Saturday 30 March 2013

Sad news

Richard Pankhurst, 1940-2013
Photo: Paul Smith
There are still a couple of places left on this summer's boat-trip off the Isle of Lewis, although a shadow has been cast this week by the very sad death of Dr. Richard Pankhurst, VC Recorder for the Outer Hebrides.

Anyone fortunate enough to meet this lovely man, a superb field botanist, kind and patient teacher and a pioneer in the use of computers for Plant ID, will appreciate what a huge loss this is. Those more eloquent and who knew him better will find the right words but I'd just like to remember him in the field last summer, smiling and surrounded by flowers.

Paul Smith, the other VC Recorder,  has been working with Richard for some years towards a new Flora of the Outer Hebrides, hence the annual trips to record on a different island each year. This year's field trip will go ahead and I know we will all enjoy seeing and recording the flora of the area, but it won't be quite the same without Richard.

Hey you, winter: you're starting to get on our nerves!

While stuck indoors in this wintry weather, and in preparation for this summer's trip to the Outer Hebrides, I've been looking at the gallery on Carl Farmer's website of Hebridean plants, which has some really helpful ID tips and gorgeous photographs. I'm also checking out some of the Blogs other BSBI members have set up. Some are by VC Recorders, like Stephen Bungard's Hebridean Blog from Skye, Raasay and the Small Isles and Sarah Stille's Blog from Merioneth.

If you are interested in mapping, GIS and statistics, as well as field botany, then I think you'll like Oli P's sacrevert Blog which has loads of links to other nice things. I've already posted about Susanne Masters' excellent ethno-botany Blog but you should also watch out for her contributions to the Guardian's Gardening Blog. And our Co-ordinators' Blog is really good - more posts please Alex!
Photo: Paul Smith

Two of our BSBI country officers had interesting  Blogs which, sadly, are not being updated just now. Jim McIntosh's Tristan Travels brought to life his sabbatical year on the southern Atlantic island of Tristan da Cunha, and makes fascinating reading, but Jim is now safely back at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. The Welsh Officer's Blog is on hold while Polly is on maternity leave, but there is interesting stuff in the archives. And of course BSBI member Trevor Dines contributes to the Plantlife Blog which is always well worth a look. If you know of any other Blogs set up by, or with contributions from, BSBI members, then please let me know and I'll post a link.

And as a reminder of what we will be out doing if the season ever gets going, here is a photo (above) of BSBI's incoming President, Ian Denhom, trying to photograph some rather interesting harebells (top photo) on Harris last summer.

Tuesday 19 March 2013

A successful day for BSBI at Treborth. 

Welsh Officer Paul Green has sent us a picture of the BSBI stand at Treborth Botanic Garden last Sunday, and an initial report that his ID sessions "went really well - the kids loved looking at the duckweeds, and one chap went home and got some duckweed from his pond for me to name!" Event Organiser James Balfour kindly gave Paul a Pinguicula to display. Paul told me, "the kids loved the idea of a plant eating an insect - maybe we should always have Pinguicula or Drosera on display?"
BSBI stand at Treborth.
Photo: Paul Green

Close examination of the tiny red female flowers on hazel also went down well, and there was a lot of interest from visitors in how to go about recording in their vice-counties, although Paul was surprised that some of those enquiries came from people who are already BSBI members. Maybe they haven't realised how much helpful information there is for them on the website, on our Recording page, or here under Resources. The new Recording Strategy explains what recorders do and why it is so important. Absolute beginners to recording are best off contacting their vice-county recorder or local botany group (if they have one) - see previous posts about this. 

James has promised us some more photos of Paul in action, so I'll post some of these when they arrive. In the meantime: congratulations to James and all at Treborth for putting together such a successful Wild Science Day, and thanks to Paul for representing BSBI and introducing young people to the delights of 21st century botany. And thanks to Lucy at NHM for providing the excellent duckweed ID sheets.

Friday 15 March 2013

Free money for botanical research (BSBI members only) and free resources for all beginner botanists. 

Chair of T&E (at head of table) wishing she could
 allocate those last few grants...
Photo: Ian Denholm
The fifth and final spring Committee Meeting was held last week and I definitely heard the Chair say the words “free money”. Yup, Training & Education Committee (aka T&E) has ££ to give away to BSBI botanists in the form of Plant Study Grants. These grants, of up to £1,000, are available to self-funded MSc & PhD students whose research is centred on vascular plants or charophytes, and are intended to cover tuition or bench fees. 

Sarah Whild, Chair of T&E, encourages applications from BSBI members who think they meet the criteria for a PSG.
If this sounds like you, then quick: get over to the Training page here – go down column 2 to Study Grants and check out the link to further info and an application form. Opportunities like this are yet another advantage of BSBI membership and show how the society supports young botanists keen to carry out research which benefits British or Irish botany. 

Conifer ID workshop in VC55
Photo: Russell Parry
If you are a beginner botanist, there are resources for you on the Training page too – although no free money just now, sorry! But there is a really helpful sheet by Clare O’Reilly here that tells you what you need to know when you first start out IDing and recording wild plants. And there are details of courses you can take, as you improve – in fact anyone, from beginner to PhD student, who is serious about developing their botanical skills should have a look at the Training page, which is full of useful links. 
My favourite is the Skills Pyramid here, which gives you an idea of what botanists at different skill levels actually do, and how you might develop your own botanical skills. And don't forget to check the VC map here and the list here to find out if you have a local botany group near you that holds training meetings - like this Conifer ID workshop held in VC55 in January.

Thursday 14 March 2013

BSBI & Bloke off the Telly in North Wales this weekend...

Treborth Botanic Garden
Welsh Officer Paul Green is going to be running a BSBI display with Plant ID demos at Wild Science Day this Sunday, 17th March. The event is taking place at Treborth Botanic Garden and there is more info here and also on their Blog. If you are in North Wales on Sunday, this looks like a really enjoyable day, especially for families. And it's free!

The event is being opened by one of the co-authors of BSBI's New Atlas of the British & Irish Flora - Trevor Dines of Plantlife Cymru, aka the man off the telly who shoots at plants on Salisbury Plain. The Organising Team at Treborth told me they are delighted to welcome Trevor, fresh from co-presenting Channel 4's 'Wild Things', and they encourage you to "come and hear about Trevor's work with BSBI and how some of the rarest plants in the UK are found in North Wales".

The final episodes of Wild Things are available for another week or so here on catch-up, in case you missed out first time around or just have to watch the best bits again!

Botanising by boat...

Ask people, what does a botanist do, and they probably have images of Victorian plant-hunters sailing off to uninhabited lands to explore what grows there. The reality is rarely so glamorous, but for a few lucky BSBI botanists this summer, it can be...

Rarinish Peninsula, Isle of Lewis. Photo: Paul Smith
As part of this summer's three-week recording extravaganza in the Outer Hebrides, a boat is being chartered to sail out of Stornoway and down the south-eastern coast of the Isle of Lewis for the week of 13th-19th July. BSBI members will be able to record the poorly known flora of this area - some small in-shore islands; the usually inaccessible parts of the large Pairc area of Lewis, which is managed for deer and has no roads; and an excursion to the better-known Shiant Islands.

I've been fortunate enough to join the Outer Hebrides Recording Team during the past few summers, helping with survey work towards a new Flora, and I'm really looking forward to this boat trip, but this post isn't just to tell you smugly about my plans for the summer. That would just be annoying :-) The good news is that there are a few places left - the boat can take a dozen of us. The trip is pricey (£810 full board per person for the week), as you'd expect, but - a week sleeping on a boat! Uninhabited islands! A poorly-known flora! The Outer Hebrides in mid-summer! To whet your appetite, the photo above was taken of the Rarinish Peninsula on the east coast of Lewis, while recording there in 2011, and the one below is of the uninhabited island of Gasker: we spent a morning there last summer to record the island's flora. Click on the photos to get the full effect.

Botanists on Gasker, Outer Hebrides. Photo: Paul Smith
See pictures of the boat, MV Cuma, here at and you can either find booking details in the Field Meetings Programme in the BSBI Yearbook or email me here at and I'll pass on details to Paul Smith. He is one of the Vice County Recorders for the Outer Hebrides, v.c, 110, and organises the communal recording activities each summer; the other VCR, Richard Pankhurst (seen wearing his distinctive cap in the photo on the left) is co-author of the Flora of the Outer Hebrides (1994). Paul will make sure that we see all the different habitats (coast, moorland, hills, lochans) and he can arrange less strenuous options if the rough terrain of Pairc is too demanding for some of us.

Monday 4 March 2013

Field Botany in 2013.

Spring seems to be in the air and BSBI is getting ready for the new season of field meetings. BSBI's Meetings Committee, which met in London last week, has already published its calendar of field meetings (the Irish calendar is here and the BSBI Scotland one is here) but we also looked at our Annual General and Exhibition Meetings. The latter takes place in November in London, but we are making plans for it now - are we efficient or what!

Photo: Uta Hamzaoui
We're wondering how to make the next AEM even better than last year's very successful event in Cambridge - at the British Antarctic Survey, which was pretty cool if you'll forgive the toe-curling pun. You can see some of the presentations here. We were at BAS because Jon Shanklin (aka Guy Who Found Hole in Ozone Layer) is Secretary of BSBI's Meetings Committee and arranged the venue for us - thanks Jon! We are keen to find great venues like this, for 150-200 people, for future AGMs and AEMs - please email me if you have ideas.

The AGM is always followed by at least one fieldtrip to an interesting botanical site - here's a photo (above) of some of us out botanising after the last AGM, in Reading. This year's AGM is in Anglesey and the fieldtrips look really good - more details on the Meetings page. The AGM is a real perk of BSBI membership!

Photo: Uta Hamzaoui
But the Exhibition Meeting is open to non-members, who are made very welcome. If you attend our AEMs, and exhibit at them, do you have any suggestions for further improvements? And if you don't attend - is it rude to ask, why not? Both Lynne Farrell (the Society's Hon. Gen. Sec.) and I are hoping to put something about the AEM into the next BSBI News. but we'd like hear your comments too: email us at

Here is a photo of us at Meetings Committee last week, considering your feedback from last year's events - so you can see how seriously we take all this!