Saturday 31 August 2013

How does a botanist "get to work" (part two)

The second in an occasional series. 

Anybody else remember a 1980s Army recruitment advert which showed young men jumping out of planes and into jeeps and completely failed to mention that you might have to actually kill people at some stage in your Army career? Well, that was the inspiration for this series on 'How a botanist gets to work'. 

So if you abseil or canoe to your botanical work and then spend 5 hours on hands and knees peering through your handlens, guess which photo I'd like to see?

The photograph on the right shows how Jim McIntosh's colleague gets to work up on Salisbury Crags/Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh. Jim holds a meeting here on Arthur's Seat most years in May, particularly aimed at beginners and those new to BSBI. Well worth going to!

Details of all BSBI field meetings, including those where beginners are especially welcomed and supported, can be found in our Field Meetings Diary here

And the image on the left shows how Paul Smith and Richard Pankhurst were able to reach the floriferous isle of Gaskeir (off the coast of Lewis) last summer. 

Botanists and boatmen may seem like strange bedfellows, but how else is a botanist to reach those remoter islands? Kayak? Now that's a photo I'd like to see, kayaking botanist with vasculum and handlens... anybody?

Send any good images to me at please!

Friday 30 August 2013

How does a botanist "get to work" (part one)?

The first in an occasional series.

The photograph on the right shows the 'transport of delight' that conveyed Lynne Farrell over the final few metres so she could reach her final tetrad on an islet off the coast of Mull.

And below, you can see the helicopter that Mick Crawley uses to get to St Kilda, where he botanises regularly. 

I did ask Mick for a shot of himself being dropped out of a helicopter, like Milk Tray Man (for under-40s, Milk Tray Man was the bloke in an old TV advert for chocolates). 

But Mick just smiled mysteriously, so we may never get to see the BSBI's answer to James Bond in action. Shame.

If you have a stereotype-shattering way of getting to your botanical work, please send me an image and I can share it. 

Canoes, horse and cart, light aircraft etc. all welcome. But no tanks, please - "Wild Things" covered that perfectly well on TV last year!

Monday 26 August 2013

New BSBI Video. 

We were filmed for Birdfair TV on our award-winning stand, and the video is now available on YouTube here:
or you can download it here:

Ian Denholm and Alyson Freeman at Birdfair 2013.
The video features Ian Denholm talking about how BSBI can help you get involved in plant recording in your area. Alyson Freeman, Co-ordinator of the new North Northants group, talks about why she records plants with BSBI. And the video also features an annoying woman wittering on about outreach... that would be me then.

No wonder Ian and Alyson are smiling in this photo - Best Stand Award, new BSBI video...

Sunday 25 August 2013

Lynne's 332nd and final tetrad!

Lynne in her final tetrad, on the islet of Maisgeir, 
to which  she sailed on the MV Birthe Marie 
(seen in background).   
Lynne Farrell, VC Recorder for the Isle of Mull, has just completed a mammoth task. She has spent the past 17 years recording the plants of Mull for a new Flora and tells me that, on 7th August, she surveyed her 332nd and final tetrad! 

If you are new to recording: tetrads are 2km x 2km grid squares: our 1962 Atlas divided Britain and Ireland up into squares so that we could record the plants in each square on a regular basis and so map the distributions of all our wild plants over time. There are 332 tetrads on Mull and its associated islands. 

Lynne tells me "I had always thought that the last tetrad would probably be on some remote hillside, but it proved to be three remote islets, visited by sailing boat on 7th August. I was accompanied by several of my stalwart recorders and several locals who had also helped in one way or another." She added that during her 17 years recording on Mull, she had "come to know both the landscape and the locals, and I am addicted to the area."

Lynne and Team Farrell on the MV Birthe Marie
Image: John Clare
I hear that Lynne and Team Farrell celebrated by "breaking open the champagne bottles somewhere off Staffa and we were escorted back to Fionnophort harbour by a pod of bottle-nosed dolphins. They must have known it was a special occasion!"

The last Flora of Mull was by Jermy and Crabbe, published in 1978, and we'll be using it for a while longer, as Lynne's Flora won't be published for a few years yet - surveying and field recording form Step One in the long process towards publication, and Lynne says: "Now begins the serious business of writing up the new Flora". But first, she is preparing a fuller account of how she completed that final tetrad for the next issue of BSBI News, due out in September. 

Tuesday 20 August 2013

Best Stand Award 2013 (Conservation) for BSBI at Birdfair. 

Friends and colleagues have been contacting the BSBI Birdfair Team all day at to offer their congratulations on our award. Best Stand in the Conservation category! Certificate pictured to right, just in case you thought I'd made it up, and here is my favourite image (below) of RSPB's Martin Davies and his daughter Mervy handing over the award to Rachel, one of our Birdfair volunteers, without whose sterling work we would not have won this award.

One of today's nicest congratulations emails was from Abbi at RSPB, who very kindly said "We were lucky enough to be awarded second place after you and it was great to hear who'd beaten us!" Thanks Abbi - pipping RSPB to an award isn't something that happens very often and we are still pinching ourselves!

We tried - apparently successfully! - to convey something of the enthusiasm which all BSBI members share for botany to hundreds of people who love wildflowers but don't (yet) consider themselves botanists. And I hope we managed the dispel the strange misconception that you need a PhD and a microscope before you can really start to enjoy identifying the wild plants of Britain and Ireland.

We were able to explain how BSBI can help you see some really nice plants, learn to identify them and then turn your observations into valuable scientific records which help inform policy-makers, academics and researchers. And we reminded people that BSBI holds one of the largest biological recording databases in the world, and most of the records in that database were collected by BSBI volunteers - all wildflower enthusiasts just like you and me!

So here is my Photo of the Year so far:  
Martin Davies (RSPB) and his daughter Mervy handing over the award for Best Stand (Conservation)
 to Rachel Benskin, one of our BSBI volunteers at Birdfair 2013.
Image: L. Marsh

Sunday 18 August 2013

BSBI wins award at Birdfair!

We had barely arrived at the BSBI stand this morning, when Martyn Davies from RSPB (co-organisers of Birdfair) dropped by to tell us that BSBI had won the Best Stand Award (Conservation) 2013. We had some photos taken, as the award was being presented. Very pleased :-)

Today's Birdfair Team is me, Rachel and Jane Houldsworth, BSBI's new Head of Operations. 

But we have vistors to talk to right now - more news to follow!

Saturday 17 August 2013

Day Two at Birdfair. 

Ian Denholm and Abbi Jinks at Birdfair 2013
Image: L. Marsh
Another busy day at Birdfair, culminating in Ian Denholm's lecture on 'Botany for Birders'. 

Our new President spent the day on the BSBI stand, chatting to people about orchids (he is one of our Orchid Referees), rare birds he's seen (he has a serious world lifelist) and BSBI's role in 21st Century botany. People dropped by to catch up with him, like Abbi Jinks, Events Project Manager for RSPB - we met her at the State of Nature launch at the Natural History Museum in May - and Ian Bennallick, county recorder for East Cornwall. 

And folks who were new to BSBI were delighted at the chance to ask our President - if I joined your society, what could BSBI do for me? So...

Improve your ID skills at a local group field meeting.
Image: R. Parry 
We showed them our website, asked where they lived and clicked on the interactive map on the homepage, which showed them who to contact locally about BSBI activity in their area. They could see if any of BSBI's national field meetings were taking place nearby (especially those marked as particularly suitable for beginners) or any local groups active in their area, or who to talk to about local training and recording opportunities. We showed them BSBI News and New Journal of Botany, and told them about membership discounts on botany books, like the series of BSBI Handbooks. We invited them to our Annual Exhibition Meeting at the Natural History Museum in London on Saturday 23rd November. We told them about BSBI's national support network of county recorders and national referees like Ian and the two Beginners' Referees (you can start using them as soon as you join the society). And as if that wasn't enough, we told them about the important scientific work their subscription would be supporting. 

Ian Denholm lecturing at Birdfair 2013.

Ian went straight from the stand to the Birdwatching Centre, to deliver his lecture on 'Botany for Birders'. It played to a packed house, was extremely funny, and you should be able to download the PPT as a free pdf from our website next week, although it can't capture the humour of the live performance!

A few people also took us up on our offer and challenged us with photos of mystery plants (which Ian was able to name successfully), and even more used the ID keys we'd brought along to help them name a plant they'd spotted previously. Maybe we'll get some unidentifiable plants tomorrow, before Birdfair closes at 5.30.

Many thanks to Ian, Alyson and Rachel for volunteering today and promoting BSBI so well.

Friday 16 August 2013

Day One at Birdfair. 

BSBI volunteers at Birdfair 16/8/2013
From left: Jodey and Rachel; John & Monika Walton
 (VCRs for Warks) and BSBI President Ian Denholm.  
The first day of Birdfair and the phrase "Birders' Glastonbury" was heard this morning when the rain got quite heavy, but the reserve paths coped really well. And then the sun came out again, and the people flooded in and our feet hardly touched the ground all day. Here's the Birdfair Team for Day One, catching up during a rare quiet moment.

Lots of people wanted to talk to us about wildflowers to attract pollinators and butterflies into the garden, and about ways of managing wildflower meadows. We were able to help and then point out how useful it is to be able to ID plants, to find out what grows where and how that's changing over time, and about our co-operation with other recorders like CEH. It was great to have Jodey Peyton from CEH on the stand today, to offer a field ecologist's perspective and to explain how CEH are supporting biological recording.

The BSBI volunteers spoke to people from all over Britain (and a few from Europe) who are interested in botany - some already doing it and some wishing they could get started in ID or pick up old skills again. 

A few were botany graduates - from those distant days of botany degrees in British universities - who haven't picked up a lens for decades and wouldn't mind a bit of support to get started again.

We logged 148 conversations throughout the day with people who came to the BSBI stand, but for a while it was so busy that we simply didn't have time to log anything. Lots of people stopped to look at the banner and then walked into the stand because the flowers looked so attractive and they wanted to know more about BSBI and what we do. So we told them! 

We also managed to catch up with some old friends like Sue Southway of Plantlife (above) and Nigel Brown (right), who has made Treborth Botanic Gardens such an inspirational place to visit, and who really deserves a Blogpost of his own - so check here next week.

BSBI and CEH together at Birdfair. 

BSBI at Birdfair 2012
Image: J. Saddington
Here is part of last year's stand - very nice, I hope you agree, but this year we have an added ingredient - CEH!

More details to follow - or head over to Birdfair and find out for yourself :-)

Just get here before 5.30 on Sunday, when we start to dismantle and pack everything away again...   

Setting-up for Birdfair. 

Rachel with a herbarium specimen collected by her father.
Image: L. Marsh
I've been at Rutland Water, putting up the BSBI display with Rachel Benskin from Leicester University Botanic Garden. She and LUBG are responsible for the plant displays on the stand. 

Rachel quickly spotted that one of the herbarium sheets I'd brought along for display shows a specimen of Oenanthe crocata collected almost 50 years ago by her father, when he was a student at Wisley. 

Mr Benskin later became Senior Botanic Gardener at LUBG under the celebrated Tom Tutin, and he met the future Mrs Benskin when she also came to work at LUBG. And in due course, the Benskins of the Botanic Garden begat Rachel... 

Hoping to find out more about the Benskin Dynasty and whether Rachel's nephew is showing any horticultural tendencies yet, but we were interrupted at that point by two local BSBI members who are volunteering on the Birdfair Recycling Team: Russell and Paul, the Botanical Binmen :-)

More to follow...

Wednesday 14 August 2013

BSBI exhibiting at Birdfair 2013. 

BSBI at Birdfair 2012
Image: J. Bailey
We are hoping to catch up with lots of fellow wildlife enthusiasts at this year’s Birdfair, which starts at 9 am this Friday, 16th August, at Rutland Water and runs until 5.30 on Sunday, 18th August.

BSBI will be on Stand 57, Marquee 1, throughout Birdfair, offering three days of plant displays, botanical exhibits and demonstrations of wildflower identification.

Part of the BSBI stand, Birdfair 2012
Image: J. Saddington
There will also be a lecture by BSBI’s new President, Ian Denholm, who is a passionate birder and botanist.

Ian will be presenting ‘Botany for Birders’ at 4.30pm on Saturday 17th August in the Anglian Water Birdwatching Centre. 

Modest as ever, Ian told me, “It is a huge honour to have the chance to speak at this prestigious event, and to highlight similarities and differences between the hobbies of birding and botanising. Ultimately, I would recommend that everyone tries both!” 

Visitors to the BSBI stand will see plant displays which pick up on Ian's themes and illustrate the habitats associated with some iconic British birds. There will also be practical demonstrations where you can pick up wildflower ID tips, and you can find out more about how BSBI supports nature conservation in Britain & Ireland. 

Birdfair Team 2012 with Prof Clive Stace
Image: J. Saddington
We work closely with other botanists, recorders and conservationists, and this year's stand benefits from the participation of both the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, exhibiting with us for the first time, and the University of Leicester Botanic Garden, who again provided the plant displays. 
Kevin Walker, BSBI's Head of R&D, at Birdfair 2012
Image: J. Saddington   

At Birdfair, visitors can also check out BSBI's web-based resources and find out what grows where and how to identify it, or they can click on our interactive map to see what BSBI has to offer in their area. 

We are also inviting you to challenge us, by bringing along some unusual or difficult plants to see if our experts can identify them. 
Birdfair is an annual event attracting birdwatchers from all over the world, and up to 20,000 visitors are expected this year. We had a great time at last year's Birdfair, and we are looking forward to meeting lots of fellow wildlife enthusiasts this year, on Stand 57, Marquee 1.

More info here about BSBI at British Birdfair. Posts and photos to follow, in case you really can't make it to Rutland this weekend! 

Monday 5 August 2013

Botanising in the Outer Hebrides: the End. 

The Outer Hebrides Recording Team made it up some pretty steep hills on this three week fieldtrip. 

The image on the right shows Laura from VC20, the Outer Hebrides Recorder Paul Smith, Russell, Rowan and Geoffrey from VC55 and Mary (seated) who lives in France.

And now they are, as they say up here, westering home. Until next year...



Sunday 4 August 2013

Botanising in the Outer Hebrides: Part Five

Juncus balticus on a roadside
Image: L. Marsh
This summer's Hebridean recording work is drawing to a close and there have been some great successes, both botanically and in the contacts we have made. 

The VC Recorder for the Outer Hebrides, Paul Smith, is very pleased at some of the records we are getting and the members of the survey team - some of whom travelled quite a distance to get up here - are delighted that they have been able to make a contribution to this year's recording programme. 

Platanthera bifolia on South Uist
Photo: Laura Gravestock

We think we have found some pretty impressive plants, although specimens still need to be checked by our referees before the records can be confirmed. But Paul is confident that our finds include the following delights:

Deschampsia setacea on the edge of a lochan;
Platanthera bifolia in a marsh;
Potamogeton epihydrus and Najas flexilis in various lochs; and 
Juncus balticus on a roadside.

Take a look at the distribution maps here to see why we were so pleased to see these species - just type in the name of each species to see when and where it has been recorded. 
We have all had a chance to see and photograph plants we had never seen before, and learn how to identify them. That is one of the main reasons we all come up here each summer - but the great company, delicious dinners and fabulous views are also great incentives!

The image on the left shows the Recording Team, and some of the South Uist botanists we met, smiling at how keen Laura (from VC20 Hertfordshire) was to photograph those Hebridean aquatics. 

Well, could you resist a lochan like this?

And here is what Laura was so keen to photograph...
click on the image to see it full size - can you see what that plant is? 

Friday 2 August 2013

Botanising in the Outer Hebrides: Part Four. 

It looks as though this year's Outer Hebrides Recording Extravaganza may leave behind a lasting legacy. Two people who attended the Howmore Bioblitz and joined the BSBI Recorders as they surveyed the site had such an enjoyable experience that they came out with us again the next day, when we surveyed a nearby square. 

They are now thinking of going out botanising together after the BSBI recorders go home so, when we return to the Outer Hebrides next year, there may be a South Uist Flora Group up and running. 

We are Journal of the Month until 15th August! 

I just wanted to remind you all that free online access to New Journal of Botany  - made available to non-members while we were Maney's Journal of the Month for July - actually lasts until the 15th of August - so you could say we are Journal of the Six Week Period.  

Whatever the name, it's great that everyone can read all about the free content here:  and can then chose to access all our papers free over the next fortnight.

And our next issue, NJB 3.2, will be out next month.