Tuesday 31 December 2013

More BSBI Plant Hunt records flooding in...

Sea Rocket in flower in VC62
Image: M. Allen
What's in flower in Staffs (VC39) just now? Kevin Clements saw "Gorse, Hazel, Sallow, White Dead-nettle, Red Clover & prob turnip in flower and hawthorn in bud" yesterday at Bentley Haye/Rough Wood, Walsall Borough.

Martin Allen was out in VC62 and saw a total of 25 species in flower during visits to woods and coastal sites in the Redcar and Saltburn areas. He saw Sea Rocket and Cow Parsley in flower.

Still life with Groundsel and Fag-ends
Image: S. Leguil
Sophie Leguil has recorded some more species flowering in London, such as Pseudofumaria lutea in Notting Hill and a groundsel plant living in a pretty scuzzy micro-habitat! 

George and Kate in Guernsey Tweeted that #BSBIPlantHunt is a great family activity! I couldn't agree more, so if you haven't joined the Plant Hunt yet - tomorrow is your last opportunity. 

Cow parsley in flower in VC62
Image: M. Allen
STOP PRESS - Tim and Ceri have just recorded a grand total of 65 species in flower in Cardiff! This just beats the VC55 record for a single survey - and Tim and Ceri were the only two recorders out today in not-so-great weather, apparently.

And they found Geranium rotundifolium in flower - also seen in VC55 on Sunday. Very fitting that one of the two Plant Hunt Co-ordinators now holds the record for most species in a day.

So - who else can find Geranium rotundifolium in flower? And how many species will Sarah (the other Plant Hunt Co-ordinator) and her team find in Shropshire tomorrow? Watch this space! 

Monday 30 December 2013

Plants in flower in Derbyshire & North Wiltshire today. 

Sherardia arvensis in N. Wilts today
Image: T. Havenith
Tim Havenith and his betrothed took a walk in Melksham, North Wiltshire today and found six species of plant in flower, including this lovely Sherardia arvensis Field Madder. They also found Lamium purpureum, Euphorbia peplus, Senecio vulgaris, Bellis perennis and Taraxacum officinale agg. 

Records are also in from two recorders in Derbyshire: Jonathan Mortin found six species this afternoon -  including Gorse Ulex europaeus - near Buxton, while Roy Smith found 16 wild plants during a half-hour dog-walk in Swanwick - but no Gorse! 

Lamium purpureum in N. Wilts today
Image: T. Havenith
Roy also told me "Finally, in our front garden, just hanging on to part of a flower, was a self-set  Hieracium dalense (an endemic - originally planted, of course!). Erodium cicutarium would have made it two days earlier, but on the last day, the petal had dropped off!" 

Plant Hunt Co-ordinator Tim Rich was out again today - in Cardiff and apparently it was freezing. But he and Ceri saw some nice things like Treacle Mustard Erysimum cheiranthoides which they claim "warmed us up a bit". I think that's what you call putting a positive spin on it! 

More people are going out recording in the morning - let's hope the weather is ok for them. 

BSBI New Year's Plant Hunt: half-time scores. 

Some of the VC55 recording team
Image: L. Marsh
Results are in from nine counties so far - interest in recording what is in flower right now has been unprecedented this year! 

Botanists were out on the 28th of December, with Plant Hunt Co-ordinator Tim Rich, Dawn Nelson and Ceri Gait finding 52 species in flower at Pagham, Sussex, including some nice finds like Erodium moschatum. Tim posted details on Facebook as he went, and other counties have followed suit - records from Livingston VC 84 to Guernsey. 

The best place to see what they all found is here. Some nice photos - and if people send me pix I can post them here, too! 

Geranium cf rotundifolium
Image: L. Marsh
More people were out yesterday - 31 species recorded in Cornwall and 17 in the Chilterns, records in from Bedfordshire VC30 and Midlothian VC83. Dawn Nelson was out recording again, this time on Hayling Island VC11 and found an amazing 39 species single-handed. And 10 recorders including Brian Laney (VC32) and me (based in VC55) recorded 63 species in the centre of Leicester, including a possible new county recordGeranium rotundifolium.

This is not in the latest vice-county checklist but BSBI President Ian Denholm says "I think G. rotundifolium is spreading - it is turning up as a pavement weed in Herts, along with Stellaria pallida and (amazingly) Saxifraga tridactylites." With extra species still coming in from around the county, the VC55 running total has reached 68 so far. 

Rashmi and Heracleum sphondylium
Near National Space Centre, Leicester
Image: L. Marsh
Other groups (like Warwickshire VC38) are due to go out recording today and botanists on Orkney and Uist, in Tayside, Suffolk and in Ireland have all been using Facebook to tell each other about the Plant Hunt. Botanists are also sending in photos via Twitter - Sophie Leguil found Solanum nigrum growing by the Thames, and she also found a mystery plant - photo here.  

I hear that Sarah Whild - who, along with Tim Rich, started the NYD Plant Hunt in January 2012 - is taking a team out in Shropshire on New Year's Day. So watch this space for even more records of which wild or naturalised plants are in flower just now. Or follow the action as it happens on BSBI's Twitter feed or Facebook page. 

Or... it's not too late for you to get out there yourself and join the BSBI New Year's Plant Hunt!   

Friday 27 December 2013

Barcode of Life - on Radio 4 now, in BSBI News last year. 

Reunited at the BSBI/RBGE Mapping Conference 2013:
Pearman, Preston & Dines (l to r),
 Co-editors of the New Atlas of the British & Irish Flora.
Image: L. Marsh
Good to hear Prof Pete Hollingsworth from RBGE on Radio 4's 'Inside Science' programme last night - and up on iPlayer now - talking about the International Barcode of Life project. 

BSBI Scottish Officer Jim McIntosh opens the Conference
Image: L. Marsh
Pete told his fellow BSBI members about the project at last year's BSBI/RBGE Mapping Conference, when he summarised emerging opportunities for enhancing our understanding of plant biodiversity based on recent developments in molecular genetics.

Dr Natasha de Vere of National Botanic Garden of Wales also spoke about Britain's contribution to the International Barcode of Life project, with her work at Barcode Wales.

You can see the abstracts of their talks here, along with those of all our other conference speakers. Six of these presentations have since been written up as papers in New Journal of Botany, with more promised for 2014. Report on the Conference in BSBI News #122 - not yet available to non-members, sorry.
Tim Rich and Taraxacum breconense, a rare Welsh endemic
Image: C. Gait

For those of us new to the subject, there is a helpful Beginners guide to DNA barcoding and another here.

And yes, the Tim Rich mentioned in the reports on Barcode Wales is the very same BSBI botanist/handbook author/NJB editor who is co-ordinating the BSBI New Year's Day Plant Hunt. Have you decided yet where and when you will be recording which wild or naturalised plants are in flower just now? Don't forget to take some selfies while out in the field and send them to me so they can be posted here on the Blog. 

Find out what inspired Tim to become a botanist here (bottom left).  

Thursday 26 December 2013

How does a botanist get to work: part four.

Susanne looking for orchids in Madagascar
Image: A. Hinsley
Yet another BSBI botanist on the end of a rope hoping to see a nice plant... 

When she isn't promoting BSBI at outreach events like the Society for Economic Botany Conference 2013, or researching orchid distribution in Turkey for her PhD, or telling Guardian readers about ethnobotany, or offering a poster at the BSBI AEM on 'Plant Blindness and Botanical Illiteracy", BSBI member Susanne Masters can be found getting to her botanical work by hanging on to a rope. 

A nice example of using one plant to get to another? 

Read more about what Susanne has been up to here on this blogpost by BSBI member Jonathan Mitchley

Tuesday 24 December 2013

Which herbaria has Chris been in this year?

The Herbarium at RBGE
Image: C. Metherell
In pursuit of specimens to examine for his forthcoming BSBI handbook on Euphrasia aka eyebrights, Chris Metherell has been visiting herbaria all over the country this year. 

He also ran a Euphrasia workshop at the Scottish Annual Meeting last month to try out the keys for the handbook.

Chris reports that it was "very successful, with 50% of participants able to get their ID right first time using the keys, which - considering most had never tried Euphrasia before - was pretty good. 

"And I picked up some more errors and a few good ideas for improvements". 

Lochan on Lewis
Image: P. Smith

While in Edinburgh, Chris took the opportunity to check out some herbarium sheets at the Royal Botanic Garden

He tells me "Having been on Lewis this summer I wanted to finalise the E. campbelliae description and key entries. And I've been working on the other N. Scotland specialities E. rotundifolia and E. marshallii and to a lesser extent E. foulaensis and E. heslop-harrisonii. 

"The E. rotundifolia description has been tightened up, meaning that quite a lot of material has been redetermined as E. foulaensis x marshalii, but there's still room for the species - we'll see if we can find it next summer."

Herbarium cabinet at RBGE
Image: C. Metherell
But as well as a day of measuring plant bits and writing descriptions, Chris also unearthed some treasure which will necessitate a return visit: "The real find was the Halcrow-Johnson herbarium which is kept separately from the rest. Mostly pre-war material refereed by H.W. Pugsley and, I suspect, not much used since. Almost all from Orkney but with a bit of material from Shetland. Looking forward to really digging into it on my next visit".  

Having spent Hebridean evenings watching eminent botanists like the late Richard Pankhurst with a copy of Sell & Murrell and a bagful of eyebrights - he always insisted on five specimens rather than one, to get a better idea of what the "average" plant looks like in that population - I can vouch for the difficulty of some of the species and wouldn't attempt them without a more experienced botanist to help with keying-out. 

Machair with eyebrights on Eriskay
Image: L. Gravestock
Fortunately, wherever there are nice plants, there is always somebody in the BSBI support network who can help, but a Euphrasia handbook would be really useful. 

Let's hope Chris can keep this pace up and who knows, we may even see one published in time for next Christmas.

Hope you all get some nice botanical presents in your stockings tomorrow - Merry Christmas to botanists everywhere!

Sunday 22 December 2013

Every record tells a story...

Rubus surrejanus in Aberdeenshire sunlight
Image: D. Welch
I've been helping Plant Records Editor Mike Porter with proof-reading the next batch of records for New Journal of Botany and have been struck again by how much information is condensed into each record. 

Some of these plants have rarely been recorded before - David Welch, the BSBI's County Recorder for Kincardineshire and North Aberdeenshire, found Rubus surrejanus in two places, which yielded only the second and third records of this plant for the whole of Scotland. 

Alongside the serious info that you need in a plant record - who found it, who determined it (ie checked what it was), location with grid ref - there are evocative phrases like "19 plants in damp tussocky Molinia under birch in damp birch woodland". 

As Mike Porter says, "Entries like <<Dactylorhiza traunsteinerioides *69 Westmorland: small grazed ledges & flushed turf in upland limestone pasture>> cannot fail to raise the spirits and inspire the planning of future expeditions".

Mike uses symbols - don't worry, there's a key!- to indicate interesting things about each plant - is it a new county record, or is a particular non-native plant an archaeophyte or a neophyte?  

Close-up: can you see why this is no "ordinary" bramble?
Image: D. Welch
And there's a huge variety of habitats! Here are a few examples: a roadside lay-by, surrounds of a power station, edge of an arable field, by a curling pond near a boathouse and "grassland, M40 Warwick Services northbound". BSBI botanical recorders find interesting plants all over the place!

If you have recorded any interesting plants, you need to contact your County Recorder(s) who will pass any records on to Mike if they are happy with them. You may need to press a herbarium-standard specimen and send it to a BSBI referee to be checked - like the specimen above, which David pressed for his own personal herbarium. Notes here on BSBI best practice in collecting specimens by the master, Arthur Chater

A typical Plant ID training session - this one is in Leics.
Image: L. Marsh
You can't benefit from the BSBI referee system unless you are a member, but everything else you need to get started is on our Resources page so next spring, if you've never tried botanical recording, why not download a recording card and have a go?

And if you don't yet feel confident enough to record on your own - try going out with a local recording group or check out BSBI training opportunities. You'll find out what support is available in your area and how you could start contributing towards the plant records held in our database.

BSBI members: watch out for New Journal of Botany dropping through your letterbox any day now and it also features a paper by David on the floristics of contrasting grazed-down moorland sites initially dominated by heather.

Tuesday 17 December 2013

It's nearly time for BSBI's New Year's Day Plant Hunt.  

Might this be in flower on New Year's Day?
Image: C. Ferguson-Smyth
Ok, diaries out: Tim Rich has been in touch about the New Year's Day Hunt 2014 and we can pick a good day for recording - it doesn't have to be New Year's Day. 

Tim says: "Please join us for the third New Year's Day wild flower hunt to record as many species as you can in flower".

The rules are simple:

1. Pick one day between 28th December 2013 and 1st January 2014, when the weather is decent enough to record in.

2. Record wild and naturalised plants (but not planted) in flower.

3. Record for up to 3 hours. 

4. Email details (number of species, time and location) to Tim or Sarah

Tim add "After our amazing 63 species in flower on 1/1/2012, we had fewer species last year (see BSBI News 123:40) and suspect that there will be fewer this year, too".

Monday 16 December 2013

The value of local site Floras. 

There are lots of county Floras and Rare Plant Registers around - which is great - but a Flora covering a smaller area can also be very useful. John Crellin, VC Recorder for Brecknockshire, emailed last week to tell us about a local Flora he helped out with. John did some surveying and "wrote a page on plants" for The Paramor Orchard: an illustrated flora

The orchard is part of the Marcher Apple Network which aims to revive old apple and pear varieties in the Southern Marches. The authors of the Flora are Margaret A.V. Gill (illustrator), Sheila Leitch and John, who told me "The authors would like a copy to go to the BSBI".

I know how much Kevin Walker, our Head of Research & Development, values local Floras, so a copy of The Paramor Orchard is now en route to Kevin at his Harrogate office. And when I asked Kevin what he would be doing with it, he explained "Having a copy of local Floras is vital for our work within BSBI. Although the Big Database provides us with the records, it is often the extra information that a Flora provides that helps to inform decisions that underlie research, such as the production of the new England Red List".

One of the plates in The Paramor Orchard. 
I asked Kevin for a good example of a local Flora that had proved particularly useful, and why. 

He said "The Flora of the Black Country - completely new information is presented about the ecology (regeneration, habitats etc.) of alien species that have been scarcely covered in previous works. 

"This is proving vital in a new compilation of traits we are doing for alien species (Alienatt). So when recorders send us complementary copies, they can be assured that they are contributing to BSBI research". 

So please - send us your local Floras! As books or leaflets, as pdfs, on parchment... if you've written one, used one or contributed to one, we'd like to see it! And it's another great way to make a contribution to BSBI research.

Thursday 12 December 2013

That was quick - 23! 

Field in Pentire
Image: I. Bennallick
Ok, no more countdowns, this is getting silly! 

Thanks for pointing out that I'd overlooked Ian Bennallick's Cornish Blog. Which has some very pretty flower pix. 

Click on this one to enlarge it and see Viccia cracca, Glebionis segetum and Papaver rhoeas in a field in West Pentire. And look forward to next summer's botanising!

Do take a look at the Blog for botanical recording in Cornwall:  http://www.botanicalcornwall.co.uk/blog/ 

22nd Blog...

Meconopsis cambrica - as seen on FloralImages Brecon
Image: J. Clark
No sooner do I post that there are 21 Blogs by BSBI members... than an email comes through confirming that another excellent Blog that I've been looking at recently turns out to be by a BSBI member! 

Check out the Bristol Wildlife Blog, which focuses on wildlife in and around the city of Bristol.

If you have a botany Blog and are a BSBI member, please get in touch and we can make it 23!

BSBI members' Blogs: 21 today! 

Broad Bean flower
Image: P. Gates
I hope you are all enjoying some botanical Blog-browsing via the links on the right. I've been adding Blogs by BSBI members as I hear about them and there are now 21 on the list.

The subjects covered by the Blogs shows the broad range of interests from among our membership, from local field meetings and duckweeds people have fished out of ponds to mapping software and genetics, taking in climate change, edible plants, stinky plants... 

There are seasonally-appropriate mistletoe posts from Jonathan Briggs - yes, "Mr Mistletoe" is a BSBI member - note the attention to botanical detail and taxonomy and you won't be surprised! 

Bonane Heritage Park
Image: J. Crellin
There are also posts that go beyond vascular plants, straying into bryophytes and even tardigradesthe famous water-bears who were sent into outer space but are more usually glimpsed when you apply lens to bryophyte specimen for ID and a tardigrade lumbers into view through the forest of moss stems. Sometimes you can't help briefly noticing things that aren't plants...

And there are some great photos - BSBI Blogger John Crellin took the one on the left, while in Ireland. 

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Batemania breaks out: BSBI botanist in the spotlight.

Classic habitats of the Azorean Platanthera species
Image: P. Rudall
Great to see Prof Richard Bateman all over the media in the past 24 hours, having rediscovered what may be Europe's rarest orchid.

Richard, based at Kew, is our most popular* New Journal of Botany author and - along with BSBI President Ian Denholm - one of BSBI's Orchid Referees.  
A report on the BBC website, 'Europe's rarest orchid rediscovered in the Azores' tells how Richard, Paula and Monica went out expecting to find two species of Butterfly-orchid Platanthera rather than one and actually found three species!  

Their paper, which is causing such international interest, is published in the open-access journal PeerJ, so we can all read it free of charge. The title is 'Systematic revision of Platanthera in the Azorean archipelago: not one but three species, including arguably Europe's rarest orchid'. 

Prof Richard Bateman
Image: P. Rudall
Richard says,"I was even more astonished when my subsequent studies in herbaria and libraries showed that this exceptional rare orchid, found only on one mountain-top on a single Azorean island, had in fact been found by the very first serious botanist to visit the Azores, in 1838." 

He added, "It is a welcome bonus that the overlooked species has proven to be so informative about how evolution takes place."

Although journalists and  broadcasters have been beating down Richard's door for an interview, he responded to my congratulatory email with typical modesty and focused instead on conservation and the hope that "the current media frenzy may bring the appallingly threatened Azorean flora some genuine benefits".

You can read more about Richard's work here and here, and you'll be glad to know that when I sidled up to him after the recent AEM and asked if we might have another submission for NJB... well, he's thinking about it, so fingers crossed! 

Richard and Ian orchid-hunting in Ireland
And in the meantime, any BSBI member who has lent out their back-copies of New Journal of Botany (you don't really expect to get them back, do you?) can log in now and re-read all Richard's orchid papers in NJB. Email Alex if you can't remember your password. 

If you're not a member - well, receiving three glossy print copies each year of NJB, and on-line access whenever you like, is one of the perks of BSBI membership. So if you want to read more than the abstract of Richard's Platanthera paper for NJB, you'll just have to join BSBI. And why not? Prof Bateman joined and look at him now ;-) 

* based on number of downloads, not just because we like him!

Friday 6 December 2013

Take a botanical tour of Berwickshire... from your armchair

Vicia orobus  
If you want to know which plants grow where, there are lots of ways to find out: the BSBI database, county Floras and Rare Plant Registers. But what if you want to virtually zoom in to a particular site and get a bit more detail? Such as "The River Tweed turns south above Mertoun Bridge and near there, at the turn, steep eroding banks provide a habitat of interest". 

Or how about if you want to know which "weeds" have turned up in a county and how this might relate to previous history of a particular site? Then you want a detailed description like this: "Ruderal habitat of great interest was discovered in 2011 on an eroding bank at Dalcove. Here there is a large colony of Hyoscyamus niger with Ballota nigra, Conium maculatum, Echium vulgare, Malva sylvestris and Reseda luteola. All these plants were once used medicinally and their association is strongly suggestive of a link with the mediaeval hospital dedicated to St Mary Magdalene that stood near this spot and was destroyed by the English in 1544".

Astragalus danicus at clifftop by 
foot of Dowlaw Dean, 
looking east to St Abb's Head. 
These quotations come from a new publication by former BSBI President and VC Recorder for Berwickshire, Michael Braithwaite. His 440 page Berwickshire BSBI Botanical Site Register 2013, has just been privately published and circulated, but Michael has also decided to make an edited version of this superb publication available free of charge as a pdf. You can now download a Botanical Tour of Berwickshire here.  It brings together all the site descriptions from the Register - these include all the rare or scarce species present in each site.

Michael told me "I believe BSBI is overly obsessed by distribution maps and species accounts. Even the most expansive County Floras are dominated by them, leaving site descriptions as an afterthought. I have now carried out two successive sample surveys of Berwickshire at 1km scale (2km is not fine enough for conservation purposes) with very much detail at finer scales, all with a Site Register in view". 

In the Botanical Tour of Berwickshire, Michael also tells us about the changes he - and fellow botanists - have noticed over time. As Michael has spent 35 field-seasons as Berwickshire's VCR, he can offer us observations such as "The rest of the moor is over-managed grouse moor where the temporary reappearance of Genista anglica in 2002 and Platanthera bifolia in 2000 are but poignant reminders of what might have been".

Luke Gaskell at Vicia orobus site, Wrunklaw
Michael's long history of voluntary service in wildlife conservation and botany includes 25 years service as either Secretary or Chairman of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Tweed Valley branch, so he knows his area. 

And I was intrigued by this comment: "The Blackadder Water is now too eutrophic for most aquatic species and Ranunculus circinatus was last seen there in 1973. However an enigmatic hybrid clone of Ranunculus is still quite frequent whose parents have been repeatedly suggested to be R. circinatus and R. fluitans. No molecular studies have been made to confirm this. This clone is not known elsewhere in Britain or further afield". One for further study, perhaps? 

Michael Braithwaite
Michael graciously acknowledges all the local and visiting BSBI botanists who contributed to the Tour, including VC Recorders of neighbouring counties, like Rod Corner, David McCosh and Luke Gaskell. He also admits "My Site Register is quite elaborate, but the essentials are much more achievable: a map of each site and a short description including a note of some key species present. Every vice-county where there is not an adequate wildlife site system in place should have one!" 

There is a Local Wildlife Site (LWS) system in operation in VC55 and, in my experience, the use of criteria species/axiophytes works extremely well as a way of notifying LWSs. The criteria species are easy for less experienced recorders and conservationists to identify. And I agree strongly with Michael - if you don't have a LWS system in your county, then you really need a Botanical Site Register. 

But if there were such a system in Berwickshire, we might not have gems like "At Petticowick, the north end of the geological fault defining St Abbs Head is reached and Silurian rocks follow northwards. Juncus ambiguus occurs by a seepage on the beach where occasional plants of Puccinellia distans subsp. borealis may be found". You almost feel as if you are there...

Tuesday 3 December 2013

Back to some actual botany: Parnassia palustris

It's that time of year when we finally have a chance to write up all our botanical finds from 2013 and share them with friends. So I was delighted to hear from Dr Mary Dean, Lecturer in Biology and Associate Researcher at Edge Hill University, about some fieldwork that she and colleagues - headed by Phil Smith - carried out this year on one of our most photogenic wild flowers, Grass-of-Parnassus Parnassia palustris. 

Mary says "Grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia palustris) is one of our most attractive dune slack plants. It is a fairly common plant in Scotland and parts of Northern England and Wales, although its range in southern England has declined recently.  It is found along the extensive dune system of the Sefton Coast in South Lancashire (VC59). 

"In conjunction with Merseyside BioBank, a survey of Parnassia palustris took place on the Sefton Coast in August/September 2013. Phil Smith organised the surveys and recruited forty-three volunteers to help with surveying to cover all the likely slack habitat in the sand-dune system.  

"Data collected included number of flowering plants, area occupied, grid reference for each colony and a range of standard habitat variables. In addition, experienced botanists recorded quadrats in representative Parnassia habitat using National Vegetation Classification methodology and took soil samples for pH determination".

Pretty impressive to get 43 volunteers out surveying Parnassia, but anyone who has read BSBI News will have noticed that there is a lot of botanical activity in the Sefton/Birkdale area - botanists as well as plants. 
I suspect that courses like the excellent MSc in Conservation Management at Edge Hill play a huge part in this. And it means that if you are visiting the area, there are lots of friendly local botanists who can advise you on where to go. In the nicest possible way!

The Ainsdale Parnassia
 Mary sent me the photos on this page (taken by Phil Smith) and has these results to report so far from their survey work: "Over 42,000 plants were counted, although it seems to have been a poor year for this species, due to prolonged deep flooding of the slacks from autumn to spring in 2012/13. Pat Lockwood [image above] can be seen counting the plants on the Birkdale Green Beach".

She continues " I surveyed slacks on the Ravenmeols Local Nature Reserve  and found a couple of cream-flowered plants. Phil Smith had recorded cream-flowered plants in this slack in 2004 and it is good to see that they or their offspring are still there". 

Mary tells me that Phil Smith (possibly with Pat Lockwood) will be preparing a report on their survey work and they hope to publish in 2014. In the meantime, I'm putting "Visit Sefton again" into next year's diary.