Wednesday 30 July 2014

Hebridean Recording Extravaganza 2014 has started!

Mary, Claudia, Margaret and Paul:
 examining the roadside vegetation
Image: L. Marsh
A growing number of VC Recorders are organising recording weeks, where botanists assemble in a distant part of the country, taking over a hotel or hiring a house, and spend every day in the field recording plants and every evening checking their identifications, pressing specimens and packing up the trickiest ones to send off to BSBI Referees. 

But, as far as I know, only Paul Smith, VCR for the Outer Hebrides, organises a three-week long house party every summer - and the house is always filled to capacity. Last year we had to have two houses to fit us all in! This year, there are twelve of us helping Paul, and several squares have already been well and truly bashed. 

Triglochin palustre by the roadside
Image: P. Smith
Yesterday we botanised along the road near the house - in the Outer Hebrides, this is more interesting than it sounds! Last year, we found so much Carex maritima Curved Sedge (a Red Data List species) along one roadside that we decided to rename the plant Kerb Sedge. Although the BSBI Sedge Handbook describes this as a "rare plant of sandy coasts", the subsequent comment "able to withstand salt spray and silt accretion to a limited extent" may give a clue as to why it can grow happily along a Hebridean road! 

Aquatics afficianado Claudia ignores the lovely lochan
 behind her and talks ligules with Paul.
Image: L. Marsh 
Yesterday we found another plant that hasn't read the book either. Triglochin palustre Marsh Arrow-grass was growing along a road verge that didn't seem particularly marshy, and who are we to order it to grow elsewhere?

You'll be glad to hear that Claudia Ferguson-Smyth, the photographer whose images grace the cover of New Journal of Botany, has already taken some amazing close-up photographs of some of the plants we've seen and has kindly agreed that we can use some of them here, so watch this space!

Friday 25 July 2014

Sad announcement from BSBI President

From our President, Ian Denholm:

"Today, 25th July, has proved to be a very sad one for BSBI. We learned of the deaths of two of our longest-standing and most distinguished members. 

Mary Briggs MBE was a Sussex-based botanist who served as BSBI Honorary General Secretary for an extraordinary 25 years between 1972 and 1997, and as the Society’s President from 1998 to 2000. 

Clive Jermy retired from the Natural History Museum in 1992 after an illustrious career as a specialist in ferns and tropical botany. He also co-authored the BSBI Handbook Sedges of the British Isles, published in 2007. 

Our thoughts are with Mary’s and Clive’s relatives and close friends at this sad time".

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Eyebright Update

Chris & Jane Gilmour
Image: courtesy of C. Metherell
Chris Metherell has been in touch to tell us how he has been getting on with his research towards the next Euphrasia Handbook (Eyebrights). 

He said "First off was a trip to Jersey, Herm and Guernsey, where the Euphrasia  situation is a little odd, with very few species recorded.  We did our best to check out the records for E. stricta which is believed to be native there (introduced elsewhere in the UK), or at least was, we failed to find any!  

Playing safe... an Eyebright!
Image: courtesy of C. Metherell
"However most of the plants we saw were either E. tetraquetra or hybrids of that species.  We sampled about 15 populations for further analysis.  The photo (above) is me and JaneGilmour the Guernsey VC Recorder getting to grips with Euphrasia (on left) on a golf course! 

"Then to North Wales, where the lowland Euphrasia were well out, mostly E. arctica and E. confusa but of course the upland species were not flowering.  

"Off to Orkney later this month with Fred Rumsey.  We've done quite a lot of background work on the Euphrasia there already - John Crossley kindly loaned a sheaf of specimens ID'd by Peter Yeo in the 1970s, I collected there three years ago, and of course I've been trawling herbaria... So I think we should be able to build up a pretty good picture. After that it's back to the mainland to work our way along the north coast of Scotland to deal with the endemic species there. And of course they've been testing out the latest keys in Kintail!"

Monday 21 July 2014

Plants: From Roots to Riches

Burnet Rose Rosa spinosissima aka R. Pimpinellifolia
Image courtesy of John Crellin
Don't forget - today is the day when botany storms the national airwaves with this new Radio 4 series Plants: from Roots to Riches, presented by Prof Kathy Willis from Kew.

If you can't catch the series live, then its 25 parts will be up on iPlayer for us all to enjoy at our leisure. 

The first part, which airs at 1.45 today (just before The Archers!) is called 'A Rose by Any Other Name' and will introduce the listener to taxonomy and the role played by Carl Linnaeus. Can't wait!

How do aquatic plants regulate ecological balance within lakes?

Good to hear from Ambroise Baker about his current research project, which involves two weeks of field work in Northern Ireland surveying aquatic plants. 

Ambroise botanising in the New Forest
Image: G. Southon
He told me "We are going to report interesting ecological and floristic findings from our field campaign respectively on our project website/blog and on my botany blog

"We are looking into how aquatic plants regulate ecological balance within lakes and would like to assess the consequences of biodiversity loss for the provision of ecosystem services. There is more information about the project on our website or for instance here".

Ambroise will be in the field from 26th July to 9th August, and promises to send us photographs and updates. His Blog is on our list of Blogs by BSBI members so you can follow Ambroise's botanical and bryological adventures and see the surveys he has been involved in, both in Britain and across Europe. During this field trip to Northern Ireland, he will also be collecting some vegetative material for John Poland.

Lake in Donegal with Nymphaea alba
Image: M. Long
If you are involved in interesting research work (or know somebody who is) please consider sharing some details and images here. Your fellow botanists are keen to hear what you are seeing in the field. 

And images like the one of Ambroise (above) must be very reassuring to any young people considering a career in botany. You go to nice places and get to lie on the grass and peer at stuff, and because it's "research", it's all ok - as Sandy Knapp says, doing science is like being given a licence to have a great time! I suspect Ambroise will be working really hard in the field and for very long hours, but I bet he will enjoy it so much that it won't seem like a hard slog at all.

Sunday 20 July 2014

Peter Sell's memorial

At the Botanic Gardens
Image: I. Denholm
Botanists assembled in Cambridge last Thursday to pay tribute to Peter Sell, who sadly died last year. 

Both Ian Denholm (BSBI President) and Lynne Farrell (BSBI's outgoing Hon Gen Sec) travelled to Cambridge University Botanic Gardens for the event, which Lynne tells me was "attended by around 35 people, and eight people gave short talks about Peter and how he had helped them".

Ian said the event was "very informal, moving but also joyous. Kicked off with tea/coffee plus an abundance of cake in the atrium of the Sainsbury Laboratory

Beverley Glover, Richard West and Philip Oswald
Image: L. Farrell
"Then we moved to the lecture theatre for a welcome from Beverley Glover, who is Chair of Plant Science at Cambridge University but also the new Director of the Botanic Gardens. 

"Then a series of tributes from long-standing friends including Philip OswaldPeter Grubb, Chris Preston, Lynne Farrell and Tim Sell (Peter’s son). Some traits emerged consistently from these:

Sorbus sellii
Plant by L. Farrell; label by I. Denholm
Outstanding observational skills and eye for detail.

Intolerance of ‘botchers’ – folks who don’t follow prescribed procedures for describing and naming taxa.

Willingness to extend help and advice to youngsters starting out in botany (eg Chris Preston!).

Infectious sense of humour.

"Then we moved into the Gardens for wine (and more cake..). Beverley Glover led a group to see the holotype of Sorbus sellii, a taxon first noted by Peter Sell in 1989 and formally described by Rich et al. in the last issue of New Journal of Botany

Lynne added that "Sorbus sellii is growing as a mature tree in the Cambridge University Botanic Gardens, of unknown origin but named in Peter's honour". 

Many thanks to both Ian and Lynne for telling us about the event and sending these images of BSBI botanists assembled to pay tribute to a remarkable friend, mentor and colleague. 

Wednesday 16 July 2014

Biological Records Centre 50th Birthday Party

Chris Preston (right) with senior BRC colleagues; a brace
of Roys;  Mark Hill about to cut the cake
Image courtesy of BRC
Chris Preston has been in touch about the recent 50th anniversary bash for the Biological Records Centre. He gave a talk on Hybrids at the Symposium on 27th-28th June in Bristol, organised to mark this milestone and celebrate 50 years of BRC supporting biological recording.

There is an excellent leaflet summarising BRC's history so far, and it's great to see all the mentions in it of BSBI and the way that we and BRC have worked together through the decades. In the section 'Botanists take the lead', we read how a "resolution at the BSBI conference in 1950 to map the British (and Irish) flora" led to the launch in April 1954 of the Atlas of the British Flora project and the publication of the Atlas in 1962.  

Fieldtrip with a view for BRC Birthday Bashers
Image: courtesy of BRC
"Building on ideas and methods proposed and tested in the UK and in Europe over the previous 50 years, the Atlas aimed to record, and map, each species of vascular plant in the 10km squares of the Ordnance Survey National Grid". 

You can read more about BSBI's pioneering approach to recording in a paper by Chris Preston called 'Following the BSBI's lead: the influence of the Atlas of the British flora, 1962-2012'. Here is the abstract of Chris's paper in New Journal of Botany3.1   (published in April 2013), and if you are a BSBI member you can read the whole paper on-line.

The BRC Team inc Oli and Jodey
Image: courtesy of BRC
As the BRC leaflet points out, "Perhaps the most critical aspect of the project was the adoption of data processing equipment using punched cards. This enabled 1.5 million records to be sorted and mapped mechanically and the use of information technology became integral to biological recording. It was from these origins that BRC was established in 1964 with Franklyn Perring as head".

I am hoping that Chris may reprise his Hybrids talk at this year's BSBI Annual Exhibition Meeting in November and that some of the new generation of BRC botanists and ecologists - like Oli Pescott and Jodey Peyton, both BSBI members - will be on hand to tell you all about the first half-century of BSBI and BRC working together.

Tuesday 15 July 2014

Happy Easter (Ross)

Photographing the Scot's Lovage
Mary Dean from Edge Hill is having a busy botanical season! The other weekend, she was up in Scotland co-leading a two-day recording meeting in Easter Ross (VC106) and has very kindly sent us the gorgeous images on this page and this short report:  

"Dornoch Firth - Tain and Ardgay Areas (VC106), 5th to 6th July

"Brian Ballinger, VC 106 recorder, and Mary Dean led a two day recording meeting to the coastal areas on the south side of the Dornoch Firth. The weather for the first day, which covered the Tain coast and the open access part of Morrich More, was warm and sunny apart from two short showers. Our first find was a new site for Crassula tillaea (Mossy Stonecrop) on a gravelled path close to the car park.

Mary (on right) and fellow botanists check Carex recta
  in the BSBI's Sedge Handbook 
"One of Scotland’s coastal specialities, Ligusticum scoticum (Scot’s Lovage), was found growing in good quantity along the sea wall. Further along the coast on Morrich More, where part of the conifer plantation had been felled from the frontal dunes some years ago, we were delighted to see how well the flora had recovered and was forming a colourful carpet of both common and less common species, including Astralagus danicus (Purple Milk-vetch), Centaurium littorale (Seaside Centaury) and Goodyera repens (Creeping Lady's-tresses). The last named was growing out in the open, presumably surviving as a relict from the plantation. 

Corsican Mint
"The Sunday was a little cooler but mainly dry. We met on the Easter Ross Vice-County side of the river at Bonar Bridge to see Carex recta (Estuarine Sedge), which covers extensive areas on this estuary (Kyle of Sutherland). We explored a lovely patch of shingle alongside River Carron recording the find of the weekend, a small patch of a prostrate plant with tiny lilac flowers and a minty smell. It was Mentha requienii (Corsican Mint), probably a garden escape, and the first Vice-County record".

Thanks Mary! More reports of field meetings to follow in the next few days and apologies for a paucity of posts recently. My excuse? It's field season and there are plants out there - hope you are enjoying what's growing in your VC. If you find something you can't identify, you could try this or this or send it to us here

Friday 4 July 2014

Botanist Dr Heather McHaffie receives her MBE

Dr Heather McHaffie with her MBE
Image: by kind permission of
Dr McHaffie
Claudia Ferguson-Smyth has very kindly forwarded this photograph of "Heather McHaffie receiving a well-deserved MBE at Holyrood Palace yesterday". 

Click here to read Dr Pete Hollingsworth, Head of Science at RBGE, talking about Heather's work and just why that MBE is so well-deserved.

And click on some of these links to find out more about Heather teaching ID of plant families; about the Target 8 Project; read one of her most recent posts on the RBGE's 'Botanics Stories' webpage; or click here to find out more about the Montane Willow Restoration Projects.

Need we mention that Heather, who has worked so tirelessly on botanical conservation projects in Scotland, is also a BSBI member? Of course she is! So: many congratulations to BSBI member Dr Heather McHaffie MBE on her well-deserved honour.

Thursday 3 July 2014

Poppies: a new ID video by Lliam Rooney

Opium Poppy Papaver somniferum
Image: L. Rooney
Since publishing his Hawthorn ID video in May, Lliam Rooney has been working away quietly down in Kent on his next project, but he didn't tell us what he would be focusing on. So it was a lovely surprise to receive an email from Lliam with the news that his new video was almost ready and its subject would be British and Irish poppies.

Lliam told me "This is a busy time of year for us botanists but I thought I had to get at least one summer video out! This new video covers all the common poppies found throughout Britain and Ireland and keys out the common Papaver species. It is also a celebration of these wonderful plants that, like stars in a night sky, light up our arable fields and add an ephemeral swath of beauty and colour. I'm very happy with it and I hope you enjoy it".

The link to the video is here:  and it has just gone live on YouTube.The soundtrack to this video was provided by a friend of Lliam's who is a Celtic harpist and kindly gave permission for her music to be used. There's more info on the Kent Botany Facebook page

The link has also been added to the video links above, so you can access the Poppy ID video and eight more of Lliam's videos whenever you like. But I think we should give him a few months break before we start chivvying him about ID video number 10 :-)