Sunday, 6 January 2019

New Year Plant Hunt 2018-9: Day Four

This year's New Year Plant Hunt is now over and it has been a real record-breaker! 

Thousands of you took part, from Stromness on Orkney to Guernsey, Jersey and Alderney in the Channel Islands; from Bayfield in north Norfolk to Three Castle Head in south-west Ireland, from St. Margaret's Bay, Kent to the Isle of Doagh off the coast of Donegal. 

You submitted more than 14,000 records and told us about 638 species that you had spotted in bloom. 

It has been astonishing watching all the red markers appearing on the Results map and seeing all the photos and comments across social media. This year, more of you than ever before seem to have opted to go out in groups, either small groups of family and friends or larger organised recording groups, so the Hunt has been a very social occasion. 

The photo above shows recorders at Glengarriff Woods Nature Reserve in west Cork and some of the flowers they spotted. This is the sixth year that there has been a New Year Plant Hunt at  Glengarriff, organised by County Recorder Clare Heardman (who took the photo) and people always seem to have a great time!

Members of recording groups such as the Cumbria Botany Group and the Darlington & Teesdale Naturalists' Field Club have been out, both en masse and individually, and have submitted multiple short lists while the Devonshire Association Botany Group went out just once but notched up an impressive 88 species in bloom during their Hunt in Goodrington.  

On Day Four of the Hunt, we saw some interesting and/ or unexpected plants, especially in southern England, such as fiddle-neck Amsinckia micrantha, spotted in bloom in East Hants. by Cathy Wilson (above left). In Sidmouth, Karen Woolley was surprised to find meadow crane's-bill, Geranium pratense (on right), blooming on a road-verge. 

Tom Forward and friends spotted small scabious blooming on Malling Down and Kelli Imms found Bacopa Sutera cordata, a garden plant originating from south Africa, blooming in Worthing. It isn't frost-hardy, so is unlikely to naturalise, but it was interesting to hear of it growing as a casual.


In Cambridge, ace botanist Chris Preston recorded Chinese mallow, Malva verticillata (on left), while over in Co. Wexford, Paula O'Meara found dwarf mallow Malva neglecta (below right) blooming in Belview Port. The last record for the county was in Kilkenny more than 50 years ago! 

Paula tells us that the security guard at the site came out to speak to her as she was leaving but rather than telling her off , he said that he'd realised what she was up to and did she have the app? The fame of the New Year Plant Hunt is obviously spreading far and wide! But now that the Hunt is over for another year, and while we are waiting for Kevin Walker, BSBI Head of Science, to analyse the results (his analysis is due out here on 29th January) what other botanical treats can we look forward to? 

Well here are a few things for you to consider: 


If you are new to plant-hunting, have you checked out our 20 Helpful Hints to help you get started in botany? They include things like a review of wildflower ID books in print, support available on social media, and much more.

For the next step, how about the National Plant Monitoring Scheme: it's fun to do, it provides valuable data about how our plants and habitats are changing, and there is lots of support available (training meetings and videos, local mentors, a free ID book). 


Mary from the NYPH Support Team,
out hunting on the 4th and final day of the Hunt
with the Cumbria Botany Group
If you haven't already registered, please take a look here for some background and then head over here to find out if there's a square available near you. 

If you feel ready to undertake a training course to sharpen up your ID skills, check out the BSBI Training page with links to all the courses we know of and a range of training grants of up to £250 to help you pay for them.

And if you're already an experienced botanist, maybe undertaking research, the Training page also has details of Plant Study Grants and Science & Research grants to apply for. 

So whatever your skill level, there will be some botanical treats for you to explore this month. Meanwhile all of us on the New Year Plant Hunt Support Team - Brian, Ciara, Ellen, Ian, Kevin, me (Louise), Mary, Natalie and especially Tom our technical whizz-kid - would like to thank you for making this year's Hunt the most successful ever - THANK YOU! 

Monday, 31 December 2018

New Year Plant Hunt 2018-9: Day Three

Day Three of BSBI's New Year Plant Hunt and the records keep coming in, with plant-lovers of all ages and skill levels taking part. 

Yesterday we shared a photo of young Alistair helping Daddy find plants in Epping Forest and today we have seen Joshua's children enjoying a little plant-hunting from the comfort of their push-chairs, while Roisin doesn't let the fact that she is still in a baby-sling (see image on right) stop her from helping Daddy Ciaran with those tricky plant IDs. 

They both managed to find dame's-violet in bloom in Bunclody, Co. Wexford today (see image below).  

As well as plant records, we've seen a couple of other records today - unless you can top them?

We also had some records sent in from Thurso, just about the most northerly point on the UK mainland. 

Mind you we haven't had any records in yet from Orkney or Shetland! 

First we have a contender for the highest plant seen during the Hunt. 

Take a look at the ivy-leaved toadflax which Martine Brennan spotted on the walls of Aghaboe Abbey, Co. Laois

Can you find a higher plant in bloom?

We have however seen a few records today of invasive plants. 

Sarah Sells, a student on the MSc Biodiversity and Taxonomy of Plants course at RBG Edinburgh, spotted pirri-pirri burr in Berwick-upon-Tweed.

In Castletownbere, in the south-west corner of Ireland, County Recorder Clare Heardman found the invasive three-cornered leek in bloom (image on the right); and there have been multiple records across Britain and Ireland of green alkanet, which can also be a bit of a thug. 

Fortunately we haven't received any records of the EU's six 'species of Union concern' in bloom - some of them tend to spread vegetatively - but if you spot any invasive species it's worth checking if your County Recorder knows about them.  

Lots of people have said how much they enjoy taking part in the New Year Plant Hunt, especially if they are visiting friends and family in other parts of the country and take a few hours out to go plant-hunting. 

BSBI Head of Science Kevin Walker and his family went plant hunting at Fen Drayton. They only managed to see 19 species in bloom, including charlock (on left) but they did see pochard, scarce in Yorkshire where Kevin is based. 

Geoffrey Hall, County Recorder for Leicestershire & Rutland, was in south London and joined a Hunt led by Roy Vickery to Brockwell Park. They saw hoary mustard Hirschfeldia incana (image on  right), a species which Geoffrey doesn't tend to see on his home patch. 

Check out this BSBI distribution map to find out where this plant has been recorded. It seems to like big cities, especially London and Manchester, and south Wales. 

Remember a few years ago when Gus Routledge got the Plant Hunt bug and did five Hunts in four days in the Edinburgh area? And James Faulconbridge who plant-hunted in five locations from Devon to Lincolnshire over the course of four days in 2016? 

This year it's Richard Mabbutt who has got the bug really badly! He was hunting in Leicester on Saturday, on Sunday he was in Northants with Brian Laney and his team (see photo on left, taken by Jo Gamble), today he was in Lincolnshire with Sarah Lambert's team and - unless he conks out! - tomorrow he'll be out hunting in Nottinghamshire with Jerry Clough

That's dedication for you!  

Many plant hunters apologise for not seeing many species in bloom but as we've said before, it's just as important to know what isn't flowering than what is flowering. 

I was all set to sympathise with Steve Trotter, CEO of Cumbria Wildlife Trust, who only found one plant in bloom, until I saw where he was - on Lindisfarne, with St. Cuthbert's Island in the distance. I think the fabulous view (see image below right) more than compensates for the paucity of plants in bloom!

So tomorrow is the fourth and final day of the 2018-9 Hunt and there are quite a few group hunts happening

We'll look forward to seeing what you all find and which species you can add to the current tally of 430 species spotted in bloom

Meanwhile we'd like to wish you all a very Happy New Year and thank you for all you've done to support British and Irish botany during 2018. 

Sunday, 30 December 2018

New Year Plant Hunt 2018-9: Day Two

Alistair points out a white dead-nettle
Image: C. Pinches
Day Two of the BSBI New Year Plant Hunt: the weather seems to have stayed fair across much of Britain and Ireland, as it did for Day One. People have been out plant-hunting on their own, with family and friends or with organised groups of botanical recorders

The Hunt has also been appealing to all ages - I've seen records coming in from people in their 80s as well as plant-lovers at the other end of the age spectrum. The photo on the right shows Alistair helping Daddy (who happens to be BSBI's Head of Science!) to find and identify plants in Epping Forest. Great work Alistair!

The New Year Plant Hunt interactive Results map is beginning to fill up nicely, with red markers wherever botanists have been recording and some long lists, and most people are finding the online recording form easy to use (if they hit any problems, members of the Support Team are on hand to help!)

As well as the big islands of Britain and Ireland, we are seeing some nice records from our  smaller islands: salmonberry, bilberry and trailing St. John's-wort are blooming on the Isle of Arran; recorders on the Isle of Wight spotted 54 species including hoary stock, seaside daisy, (naturalised) rosemary, hedge woundwort, purple viper's-bugloss and nasturtium; heather and western gorse were flowering on the Isle of Man; while Anne and her team on Jersey recorded 55 species including sweet violet, Mexican fleabane, corn spurrey, small nettle, navelwort and rescue brome, as well as sea mayweed, which was also spotted in bloom along the south coast of England!


Sweet violet, this patch spotted by Jamie
Warren in Gloucestershire yesterday
Image: J. Warren
It's also important to know where there are very few plants in bloom, so alongside the long lists we were glad to hear from Ian Green near Elgin (north-east Scotland) where he spotted just five species flowering: red dead-nettle, gorse, daisy, common field-speedwell and annual meadow-grass.

Over on Scotland's milder west coast, BSBI Scottish Officer Jim McIntosh found 24 taxa in bloom in Fort William, including sea mayweed which was also recorded in the Aberystwyth area, where Arthur Chater (formerly the County Recorder for Cardiganshire) found 66 species in bloom including field woundwort, sea stork's-bill, weld, common hemp-nettle and two fumitories (tall and Boreau's ramping-fumitory).


Fay, Chloe & co found Aberystwyth train station
surprisingly fruitful - 31 species in flower!
Image: Chloe Griffiths 
 
Sea mayweed was also one of 74 taxa recorded in flower by Somerset Rare Plants Group, including tall melilot, seaside daisy, lesser chickweed and the invasive three-cornered garlic (which I saw in leaf, but still weeks away from flowering, in Leicester during a Plant Hunt there yesterday).

Proximity to the coast, especially the west coast, where the sea makes frosts much less likely than further inland, can be seen to be an important factor in finding more species in flower. But over on the east coast Whitby Naturalists still had a good list with 45 species in bloom including musk-mallow, lesser sea-spurrey, alexanders and (again!) sea mayweed


Jessica's team of plant hunters out in Killarney
Image: J. Hamilton
On the south coast, recorders in Storrington, West Sussex, found 63 species in flower including wild pansy, sweet vernal-grass, corn spurrey, and broad-leaved dock already in bloom! They also saw buck's-horn plantain in flower, also spotted by Dave Steere in Kent. As during last year's Hunt, Dave also found naturalised Kniphofia red-hot poker flowering, and musk stork's-bill which both Martin and Barry found in (respectively) Teesside and Yorkshire.

In Ireland too, people seem to be finding more species in bloom near the coast. Jessica Hamilton, leading a group Hunt at Muckross, Killarney, found 43 species in bloom (the same number she found last year!) including strawberry tree and common valerian, while Finbarr spotted 52 species flowering in Cork, including common ramping-fumitory, Himalayan honeysuckle, scarlet pimpernel and sticky mouse-ear. 


Navelwort blooming today in
Campile, Co. Wexford
Image: P. O'Meara
At Merlin Woods near Galway, recorders found 31 species in bloom including marsh ragwort, barren strawberry and primrose while a few miles further north in Headford, Eamonn Delaney notched up 26 species including rue-leaved saxifrage, whitlow grass and field forget-me-not. 

In Donegal, up near the northernmost tip of Ireland, Carol's list of 27 species included fuchsia, tall ramping-fumitory, common hemp-nettle and marsh thistle in flower. 

But don't go thinking that all inland sites had few plants in bloom - Paula O'Meara in Rathnure, around 20km from the coast, spotted 48 species in bloom including meadow foxtail, small toadflax, wild strawberry, Boreau's ramping-fumitory, field madder and bifid hemp-nettle and 46 more, including navelwort and long-stalked crane's-bill, in nearby Campile. We obviously need more data before we can even think of drawing any conclusions yet!


Large-flowered hemp-nettle captured today
(in windy weather!) by Rebecca Wheeler, the
driving force behind the success of
Wild Flower Hour
Image: R. Wheeler
As today was a Sunday, #NewYearPlantHunt and #wildflowerhour (where people post photos of wild or naturalised plants they've spotted in bloom during the past week) came together between 8 and 9pm across social media. 

It has been such a pleasure to watch people taking their first steps in plant-spotting with #wildflowerhour, then progressing to the New Year Plant Hunt and then looking around for training courses (and grant funding to help pay for those courses!) so they can build up their ID skills. 

And BSBI will be there to help and support them all the way!

Saturday, 29 December 2018

New Year Plant Hunt 2018-9: Day One

The first day of the four-day long BSBI New Year Plant Hunt 2018-9 is almost over so we'd like to present a summary of some highlights so far and to thank everyone who was out hunting today. 

This is the eighth year of the New Year Plant Hunt and it's become a bit of a tradition that botanists compete to record the First Flower of the Hunt, usually by torchlight shortly after midnight! 


Oisin Duffy and Mairead Crawford, County Recorders for Donegal, held the crown for three (four?) years running until Jessica Hamilton, co-ordinator of the #BSBIKerry group, stole it away from them last year with a crafty groundsel

So just after midnight, all eyes were on the west of Ireland and we weren't disappointed! Before 12.30am, Ger Scollard from Tralee, Co. Kerry, had submitted records of five plants including the winter heliotrope on the right.


VC55 group peering at a Conyza:
are those phyllaries very hairy?
Image: L. Marsh
Ger's "prize" for this feat is that he gets to offer us a guest blogpost on these pages, in which he can set out his three botanical wishes for 2019 and we'll see if we can help him make them come true - watch this space! 

This morning opened with a nice surprise, a note in The Times about the New Year Plant Hunt, encouraging people to get involved! Many thanks to journalist Jane Powers who writes the regular 'Nature Notes' column in The Times and has also promoted #wildflowerhour in her column!


Day One is usually the quietest day on the New Year Plant Hunt Support Desk so three of us took advantage of the calm before the storm and snuck out to carry out Hunts in our local areas (me, Ciara and 13 botanical friends in Leics. VC55; Brian in Northants. VC32; leaving Ellen to (wo)man the desk with only a canine companion (the adorable Marley) and a big plate of mince pies for company! 


By the time darkness fell, the VC55 group had notched up 57 taxa in bloom, Brian and his team had found 53 taxa flowering in Peterborough and Ellen was ready for a break! 

We are making sure that there is always at least one of us on the desk so if any of you need help using the online form to upload your records, or want to ask for help with an identification, there will be somebody on hand to help you. Just email nyplanthunt@bsbi.org


So what plants have been spotted today, and where?   


Charlotte Rankin in Cornwall found 38 taxa in bloom including small-flowered catchfly (above right), a great record, and Anne M. and her team found 54 taxa in bloom on the Isle of Wight.


In Kent, Dave Steere spotted some great plants including 12 new records for Atlas 2020. Dave's photos are really excellent and have featured in the BSBI Annual Review - check them out here

His haul today included both musk and common stork's-bills, sea campion, rock samphire, seaside daisy, butcher's broom, a naturalised rosemary on Folkestone beach and what we all think may be Amaranthus caudatus aka love-lies-bleeding. 

In Stroud, Gloucestershire, Jamie W. recorded sweet violet in bloom; John Mortin found a nice selection of species in Buxton, Derbyshire (above left); and up in Perthshire, our friends at Windy Hollow Farm recorded gorse in bloom (below right). 

Gorse is usually in the top 5 most frequently recorded plants every year during the Hunt

Sharon in Co. Tyrone also recorded gorse in bloom and over on Sherkin Island (Co. Cork) Clare Heardman and her team found 45 taxa in bloom - check out her composite image (at foot of page).

By the end of Day One, more than 150 plant hunters had notched up 1349 records of 242 different species in bloom - great work!

There are more group Hunts taking place tomorrow so if you haven't already arranged to go out on a Hunt in your area, why not check the list here and see if there's anything organised near you? 


But whether you're going out alone, in a group or with family and friends, we hope you have a great day and we look forward to seeing your records appear on this lovely interactive map 



 

Friday, 28 December 2018

Byron's Gin supporting BSBI's training programme: the first year

One year ago, BSBI and Speyside Distillery forged a new partnership: they launched their first artisan gin, Byron's Gin, and a contract was signed whereby for every bottle sold, a contribution would be made to BSBI's training programme. 

Over the past year, as BSBI's part of the contract, we've brought you monthly blogposts about various aspects of Byron's Gin, starting with the launch back in January

We've looked at some of the botanicals used, such as juniper, bird cherry, lady's bedstraw, Scot's pine and aspen, telling you about the folklore associated with the plants, about where they grow and how to identify them. 

We've reported on the success of Byron's Gin: the international trade awards it won back in May and again in July.

Juniper - a key ingredient in Byron's Gin
Image: P. Smith
We told you about the distillery where the gin is made and about the two men - Andy and Sandy - behind its success.

And we've reported several times on the successes of BSBI's Training Programme and how Byron's Gin has contributed to those successes

On 1st January, BSBI will open applications for its training grants here and in 2019 we will be able to support more botanists than ever, thanks to Byron's Gin.

So as we approach New Year can we ask you all to raise a glass of Byron's Gin and drink to a partnership which supports botanists across Britain and Ireland. 

Slainte!

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Volunteers ready to offer support during New Year Plant Hunt 2019 and beyond

Ellen checks a plant during
New Year Plant Hunt 2018
Image: C. Sugrue 
With only a few days to go until BSBI's eighth New Year Plant Hunt starts on Saturday 29th December, it seemed like a good time to introduce you to the volunteers who will be helping behind the scenes on the New Year Plant Hunt Support Team. Some of them also help out throughout the year, organising events and promoting BSBI in journal articles, on television, on podcasts and across social media.

Last year we introduced you to Ciara, who will be helping out again this year, as will Ellen, who tells us here about her experience of volunteering with BSBI. 

Over to Ellen:

"Last year I joined the BSBI New Year Plant Hunt (NYPH) Support Team, working with a great team to assist plant lovers and botanists (a mixture of beginners and experts) in uploading and sorting records that came flooding in. This year will be the eighth year that BSBI has held the NYPH, each year giving us a better understanding of the impact of changing weather patterns on plant flowering times throughout the UK and Ireland.

Ellen, Ciara, Brian & Louise with fellow recorders
during New Year Plant Hunt 2018 in Leicester
Image: J. Clough
"During the NYPH people go out for up to three hours (stopping the clock for tea breaks and cake stops), either alone, with family or friends, or as part of an organised group Hunt, to see what flowering plants they can find, and uploading their findings via the online recording form

"Being a part of the NYPH is an amazing way to get involved with plant lovers across the UK and Ireland. I witnessed a strong sense of community that the hunts enlist on social media, with people helping each other with tricky identifications or just sharing what they have found in their local areas. There is also a competitive edge to get the first record each year submitted, or to find more plants in bloom than friends in other counties.

Anita Rani interviews Ellen and Ciara
for BBC Countryfile
Image courtesy of A. Rani
"Volunteering with the NYPH team has led to me becoming more involved with the BSBI, and this year I was invited to join the BSBI’s Meetings & Communications Committee. I helped plan the 2018 Exhibition Meeting and Recorders’ Conference, I’ve written articles about BSBI (check out my piece in the latest issue of New Nature magazine) and in January I was interviewed on BBC Countryfile. Having these experiences has really broadened my work experience and given me a great insight into the workings of the BSBI. 

"Closer to home, I’ve been out recording with my local botany group and I became assistant tutor on the Botany for Beginners course at the University of Leicester Botanic Garden. This has built my confidence in teaching plant ID and expanded my own skills by working with experienced botanists from across the country.

"This year I am helping with the NYPH again as I found it to be such a rewarding experience that I plan to repeat for many years to come. Working with such a welcoming and helpful team has really built the experience, especially BSBI Comms Officer Louise Marsh who welcomes all new volunteers with open arms!"

Ellen demonstrates two essential skills to students
on the Botany for Beginners course:
balancing ID books on your head, and
(the important one!): making learning fun.
Image: L. Marsh
Thanks Ellen: It's true, I'm always delighted to welcome new volunteers and try to make sure they have a really enjoyable experience. 

Some volunteers are long-term BSBI members who can spare a little time and want to 'give something back' and help the next generation - there are lots of opportunities to do that. 

Others are early career botanists, and I try to match them with opportunities that will help them build up skills and - let's be perfectly honest here - will look good on their CVs! 

If you'd like to explore volunteering opportunities available to you with BSBI, why not drop me an email and let me know what would appeal to you?

Joining Ellen, Ciara and me on the NYPH Support Team this weekend are BSBI Council member Mary Dean and PhD student Natalie, both of whom will be helping with general enquiries, and Brian 'Eagle-Eyes' Laney, who will be working alongside Ian Denholm to help with tricky plant identifications. And as always BSBI's Database Officer Tom Humphrey will be handling the tech stuff and BSBI's Head of Science Kevin Walker will be analysing the results. 

Hope you all have a very Happy New Year Plant Hunt

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Christmas message 2018 from BSBI President Chris Metherell

Chris Metherell chatting to
broadcaster and conservationist
Chris Packham

Image: Andy Taylor
"Time flies past. It seems only yesterday that I wrote last Christmas's message! 

"And lots seems to have happened. Last year I mentioned that the BSBI had objected to a new golf course at Coul Links, East Sutherland. The process is still grinding its way through the system but at least it's not been finally approved yet.

"Now for the Christmas message. 

"Many members and supporters will know that I'm on a herbaria mission at the moment. 

"I've been beavering away updating the BSBI's information on these fantastically valuable resources. 

"You can see the fruits of my labours on a spreadsheet, available to view here and via the new Herbaria page on the BSBI website, where you can also find links to a range of herbarium-related resources: videos, articles, help sheets, websites...  

Chris looking at
eyebright specimens in the
 herbarium at Univ. Reading
while researching the
Eyebright Handbook
"Although there have been some closures in the last 10 years or so, not too many have been really devastating. 

"However it seems to be the loss of university herbaria which is particularly worrying. 

"Durham is rumoured to have been discarded with the loss of 20,000 sheets, including not only many 19th century collections but also the herbarium of D.H. Valentine. 

"The University of East Anglia may also have gone, but no-one seems to know where. If you have any info about this - or about changes in any other herbarium in Britain or Ireland - please contact me

"In some ways however the results are pretty good. Just under 170 herbaria are probably still open and just over 60 extras might still be hanging on. 

"So, your local herbarium will probably be feeling lonely this Christmas. Its curator may feel unwanted. 

Chris at the BSBI Exhibition Meeting 2018
with President-elect Lynne Farrell
Image: L. Marsh
"So, if you meet up with friends to do the New Year Plant Hunt (and I'm sure you'll be doing that - I certainly will!) why not arrange to meet up again later in the month and visit your local herbarium? 

"And if you do, write to me at herbaria@bsbi.org and let me know how you got on there. Take some photos too if you can!"

Merry Christmas from Chris Metherell, BSBI President