Saturday 7 June 2014

BSBI Summer Meeting: Part Five

BSBI botanists on Ben Vrackie
Image: I. Denholm
Our President Ian Denholm is home from the (Perthshire) hills bearing photographs from this year's annual Summer Meeting; they adorn this page and if you send me some nice images, they will also be posted here, so get snapping please! 

While Jon & co were at the Birks o' Aberfeldy yesterday, Ian had opted to join the team of botanists visiting Ben Vrackie. Among the botanical gems they saw was Oxytropis halleri which Ian notes is "a real Ben Vrackie speciality, but the flora was fantastic generally and we were blessed with almost perfect weather. The leader of this trip was Theo Loizou (one of the VCRs for Angus), who did a great job keeping folks together and the whole visit on schedule."

Cerastium alpinum, Ben Vrackie 6/6/2014
Image: I. Denholm
More on the field meetings to follow, but here are Jon Shanklin's notes, recorded live on Day 1 of the meeting and unpolished, so I hope you enjoy this precis of Tom Christian's talk on iCONic – The International Conifer Conservation Project. Jon tells us "This is a globally important mission to preserve some important trees from extinction.  There are many threats to conifers, eg logging, or open-cast mining in New Caledonia, which has 13 endemic species of Araucaria - these are excellent indicators of nickel. 

"This project matters because conifers are very important resources for us as well as for wildlife. We use them for food, forestry, fuel and drugs (eg Taxol).  They help regulate climate through feedbacks of albedo and transpiration. Conifers are the largest, tallest and longest lived species. iCONic collects seed from natural populations where they are grown on in the nursery at Edinburgh, then found homes at sites in Perthshire Big Tree Country. In 2013 the organisation had an expedition to Chile covering one fifth of the length of the country. In a short time, a large part of the native endemic temperate forest had been replaced by a monoculture of new species. They did find a small population of a native endemic, but it is threatened by a hydroelectric project. In Bosnia a conifer is being out competed by Figs. In Lebanon they looked at Cedar of Lebanon, where the nominative species is under threat. In Japan they collected seeds of Abies hermanucus and Japanese Umbrella pine, and a spruce which had not been collected for around 100 years. Pseudotsuga japonica had never been grown in Edinburgh.

Oxytropis halleri, Ben Vrackie, 6/6/2014
Image: I. Denholm
"Perthshire is an ideal place to grow many of the endemic species of temperate regions. iCONic aims to establish at least 7000 plants in Perthshire. All collections are fully databased and each plant is tracked as it grows. Many of the Perthshire forests were planted in the 18th and 19th centuries and provide today’s landscape, and the project will create that for tomorrow. 

"Planting will be on a more natural scale than Sitka spruce forest, with groves of semi-natural style woodland. They are working with many other organisations with similar interests to achieve the objectives. Ten trees from Tasmania were planted just outside Perth – in the UK they have mostly been planted in the west, so weren’t expected to do well, however they are thriving. Experimentation is part of the project, and knowing why plants do well or badly is important for conservation. 

Botanists heading up Ben Vrackie
Image: I. Denholm
Jon concludes "iCONic has various webpages, an e-newsletter and social media feeds. In response to a question: there has been no opposition to planting, and the sites have been chosen where there is already a large population of non-native species. Many of the species suffer from very poor natural regeneration in any case. So far no seed has been of sufficient quality (eg not hybrid) to risk replanting in their native country. In future it may be possible to do controlled fertilisation to get good seeds.

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