Saturday 30 November 2013

Sharing the AEM experience. 

We are trying to collate all the posters and presentations from the AEM so we can put them onto a webpage and everybody can see them. Although we had a record attendance, there are still around 2,700 BSBI members who weren't able to join us at the Natural History Museum, and we don't want anybody to miss out! 

In the meantime, you can read what other members have to say about the AEM on their Blogs. Check out the links in the column on the right, where Waheed, Jonathan and Susanne talk about their exhibits for the AEM. Jonathan's Blog also has a video of his exhibit and another showing his entire presentation at the AEM.

And I'm afraid that I muscle in on the act wearing my VC55 hat - the local botany group's Blog mentions the local training opportunities on offer in the vice-county. Waheed's photograph (above) shows two exhibits on botanical training - the VC55 courses and Brenda Harold's on-line botany course, which is proving extremely popular.

If you are studying botany or plant studies in Britain or Ireland, at whatever level, why not tell us about it? If it's a great course, then other BSBI members will be interested to hear all about it! 

The photographs here were taken by Waheed, Christine and Jonathan of their "Testa yourself" exhibit, where botanists were encouraged to match the seed (or fruit) to the flower. 

Sunday 24 November 2013

Phew, what a day! 

Well, the AEM is all over and I think we can say it was a huge success. 

From left: Nichola Hawkins (Wildflower Society)
and Cambridge botanist Monica Frisch
The Flett Theatre at the NHM was jam-packed - we are perhaps a victim of our own success here? - with 192 botanists coming through the door to see 31 exhibits and hear our seven speakers. 

This looks like the highest attendance of any AEM in recent years. 

One scheduled speaker - Jill Sutcliffe - had notified us that she was unable to attend due to illness, so we were fortunate that exhibitor Jonathan Mitchley had agreed to step in and fill the gap. He then managed to delete his presentation minutes before he went onstage and had to improvise his entire talk! Amazingly, he managed to do this, including giving us a snatch of the Song of the Poaceae (a family of grasses green and wonderful!) Check out the video here

Richard Lansdown (centre)
A few highlights: the ID "Help!" table (on right) which attracted experts (like aquatics Referee Richard Lansdown) who could help people identify their plants. 

You can also just see another highlight on the left - a poster by Jodey Peyton about collaboration between BSBI and CEH.
Click on images to enlarge them. We are hoping to put as much AEM material  - abstracts and presentations - as possible up on the website. Details to follow.

Best bit for me: seeing Margaret Perring, widow of our late President Frank Perring, who did so much to encourage outreach before it was even called outreach! 

From left: Gwynn Ellis, Margaret Perring,
Charles Turner and new member Kristina Herz.
Frank was the driving force behind setting up the Wildlife Trusts, and tribute was paid to him by keynote speaker Brian Eversham, Chief Exec of the Beds - Cambs - Northants Wildlife Trust. Frank's obituary, by Chris Preston and Philip Oswald, says "A constant theme running through his career was his desire to communicate his love of botany and belief in the necessity of plant conservation outward to new audiences". 

The photo (on left) shows Margaret Perring with our Membership Secretary Gwynn Ellis, Cambridge botanist Charles Turner, an active BSBI member since 1959, and new member Kristina Herz, one of several botanists who joined the society at the AEM.

Feedback forms are coming in - what we did well ( most of it!) and what we could do even better (some great ideas for the next AEM!). Having done feedback breakdowns for other BSBI events, where equal numbers of people say "teabreaks too long" and "teabreaks too short", I know we can't please everybody all the time! 

Breakdowns on the Tube caused a few problems and apparently some people called Beckham were in the Museum that day, which made it difficult to elbow through the throng and nip to the cafe for a quick cup of tea and a bun!

Any venue selected has its own advantages and disadvantages, but it looks like an honest appraisal of the AEM will be: 90% brilliant day for botanists, beginner or expert; 5% room for improvement: BSBI members have good suggestions for this; 5% wishlist/impossibilities. 

John Poland (left), Brian Eversham (right)
In this latter category I would place the 7 people who, after the AGM in Beaumaris, responded to the "What can we do better" question with "arrange better weather". Still working on that one...

But it's becoming a tradition on this Blog for me to show you a pic of the "post-event debrief" and next year, we are wondering about booking some space so more of us can eat, drink, relax and chat after the event. Like Brian Eversham and John Poland!  

Thursday 21 November 2013

Plants - Publicity - People: the theme for this year's AEM. 

Field meeting to Coronation Meadows, Beaumaris
Image: T. Rich
The final programme is now available for this Saturday's AEM, where botanists will be offered a range of talks and presentations on our theme of Plants - Publicity - People.

We have three presentations by BSBI staff (Irish Officer Maria Long, Head of Ops Jane Houldsworth, and me), and a talk by our President, Ian Denholm, who tells me he will be focusing on "plants rather than people - and I have lots of great wild flower photos!" Ian has been on quite a few BSBI fieldtrips this year - like the ones following this summer's AGM in Beaumaris. Attending our fieldtrips is probably the best way for a botanist to see some really nice and unusual plants - and in great company.

BSBI at the NHM Campsite, October 2012
Photos: L. Marsh
The after-lunch speakers include Jill Sutcliffe (BSBI Field Meetings Secretary) on the work of the Manhood Wildlife and Heritage Group, with which she is involved. This looks like an excellent example of outreach at a local scale, so it will be interesting to find out what they are doing, ie to hear Jill's good ideas and pinch them shamelessly for our own local initiatives! 

Our speakers are all BSBI members, but the final two talks are offered by members "wearing other hats" - both speakers will consider how conservation bodies and natural history societies like BSBI can help people re-connect with the natural world, learn more about botany and get started with biological recording. 

I've already posted about our closing speaker, Brian Eversham, but before him we will be able to hear John Tweddle, Head of the Angela Marmont Centre at the Natural History Museum and OPAL Project Manager. He will be talking about public engagement at the NHM: they are particularly good at this so it will be interesting to find out how they do it. And, of course, nick all their best ideas for BSBI.  

These snaps (taken on phone, sorry!) show the BSBI stand at last autumn's 'Campsite' event at the Angela Marmont Centre, designed to engage young recorders. 

Three of us collected specimens of duckweeds for ID by the children, using the excellent duckweed ID sheets prepared jointly by BSBI and NHM. I'll bring some of these laminated sheets along to the AEM so you can all have one - they really are rather good, whatever your age. 
Dactylorhiza - species or hybrid?
 Ask the orchid referee!
Image: I. Denholm

We also exhibited some conifers, so people could 'scratch and sniff' using the John Poland 'which tropical fruit does it smell like' method of ID: find out more about this on John's Vegetative ID table at Saturday's AEM. The children attending the NHM event that day were able to see the biggest plants in the world (giant redwoods) and the smallest: Wolffia arrhiza, the Rootless Duckweed. 

There were quite a few "wow" moments as they looked down a microscope for the first time or held a jar of duckweeds up to the light to count the roots. So, fingers crossed we can also offer you a few "wow" moments on Saturday, whatever your age.

Here's a pretty flower to close with - just to remind ourselves why we're bothering with all this outreach business. In the end, to paraphrase Bill Clinton, "It's all about the botany, stupid!"

Sunday 17 November 2013

Wildlife Trust Chief Exec is keynote speaker at AEM. 

I hope you will be as pleased as I am that the closing presentation at this year's AEM will be given by a BSBI member who is also Chief Executive of possibly one of the most dynamic of the Wildlife Trusts. Brian Eversham (Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire & Northamptonshire) will be talking to us on the subject 'Local Training courses: we can all benefit'.

He will also be offering an exhibit on using local keys and checklists to encourage beginners, just starting out in wildlife recording. How we can best encourage beginners and pass on essential field skills is emerging as a strong theme in many of this year's exhibits. And this post on Brian's Blog tells how his own early interest in wildlife recording was encouraged by some "superb natural historians".    

Brian told me " I'm really pleased to be at the BSBI AEM. A Wildlife Trust needs to know where species are, and how they are changing, to be sure we are doing the right thing, and botany forms the basis for most other wildlife. That's why the Wildlife Trust is so committed to outreach and training - the next generation of naturalists will be the lifeblood of conservation, and of societies like BSBI, too." 

It's great that Brian is highlighting the extent to which botanical recording underpins nature conservation in the 21st century. When writing a management plan for a wildlife site, or assessing its status, you first need to know what grows there and how that is changing over time. 

As Ian Denholm said in a recent State of Nature press release, "We can't conserve wildlife if we don't know what we have or where it occurs, so accurate data on frequency and distributions of species are essential. As one of the world's largest contributors of biological records, BSBI is keen to work with partners to highlight and monitor the decline in our most threatened wildlife and, hopefully, to work together towards reversing it".  

Looks like it will be a really good AEM this year - are you coming along?

Thursday 14 November 2013

On the trail of wild orchids in Turkey...

Orchis anatolica
Image: S. Masters 
... Step 1 is to visit a British herbarium! Ethnobotanist and BSBI member Susanne Masters has been in touch about the poster she is exhibiting at the AEM on the 23rd November, and she has a request for her fellow BSBI members.

Susanne says "I am currently working on research assessing the impacts of both collection and habitat loss on edible orchid populations in Turkey. 

Ophrys lutea
Image: S. Masters
"Reports of declining Turkish orchid populations attribute this biodiversity loss to their tubers being collected for consumption as salep, a hot drink with medicinal properties, and maras dondurma, a chewy ice cream. On a global scale, however, habitat loss is considered the greatest threat to orchids."

So how can BSBI botanists help Susanne in her research, and where do herbaria come into it?

"Luckily there is a vast but fragmented data set that can be used to measure the impact of habitat loss on orchid populations: herbarium specimens. Not all sheets give locations specific enough for the site to be revisited, but many do, making it possible to return to locations where orchids once grew - according to herbarium specimen records - and evaluate whether those locations still support habitats in which orchids might grow now". 

Susanne plans to start with specimens in RBG Kew, but says "I would also be delighted to hear from anyone who has herbarium specimens of orchids that were collected in Turkey". You can email Susanne if you know of any such specimens, or talk to her at the AEM

You will be able to recognise her from the photograph on the left, showing Susanne manning the BSBI stand at this summer's annual conference of the Society for Economic Botany, held in Plymouth.   

Tuesday 12 November 2013

Another excellent botany Blog by a BSBI member.

Water Bent Polypogon viridis
Image: O. Pescott 
Jonathan Mitchley has been in touch from the University of Reading, where he teaches botany to all who want to learn, from beginners to MSc students, like BSBI member, Blogger and herbarium volunteer Waheed Arshad

Jonathan asked if he could reproduce Philip Oswald's lovely photo (below) of Peter Sell and Gina Murrell, in the Herbarium at Cambridge last summer, to illustrate a short tribute to Peter following last Thursday's funeral. 

I'm hoping to find out more about Jonathan's courses at the AEM on 23rd November. He will also be offering us an exhibit called "Dr M's eXtreme botany manifesto". Jonathan's Blog suggests he's also a big fan of herbaria so I'll be finding out what goes on in the Herbarium at Reading. Any spilt beans will be served up here asap!

Gina Murrell and Peter Sell
Image: P. Oswald
Jonathan has just joined BSBI so I can add his Blog to the list on the right. He also has some great botany videos on his website - I've just been looking at his grass ID video, wish I'd been in that class when I was first struggling with grasses, he makes it seem easy and fun! Next free evening, suspect I'll be browsing Jonathan's Blog and website until way past bedtime..

Thinking a lot about grasses because I am a little odd that way but also because I see that Oli Pescott is having an exhibit at the AEM on occurrence of Polypogon viridis in the Sheffield area. Hence the photo and a follow-up post on Oli's discoveries as soon as I have a moment. We've also recorded this distinctive grass in Leicester - have you spotted it too, in a pavement crack or the edge of a patch of wasteground? Let us know at the AEM or email me!

Saturday 9 November 2013

The next generation of botanists. 

Having lost some eminent botanists like Peter Sell and Richard Pankhurst this year, BSBI members may be heartened to see the efforts of some of our younger members who - if we all support and encourage them - may go on to make great contributions to botany in Britain and Ireland. 

Meeting Waheed and Lara at Birdfair 2012
Image: J. Bailey
BSBI member Waheed Arshad impressed us with his enthusiasm for all things botanical when we met him on the Birdfair stand last summer, so it was great to hear from him again recently. Waheed is now studying towards a MSc in Plant Diversity at the University of Reading, but on Friday afternoons he has also been volunteering in the herbarium at Kew, following on from his internship there over the summer. 

You can read about what Waheed has been doing in the herbarium on his excellent Blog, which I've added to the list on right of Blogs by BSBI members. I see his latest post is called 'The Book of Stace'!

Ewan's Plant ID poster for the SAM
Image: E. Cole
Also nice to see this poster, offered at last weekend's Scottish Annual Meeting by Ewan Cole, a second year undergraduate at University of Edinburgh who also works in the cryptogamic lab at RBGE and is the youngest member to sit on the Council of the Botanical Society of Scotland. 

If you are on Facebook, you can see more of Ewan's images from the SAM here

I'd love to hear what all our young botanists are doing, as they start out on their botanical careers, so please do let me know of any good examples that you hear about. And if you are a young botanist - get in touch and send me a photo of what you are doing to support botany in Britain and Ireland, and I'll post it here. Your good efforts will gladden older hearts and remind us all that the young botanists of today may become the Peter Sells and Richard Pankhursts of tomorrow.

Thursday 7 November 2013

Peter Sell 1931-2013. 

Peter Sell's funeral will be held at 2.30 pm on Thursday, 7th November, at St Peter & St Paul Parish Church, North End, Bassingbourn SG8 5PD and the burial will take place immediately after at Bassingbourn Cemetery. 

Peter Sell and Sarah Holme, Cambridge Botanic Garden
Image: P. Oswald
Peter's son Tim has said that botanist friends are welcome to attend the funeral and/or the burial, but has pointed out that a celebration of Peter's life is also being planned, at which botanists will be able to come together to pay tribute to this remarkable man and his contribution to British botany

Details will be posted here when available, but the location will be the Restaurant at the Cambridge Botanic Garden, where the photograph (right) was taken by Philip Oswald in June this year. Peter is seen here with botanical illustrator Sarah Holme, who is currently working on illustrations for Peter's and Gina Murrell's Flora of Great Britain and Ireland. 

Friends may wish to send flowers or donations to a nature-based charity, but there may be another way for botanists to pay tribute to Peter. The website of the Cambridge University Herbarium tells us that "1st January 2014 would have marked his 70th year working [in the herbarium], a milestone he anticipated with great pride". Offering one day's volunteering in a local herbarium might be a particularly fitting way for a botanist to celebrate Peter's life and work.

Wednesday 6 November 2013

John Poland at the AEM!

Me and John Poland in Anglesey this summer.
We promise to look up and talk to you at the AEM!
Image: A. Wheatcroft
Just heard from John Poland, co-author with Eric Clement of the celebrated and much-loved Vegetative key to the British flora, that he will be at the AEM in London on 23rd November

He's not coming simply to enjoy the range of talks, posters, exhibits, bookstalls etc., but will be offering us a Vegetative ID Quiz: two tables full of mystery plants for us to try and ID without flowers or fruits. 

Some will be fairly easy and some will be fiendishly hard. All will be great fun!

John Poland chairing Pubs; Secretary Chris Boon on left
Image: L. Marsh
Here's a photo (on left) of John chairing last month's meeting of the Publications Committee - click to enlarge it, and then you won't have any problem IDing John at the AEM. 

And remember that you can just drop in to the AEM, you don't have to book, although it does help us if we know that you are coming. 

So, please RSVP to this invitation and come to our botanists' annual get-together aka the AEM!  

Friday 1 November 2013

A glimpse into another world... 

Claudia, Martin and Sally on the Shiant Islands
Image: L. Marsh
When delegates assemble at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, tomorrow for the SAM (Scottish Annual Meeting), they have some real treats in store. 

There are some great speakers, 29 exhibits, a photographic competition, a herbarium tour, a lunchtime visit to the Scottish Rare Plant Project, Chris Metherell is trialling the Euphrasia keys for his new Handbook, Rod Corner will be telling people about botanising in Greenland...

More details here

Claudia and Sally Peacock: recorders in the mist
Image: L. Marsh
But if you can't make it to Edinburgh tomorrow, you can enjoy one SAM treat right now. So if it's been a long week and you really need to be lifted out of the daily grind, try this glimpse into another world.

This is the work of Claudia Ferguson-Smyth,  BSBI member, self-confessed aquatics addict and photographer extraordinaire. 

You can see her work on the cover of New Journal of Botany and the image at the head of this Blog is also by Claudia. 

But here are three images of the botanist/photographer herself, out in the field.

Claudia and Martin Robinson collecting Rubus for ID
Image: L. Marsh
In the Hebrides this summer, we soon got used to Claudia, over breakfast, brandishing an OS map and saying "There's a lochan I might take a look at..."

And now Claudia has made it possible for us all to take a look. So go on, click on the link and take a virtual swim around a Hebridean lochan with Potamogeton epihydrus. Then check its distribution across Britain & Ireland on our distribution database.

This video will be played on a continuous loop at tomorrow's SAM, but here it is on your screens right now. Good, eh?  

New Rare Plant Register for Nottinghamshire VC56. 

Congratulations are in order for Dave Wood and Mark Woods, on the recent publication of their Rare Plant Register (RPR). I asked Mark how much work he thought had gone into the RPR, and he replied " I'd be hard pressed to give any sort of estimate for the length of time taken to write the register - hundreds of hours! - let alone calculate the hours of field work. The bulk of the work has to be attributed to Dave Wood, who has tirelessly worked the length and breadth of Nottinghamshire for 30 years." 
Hypochaeris glabra
Image: S. Hammonds

Mark also pays tribute to "the co-operation and support of the Biological Records Centre and the efforts of so many contributors". The names of everyone who contributed plant records to the RPR are listed in Appendix 2. Mark is very modest about his own role, saying "For my part, I have enjoyed countless hours in the field since the mid-1990s, either accompanying Dave or roaming with one or more Jack Russell terriers in tow. The write-up has also been greatly helped by the contribution of some excellent photography (notably the late Steve Hammonds and Ken Balkow) and a very informative geology text prepared by Dave Bate of the British Geological Survey".  

You can download the Notts RPR here, and there are 25 other Rare Plant Registers. Many botanists find that a RPR of your vice-county is essential and, if you are visiting a new county for which a RPR has been published, it really helps to know which rarities you might encounter and where to look for them.   

Mark hopes that seeing a finished RPR will "stimulate wider interest in Nottinghamshire's flora - we have lots of interesting plants and some wonderful sites. The RPR will also provide the basis for the larger work that is the preparation of a long overdue County Flora".