Thursday, 18 May 2023

Getting started with wild flower families

Attendees at one of Faith Anstey's
wildflower ID workshops
When you are starting out with wildflower identification, knowing which family your plant belongs to can save you a huge amount of time. Working through an ID book from the very beginning can be both time-consuming and daunting - so many new botanical terms to learn! 

Life is much easier if you can go straight to the right family and start keying out from there. But how can you be sure that you've identified the right family?

To solve this problem, BSBI has teamed up with Plantlife Scotland to provide two 'Identifying Wild Flower Families' workshops this summer, the first in Edinburgh in June and a second in Strathspey in July. Each workshop costs only £20 for BSBI members and full-time students (£40 for non-students and non-members) and included in the price are two essential pieces of kit: a handlens to help you see those essential plant characters; and a copy of Faith Anstey's Pocket Guide to Wildflower Families.   

Faith has a proven track record in running very popular wild flower family workshops for BSBI. As she says: "Identifying wild flowers is as easy as FFF – Finding the Family First. In our workshops, expert tutors give you hands-on ID experience in small groups. Learn what points to look for, conquer your fear of keys and follow a flowchart to 50 wildflower families – as many as 500 different species will soon be at your fingertips".

To book for one of these workshops, please visit the BSBI Ticket Tailor page - there are still some spaces left but hurry to be sure of a place, and learn to identify wild flower families with confidence!

Monday, 15 May 2023

Invasives Week: Plants of Concern

American Skunk-cabbage:
this invasive non-native is on the increase
Image: K. Walker
Every year, organisations across Britain and Ireland come together to raise awareness of the impacts of invasive non-native species, and the simple things we can all do to help protect the environment. 

This year's Invasive Species Week runs from 15th to 21st May, and here are three ways that you can get involved.

1. Book for this talk by Dr Oli Pescott from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, about some of the non-native plants recorded for the recently-published BSBI Plant Atlas. Did you know that of the 3,495 species recorded, only 1,692 were native to Britain & Ireland? So for the first time, we have more non-native than native species on these islands! If you want to check if a plant is native or not, just look it up on our Plant Atlas website, where you will also be able to find out if the plant is on the increase or in decline (and the reasons why). Also check out the Atlas summaries (free to download by following the links on this page) to read about how our flora is changing and which species are very much on the increase.

Floating pennywort:
clogs up waterways; a huge amount of money
is spent trying to eradicate this invasive non-native
Image: Crown copyright 2009 

2. While some non-native species are invasive, the majority are benign and many of those non-natives are actually important for pollinators and other wildlife; some of our native species can also prove invasive - there isn't a clear-cut message of 'native good, alien bad'. That's why resources like Plant Atlas 2020 are so important, helping us all to drill down and find out more. 

But for next Sunday's Wild Flower Hour on social media, the focus is very much on those non-natives that are proving problematic. Why not join us at 8pm on Sunday 21st May, to see images of those problem plants? And keep an eye on the #INNSweek hashtag for more info.

3. Check out this 'What Can I Do' page for lots of helpful info about invasive non-native species: what they are, how they are spread, and what action is being taken to reduce their impacts. You'll also find lots of tips on how we can all make sure that we don't inadvertently contribute to the spread of invasive plants. By following the 'Five Simple Things I Can Do', we can all make sure that we are part of the solution rather than part of the problem!

Tuesday, 14 February 2023

British & Irish Botany: issue 5.1 published

Eric Greenwood recording
Dipsacus laciniatus at Bidston Marsh
on the Wirral Peninsula
Image: B. D. Greenwood
We've just published the first issue of volume 5 of British & Irish Botany, our Open Access online scientific journal: another varied feast of contributions, encompassing vegetation dynamics, dispersal ecology, botanical history, ethnobotany and systematics.

The latest issue kicks off with two papers about the plants of particular habitats. First, the late Michael Prosser et al. discuss how phytosociology informs the conservation of species-rich meadows in hydrologically dynamic habitats, and how an example from British floodplains could help inform the debate around this subject in a wider European context. Following Michael's death, the paper has been completed by Michael's co-authors, Hilary Wallace and David Gowing, and is published as a tribute to one of Britain's most assiduous and most able phytosociologists.

Then we have a final paper from the late Eric Greenwood, who sadly died late last year, having just submitted his comprehensive analysis of changes to the coastal flora of the Wirral peninsula on Merseyside. Eric's wife Barbara worked with us to bring this paper to publication and we extend to her our thanks and our condolences. Eric had been an active BSBI member for 59 years and was made an Honorary Member in recognition of his many years of service to the Society. His obituary will be published in a future issue of BSBI News and on our obituaries webpage

Centaurea debauxii
Image: C. Skilbeck
Our next two papers focus on seeds and their dispersal: the first record from a NW European shore of the seed of the pan-tropical Yellow Water Pea; and a discussion on achene dispersal in British and Irish Knapweeds Centaurea.

British & Irish Botany also publishes papers on subjects such as historical botany and uses of plants by humans, and we have two examples for you in this latest issue: Chris Preston and David Pearman discuss C17th botanist Edward Lhwyd and the plants listed from Glamorgan in Camden's 'Britannia', while Michael Braithwaite considers whether the distribution patterns of plants used by humans as food can provide us with any clues as to whether those plants are native or introducedFind out more about the subjects covered in the journal on this page

Broad-leaved Helleborine
recorded in Northumberland; 
note the purple discolouration to the pedicel
Image: J. Richards

We close this issue with a paper proposing a botanical name for a well-known Hylotelephium (Sedum) and a note postulating that pedicel colour does not separate Dune Helleborine from Lindisfarne Helleborine. 

We hope that all our readers will find something of interest in this latest issue and would encourage submissions; here are the submission guidelines and if you are unsure whether or not your manuscript meets our criteria, you can always contact the Editorial Team at for an informal chat. 

Meanwhile, we hope that you enjoy reading British & Irish Botany 5.1.

Monday, 13 February 2023

Interview with Matt Harding, BSBI Scotland Officer

Matt at Lees Hill, Stirling
Image courtesy of M. Harding
In December Jim McIntosh, BSBI’s long-standing Scotland Officer, retired and the hunt was on to find a replacement. Those were very big shoes to fill but after a long and rigorous interview process, we appointed Matt Harding to join BSBI's small staff team. Matt has hit the ground running, but I managed to catch up with him recently for this interview:

LM: So Matt, welcome to the BSBI staff team! Some readers will already know your name as BSBI’s joint County Recorder for Stirlingshire. When did you join Philip Sansum in that role?

MH: I joined Phil as joint County Recorder for Stirlingshire in 2018. I began recording regularly in Stirlingshire for the Atlas 2020 project and was blown away by how much botanical exploring there was still to do, even in a relatively accessible vice-county. Perhaps botanists have tended to drive through Stirlingshire, drawn by the montane delights of Ben Lawers and other famous botanical hotspots to the north!

Matt at a BSBI field meeting in Ullapool, 2014
Image courtesy of M. Harding

Becoming a joint County Recorder, using the BSBI Distribution Database to help target my recording, and working on the Plant Atlas 2020 project was a great journey in itself. Since 2020, I’ve begun work on the first Rare Plant Register for the vice-county, which has been a fantastic way to get to know the area better, and has turned up all kinds of exciting local records and new species. 

I’ve also started a local botany group, sharing a seasonal newsletter summing up recording activities to our BSBI Stirlingshire webpage, and am hoping to get a programme of regular meets up and running in 2023.

LM: Sounds like you're really getting to grips with the plants of your vice-county - a perfect grounding for a Country Officer! So could you tell us a bit about yourself, Matt? When did you first get interested in botany/ ecology? 

Matt and Lizard Orchids on Jersey
Image courtesy of M. Harding
MH: With a dad who was a keen hillwalker and fell-runner, and a mum who was a biology teacher and amateur botanist since her teenage years, I was always going to be a keen naturalist! I graduated from a childhood love of dinosaurs to a passion for birding, which my poor parents supported despite pre-dawn starts and the dreaded LBJs (little brown jobs) – not without some justified grumbling, at least in my dad’s case! We spent many of our holidays in Scotland, where all our interests intersected with mountains, birds and flora galore. One of my earliest botanical memories is lying in a bog somewhere near Achiltibuie looking at sundews with my mum.

LM: Ooh that sounds fabulous! So what happened as you grew up, and kept developing your interest in the natural world and building up your skills? 

MH: After university I worked for the RSPB on short-term survey contracts for a few years, did a Masters in Environmental Philosophy and trained as a secondary school science teacher. In 2011 I moved to Scotland to join a renewable energy consultancy and became an ecological consultant, and this gave me the opportunity to develop my botanical skills. After a few years I set up as an independent ecologist, and have been traipsing around Scotland for the last eight years doing habitat surveys, hunting for mammal poo and sitting on hillsides in all weathers watching birds (or not, as the case may be).

Matt and members of the HWDT survey team,
cetacean surveying in the Hebrides
Image courtesy of the Hebridean Whale &
Dolphin Trust

LM: I bet you spotted some great plants while you were hunting for poo and looking out for birds, and not just in Scotland: I gather that you love climbing, mountaineering and trekking in fabulous places such as Greenland and the Canadian Rockies, as well as in Scotland’s mountain ranges? You must have seen some amazing plants and other wildlife in your travels?

MH: Yes, mountaineering has taken me to some terrific places and given me some wonderful experiences. Although I must confess that I’ve not always been on the lookout for plants at the same time, being a bit preoccupied with clinging on! One trip that really stands out was an expedition to East Greenland – landing on a glacier in a ski-plane, digging tents out in a four-day snowstorm, going to the loo on skis… 

Top of the world Matt?
Aonach Eagach Ridge Traverse, 2013
Image: Steve Sharland
I was there for nearly a month and recall seeing three species – a magical moment when several Ivory Gulls appeared from nowhere to check out our camp, a small unidentified passerine flitting around a cliff face (those LBJs again), and one lichen. Not the most productive trip from a botanical perspective!

LM: Hmm, so far we've had mammal poo, trips to the loo and lots of birds... but what about the plants Matt?!

MH: Perhaps unsurprisingly, I’m particularly keen on montane flora, and really enjoy searching out plants in the Scottish mountains. After getting very excited about seeing Tufted Saxifrage Saxifraga cespitosa on the North Face of Ben Nevis, I was amused to find it growing in pavement cracks in north-west Iceland, with Alpine Bartsia Bartsia alpina also at road level there!

Matt debates the wisdon of climbing
The Chasm, Glencoe
Image: Tim Elsom

LM: I think that finding plants that are rare, or restricted to certain habitats, in one region, but behave quite differently in another, is one of the delights of field botany, as many participants in BSBI field meetings across Britain and Ireland have discovered! And those Ben Nevis plants are quite something, as your predecessor Jim reported in 2021.  

MH: My partner Liz is also a keen traveller, although generally drawn to warmer climates than I! Some of our standout moments include seeing baobabs and the spiny forests in Madagascar (complete with lemurs and incredible birds), exploring the fynbos around Table Mountain in South Africa, coming face-to-face with an Ethiopian Wolf in the remarkable Afroalpine landscape in Ethiopia, and being dazzled by hummingbirds in Costa Rica. But nothing comes close to re-finding Great Lettuce Lactuca virosa in Stirlingshire after 125 years (obviously).

Baobabs in Madagascar, 2014
Image courtsey of M. Harding

LM: Ah, now you're talking! Great Lettuce may not raise many eyebrows if you're based in eastern England, as this BSBI distribution map shows, but to anybody in Wales, Ireland or much of Scotland, coming face-to-face with Great Lettuce would be very exciting! And arguably less scary than an Ethiopian Wolf...   

What were you doing immediately before you joined us, Matt? 

MH: I was working on a range of projects across Scotland, including native woodland creation schemes and renewable energy developments, doing ecological surveys. However, after eleven years the appeal of getting up at 2am and traipsing around looking for Black Grouse every spring was on the wane, and since becoming a dad long stints away from home were starting to be less attractive. I spent a couple of brilliant days with the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Cumbernauld Living Landscapes Project, leading botanical walks for their terrific volunteer group, and began to wonder whether there was a job out there that combined botanical recording, engaging with other people who were passionate about the natural world around them, and helping to train the next generation of naturalists. And just then, Jim announced his impending retirement…

LM: So, perfect timing and a perfect opportunity for you to transfer the skills and experience you’ve built up as an ecologist to your new role at BSBI. What are your priorities for the next few months?

Enduring sub-optimal birding conditions
Image courtsey of M. Harding

MH: Firstly, getting to know the amazing network of volunteers we have here in Scotland! One of the few positives to come out of the national lockdown was that we are all so much better at meeting up with each other virtually, and it would be great to use the technology to chat to as many County Recorders as possible over the next few months, to find out more about their vice-counties and the brilliant work they do.

Secondly, the Atlas! After so much effort over so many years, I’m sure that everyone is just as excited as I am to finally see the result of this phenomenal project. The main Plant Atlas 2020 launch event will be online on 8th March, but we will be holding a face-to-face Scotland launch event on the evening of 9th March at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, to promote the Atlas to policy-makers and journalists and to make sure they understand about the huge contribution of all our members and supporters who worked so hard to bring this remarkable project to fruition. 

Matt and the Maidenhair Ferns,
southern England, 2019
Image courtesy of M. Harding


LM: Yes, that is absolutely key in all our promotions around the Atlas, flagging the thousands of recorders who went out in all weathers to collect the millions of records that fed into the Atlas. Without them, there would be no Atlas to promote! After the Atlas is well and truly launched, what will your next focus be?

MH: 2023 will be the third and final year of the Scotland HectAd Rare Plants Project (SHARPP for short), and another priority for me will be encouraging recorders to search out populations of these special and threatened species that managed to slip through the net of Atlas 2020 recording. I caught the SHARPP bug last year when hunting down old Stirlingshire records, and a trip up Ben Lomond had me punching the air when I spotted a population of Hoary Whitlowgrass Draba incana tucked away in a deep cleft, last recorded in 1968! Inevitably some searches end in disappointment, but one of the strengths of the project is that null recording is built in. In some ways it is as important to know that a rare plant population has been lost as it is to re-find it.

LM: I couldn't agree more! And I know you are also passionate about botanical training and have worked with the amazing Faith Anstey on her plant family ID courses, so is that something you plan to do more of?

MH: Absolutely! The Scottish field meetings programme is looking great for 2023 – we are truly fortunate to have so many botanists willing to reach out and share their knowledge and experience with others. I’ve joined Faith on some of her plant ID courses as a tutor in the past, and hope to again, and I know just what great work she and the other members of the BSBI Scotland Outreach Committee do to support and train people taking the first/next steps in their botanical careers.

Matt with the BSBI Stirlingshire Saltmarsh Team
Image: Roy Sexton

LM: I agree, I'm one of Faith's biggest fans, her books are a great way to get started with plant ID. What about longer term? What goals would you like to have achieved by the end of the year? 

MH: On the subject of botanical training, I’m really looking forward to working with Chantal Helm, the BSBI’s new Training Coordinator, to help support and develop the Identiplant course here in Scotland, and hopefully in time the Field Identification Skills Certificate as well.

LM: Great, I'm planning to interview Chantal very soon, so readers will be able to find out more about her and her plans. What else? 

MH: We currently have Rare Plant Registers for a little under half of Scottish vice-counties, but I’ve been excited to discover that several recorders have been working away at them, and am really looking forward to seeing the results. Helping recorders to get started with projects like Vice-county Checklists or Rare Plant Registers is something I’d like to prioritise over the longer term, and I know from personal experience that it is a great way to get to know your vice-county better. If you’re thinking about taking on one of these projects then please get in touch.

LM: Great, sounds like you are going to be really busy! Is there anything else? 

Selfie taken while bog restoration
monitoring in central Scotland, 2022
Image courtesy of M. Harding 

MH: Yes! The Scottish Botanists’ Conference is a super day that brings together the Scottish botanical community. The standard has been set phenomenally high in previous years, and I’m looking forward to taking it on and, hopefully, delivering a great event this November!

LM: Really, really busy... Jim set that particular bar very high indeed, so you have your work cut out for you there Mr Harding! But you'll have the wonderful Committee for Scotland and all your colleagues ready to help you! Meanwhile, if people have questions about the Conference, about Scotland’s wild flowers, or if they are thinking of tackling a Rare Plant Register, can they email you? And follow you on social media?

MH: Of course, I’d be delighted to hear from them! You can email me at, and follow me on Twitter at @BSBIScotland.

LM: Well good luck Matt, keep us posted on how you’re getting on and once again – welcome to the BSBI staff team!

MH: Thanks!

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!