellis, published late last year and recently reprinted due to popular demand.