Saturday 30 August 2014

Strange Bindweeds and unusual wildlife sites

Calystegia silvatica var quinquepartita
Image: S. Hawkins
BSBI member Steve Hawkins saw the post on Strange Bindweeds and emails to say "I don't get out much nowadays, but I've seen a good patch of Calystegia silvatica var quinquepartita along the River Lea, near Walthamstow, and in a few other places. Here is a photograph from Stockwood Park, in Luton from a couple of years ago.

"The patch by the Lea was so attractive that I took a root cutting, hoping to get it to grow as a native alternative to clematis in the garden, but, true to form, weeds never grow where you want them to! I was a bit late coming upon the Stockwood Park patch, and there were not many flowers on it by then, but I still think it is a greatly unappreciated and beautiful wild variety.  

Betony at Stockwood
Image: S. Hawkins
"Stockwood is also one of very few places in this region where there is a nice patch of Betony, and there are some unusual trees dotted around the golf course too.  Not somewhere you would immediately think of for wildlife sites, but very photogenic when the light is right.  Rather sadly being encroached by horrendous earthworks just for a new motorway junction fly-over at the moment, to get people to the airport five minutes earlier!  

"However, as I was dumbstruck on seeing the state of what was once a beautiful meadow scene on the 'gateway' to Luton, I could not help thinking that most of the interesting plants these days seem to be the ones that grow on the inaccessible sides of motorways and, for a season or two, this newly exposed soil will be a riot of Spring flowers, and probably more interesting than the enriched fields were.

Bay Willows Salix pentandra around the Golf Course
Image: S. Hawkins
"Another unusual plant that I was kicking myself for not taking a cutting of, was a blue common mallow, that I once saw at Aldeburgh, where it was likely to be strimmed away by the road.  The only blue one I've seen." 

Thanks to Steve for sharing his views and plant observations with us. His closing comment was "Always good to read your posts, though it does make me rather jealous of what I'm missing!" This prompts me to remind any botanist who doesn't get out much any more - due to ill-health, pressures of work, caring responsibilities or not being as young as we once were - that you can still share your botanical views and any interesting plants you've recorded over the years here on the News & Views page.

Friday 29 August 2014

Some help with ferns

Looking at Asplenium adiantum-nigrum
Image: M. Godfrey
Martin Godfrey (Staffs.) has been in touch to tell us about a fern ID training session he led recently. He said "On Wednesday 27th August, I went out with a group of Kate Thorne's VC47 recorders and folks from the Montgomeryshire Natural History Society to give them a fern ID training session.  

"Our site was Roundton Hill on the borders with Shropshire - geologically complicated with some nice rock exposures to add to grassland and damp woodland.  

"There wasn't a huge variety of species at the site but they were able to see several species of Asplenium and both Polystichum as well as making an aquaintance with some of those pesky members of the Dryopteris "affinis" complex.  

Sorting out Polypodium cambricum
Image: M. Godfrey
"We were very pleased to refind an old site for Polypodium cambricum - a bit early but it did mean that they could see the difference between that and P. vulgare.  Another nice treat was a patch of Ceterach - unusual here on natural substrates.  

"Sessions like this are quite important I think - it's not so much that people cannot identify things, rather that they feel under-confident in their own abilities and a bit of encouragement and confirmation that they can do it can only improve records for this oddly under-recorded group". 

I agree, going out botanising with somebody who has a little bit more experience in the field, and can pass on their knowledge, makes you feel much more confident about what your plant is the next time you see it. Keep up the good work Martin! 

And a final photograph shows how, even during a fern ID session, a botanist just cannot help but be drawn to any difficult plant spotted en route...

The County Recorder cannot resist Hieracium
Image: M. Godfrey

Saturday 23 August 2014

Watch out for strange Bindweeds!

Paul  recording on Lewis, August 2014
Image: L. Marsh
Paul Smith, County Recorder for the Outer Hebrides, just can't stop recording interesting plants. 

Freshly home in South Wales, following three weeks of intensive recording across the hills and bogs of the isle of Lewis, Paul nipped out the other day to see what he could find in his local area.

That's a good way of coping with the back-home-after-fieldwork-blues! 

Only last week, Paul was leaping from tussock to tussock and climbing crags, hurling his grapnel into remote lochans to see which aquatic plants he could fish out and take back for Claudia Ferguson-Smyth to look at, peering into saltmarshes and examining the tops of drystone walls to see if he could find an interesting Hieracium (Hawkweed). 

Margaret, Paul & Mary spot something interesting.
Image: L. Marsh
Just picture the poor posties, lugging heavy bags to the homes of BSBI Referees for aquatic plants and Hawkweeds, bearing Paul's specimens for checking. 

He really keeps the BSBI Referees busy every summer! Fortunately, we have 105 of them, covering 180 difficult plants/groups, and being able to consult them and send them stuff is one of the main perks of being a BSBI member. There are also two referees just for beginners.

But now Paul is home again in South Wales, and has found an interesting plant in Gelligaer cemetery at grid ref ST135970, while recording a tetrad in VC41.  

It's a Bindweed, but not quite the usual one that you see in hedgerows. I imagine that Paul used Sell & Murrell - the "bible" for infraspecific taxa - to go that bit further in his identification.

He got this one to Calystegia silvatica var quinquepartita. 

Calystegia silvatica var. quinquepartita
Image: P. Smith
Paul sent me the photo on the left and said "I'm not sure if this is the sort of thing you want to blog (though it is pretty), but it could be a reminder to folks to look out for infraspecifics in Calystegia and more widely." 

Well said, and that's why it's exactly what we want for this News & Views blog.

If you are spotting interesting plants, please send me a pic and a comment, and I can post them here!

Friday 22 August 2014

Botanists on Ben Nevis

Getting ready to set off
Image: J. McIntosh
Jim McIntosh has been in touch to tell us about a joint initiative to conduct a botanical survey of the north face of Ben Nevis. 

Work was carried out over the past fortnight and involved BSBI members.  

Climber recording new location for Arctic Mouse-ear
on North-east Buttress
Image: I. Strachan 
Jim said "The BSBI recorder for the area, Ian Strachan, has been the main botanist involved, but Gordon Rothero helped out on the first of the two weeks and I spent a day helping on Wednesday. 

"It was an amazing experience surveying with climbing guides in such precarious places.

Highland Saxifrage, Comb Buttress
Image: I. Strachan 
Whilst it was great seeing good populations of Sibbaldia procumbens, Veronica alpina (Alpine Speedwell), Cerastium cerastoides (Arctic Mouse-ear) – it was absolutely fantastic seeing healthy populations of Tufted, Drooping, Brook Saxifrages (Saxifraga cespitosa, S. cernua & S. rivularis).  

A new record for the north face of Ben Nevis was Alpine Saxifrage (Saxifraga nivalis) – thanks to Ian".

Thanks for letting us know about this, Jim. I also got in touch with Ian Strachan, who said "I had an amazing two weeks - extreme botanising!

"It was a major highlight of my botanical life. This project is a unique opportunity to work with local climbing guides, who know the North Face intimately but are now seeing it from a different perspective - it was great to see how enthusiastic they became about the rare plants. 

Alpine saxifrage in Number 4 Gully
Image: I. Strachan
We got to places I never dreamt of reaching and found new localities for 11 nationally rare or scarce species, including S. cespitosa (Tufted saxifrage) which seems to be struggling elsewhere in Britain.

This blogpost by one of the climbers and also this one have some good photos showing what I got up to - a kid on Christmas Day indeed!
I also found this one on another of the climber's blogs,  taken just after I had struggled back up No 2 Gully!"

Jim and one of the climbers
Image courtesy of J. McIntosh
Thanks, Ian! And thanks to the funders and sponsors: the project, which is led by the Nevis Landscape Partnership working in collaboration with Midland Valley Exploration, is funded by Scottish Natural Heritage, Heritage Lottery Fund, The Highland Council and is sponsored by equipment manufacturer Mammut.

If you’d like to hear a bit more about the Ben Nevis survey, you can listen to a report from BBC Radio Scotland's 'Out of Doors' programme. This is available here on BBC iPlayer - about 44m 40 sec in. 

If you'd like to read a bit more about the survey, you might be interested in this article in the Scotsman

It must have been amazing surveying up on Scotland's highest peak! 

Ian and Jim's photographs are so great, I just have to show you another one, preparing to climb... click on the images to enlarge them.
Coire na Ciste, preparing to climb
Image: I. Strachan

Thursday 21 August 2014

Towards a new national plant monitoring scheme

How can we monitor changes in our wildflower populations more effectively? 

This question has recently been on the minds of many of Britain’s botanical movers and shakers, across the various societies who take an interest in such things. 

The group assembles to start work; Kevin Walker on right
Image: M. Pocock 
These organisations are looking at a range of survey methods that might be used in a new national plant monitoring scheme, similar to ones already up and running for birds, bats and butterflies.

I asked BSBI botanist Oli Pescott, based within the Biological Records Centre/Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, to tell us a bit more about one trial that he recently helped to organise, and to give us a bit of an insight into the scientific rationale behind the methods being tested.

LM: What’s your involvement with this, Oli, and how are these trials connected to the proposed national plant monitoring scheme?

Woodland trials: Oli Pescott (right); Bob Ellis (centre)
Image: M. Pocock 
OP: "My employer, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), has long been involved in botanical monitoring through the links between the Biological Records Centre (based at CEH) and the BSBI. CEH also co-authored a review of the need for a new plant monitoring scheme, jointly published with BSBI, Plantlife and the British Trust for Ornithology in 2010. 

The reason for the recent field tests was to try and see if methods utilising randomly selected plots would be practical for the national plant monitoring scheme currently being developed.  We wanted to field test survey methods, which have been designed by BSBI in collaboration with CEH, Plantlife and JNCC.".

Felicity Harris (Plantlife) and WFC volunteers
Image: M. Pocock
LM: So you held a workshop to trial some methods? What were you hoping to achieve?

OP: "We wanted to find out how different ways of selecting plots for monitoring might affect the practicality and see how volunteers experience the survey. We decided to field test three different methods of plot selection (the scheme will be based around volunteers recording up to 5 plots within a 1 km square)".

LM: Why was that so important?

OP: "It’s very important to have randomisation at the heart of any monitoring scheme. The benefits of randomised plots are not only for the quality of the information provided, but they can also mean that surveyors have fewer choices to make in the field. 

The team, with Pete Stroh, Bob & Oli
Image: M. Pocock
We often found that self-selecting plots for recording can be fraught with difficulty: should you include or exclude the scrub from your chalk grassland plot? Do you put your woodland plot in the nice open glade one side of the ditch or the empty shady area where you are standing? 

One idea is that by giving a largish (25-30) selection of random plots to volunteers, some accessible plots can be found and surveyed, but the unknown bias inherent in surveyor’s self-selecting locations is minimised as far as possible".

LM: So you all held a workshop at Juniper Hall to trial some of the different methods currently on the drawing board. Who was there?

OP: "Yes, we had a very successful two days at Juniper Hall in Surrey last month (thanks to the FSC for hosting us!). Kevin Walker, Bob Ellis and Pete Stroh from BSBI and Felicity Harris from Plantlife were there, as were volunteers from Plantlife’s Wildflowers Count".

Pete, Kevin and the volunteers
Image: M. Pocock
LM: And what happened when you went out in the field to test the three methods?

OP: "Well, we spilt into three groups and each group was assigned one of three methods to try out on a grid square. So, essentially we were all traipsing around a 1 km square trying to work out how many of the plot locations on our maps were accessible! We also tried out laying our plots in different habitat types, and attempted to see how different plot sizes would affect how many ‘target’ species were recorded in any one habitat.

Gridded plots
Image: O. Pescott
We had prepared maps for a number of 1 km squares around Box Hill. For any one square, three different plot selection methods were used to generate 1 km square OS maps overlaid with the potential plot positions for any one method. All the groups had a chance to try each one of the methods trialled. For example, one of the methods trialled uses gridded plots. 

Here (on left) is an example of a systematic plot selection method with the plots laid out in a regular grid, so you can see what I mean".

LM: So, what do you see as the main challenge with this approach?

OP: "Well, the main challenge when volunteers self-select plots is that they may choose the nicer locations containing the species that we are asking them to monitor. This means that the starting point of the scheme is a set of fairly species-rich plots, and so any indicator that might be produced and used to inform on the state of the countryside is far more likely to go down (i.e. most plots are better than average and are therefore more likely to get worse than better). 

Volunteers try out one of the survey methods
Image: M. Pocock 
We need plots in all type of situations so that we can detect increases in plant populations as well as declines. Ultimately it’s about knowing that the approach will provide information that is as accurate as possible, but still remains fun and interesting for volunteers".

LM: Did you find anything interesting while you were out in the field?

OP: "Yes! One of the squares had good populations of one of Britain’s rarest woodland plants, Cynoglossum germanicum (Green Hound’s-tongue)! Box Hill is one of it strongholds but we had no idea we would find it in the woods we were surveying. This came to light as we were walking to a random plot location in the evening gloom".

Cynoglossum germanicum
Image: K. Walker
LM: And here is BSBI's distribution map for C. germanicum. Oli, can you close by giving us an idea of what the next step is and tell us a bit more about how these trials are connected to ideas for a new national plant monitoring scheme?

OP: "The next step is to review all of the results from these trials. This year Wildflowers Count volunteers have also been given the option to use plots in their surveys, although these were all self-selected. We have to review the feedback from those volunteers as well, and then finally recommend a particular approach to JNCC. The scheme is currently out to tender, but the organisation (or organisations!) that are successful in their bid will roll-out the scheme for an initial three year period using the methods that we have developed.

It’s a big challenge, but it would be fantastic if the plant world finally had something to rival the Breeding Bird Survey or the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme!"

Thanks Oli, I couldn't agree more! Let's close with a few words from Kevin Walker, BSBI's Head of Science:

Pete, Felicity, Kevin and one of the WFC volunteers
Image: M. Pocock
"The absolute key for this scheme is to make it as straightforward and enjoyable as possible for volunteers. We therefore wanted to road-test the different methods to help us select which approach worked best, as well as to iron out as many 'bugs' with the methods as possible. 

"It was great to be able to discuss these issues in the field with colleagues whom we've been working with for a number of years, developing the methods and producing the guidance. It was also very sobering to see how things did or didn't work, but great to be able to make decisions on the spot when it was clear that aspects of the scheme weren't practical. We are now much more confident that the scheme will work, and that it will provide an enjoyable and rewarding experience for volunteers!"

Monday 18 August 2014

The Birdfair Plant ID Quiz.

David Roy (BRC/CEH) watches Birdfair staffers trying
the ID quiz with BSBI member Rachel Benskin
Image: L. Marsh 
We were very busy at Birdfair all weekend. Our Plant ID Quiz attracted 35 participants!

We asked people to identify 9 reasonably common wild flowers which are considered indicators of good meadows in Leicestershire. 

They are all Local Wildlife Site criteria species for neutral grasslands in VC55 Leicestershire & Rutland, where the Birdfair took place. 

Many people who do not consider themselves botanists were able to make a pretty good stab at these species, especially when they tried using plant ID keys: we had a small library with us! 

Helen Roy draws the winners with Simon Harrap.
Image: L. Marsh
Author Simon Harrap joined Dr Helen Roy of BRC/CEH when she drew the winners' names at 3pm on Sunday. 

The first prize is a copy of The Vegetative Key to the British Flora (Poland & Clement, 2009) which aims to help you identify 3,000 British plants NOT in flower, within 3 turns of a page.

The second prize is a copy of Simon Harrap's Wildflowers (2013), a photographic guide to 934 British species.

I will be contacting all our entrants in the next few days and notifying the winners about their prizes. 
Geoffrey Hall & Oli Pescott (on right);
John & Monika Walton on left.
Image: L. Marsh

It was lovely to talk to so many local and national BSBI botanists during the three days of Birdfair and to see everybody catching up with old friends and meeting new ones.

John & Monika Walton dropped in for a chat on Sunday, as did as did Geoffrey Hall, fresh from the BSBI recording meeting in Wales. 

He was able to compare notes with BRC's Oli Pescott, who is also an active BSBI member (Oli sits on Records & Research Committee) and has recently returned from recording in the Outer Hebrides.

Saturday 16 August 2014

Day 2 at Birdfair

Trying the Plant ID Quiz at Birdfair
Image: L. Marsh
A very busy but successful Birdfair so far! 

The Plant ID Quiz has already attracted 21 entrants and the lucky winner will be drawn out of a hat (actually a large black bag) tomorrow by Dr Helen Roy of BRC/CEH. 

The most difficult thing for me was seeing people struggling to identify a plant and not being able to tell them what it was and why. At least, not until they had filled in the quiz sheet and handed it in.

Chris Preston & Mike Jeeves
Image: L. Marsh
It was great to see so many BSBI members dropping in to the stand, many from the VC55 local group.

Ian Denholm and Plant ID Quiz entrants
Image: L. Marsh
Neill Talbot and Chris Hill from LRWT came for a catch-up, as did Mike Jeeves, BSBI Recorder for VC55, the county in which Birdfair takes place. Mike had a chance to chat to Chris Preston, one of the co-authors of  the New Atlas of the British & Irish Flora.

Martin Godfrey from VC39, Ian Benallick from Cornwall, and recorders from East Anglia, Devon and Merseyside all came by to bring updates from their home patches.

BSBI President Ian Denholm was also on the stand today, guiding participants through the Plant ID Quiz and chatting to BSBI members and other exhibitors. So it was all quite busy! More to follow...

Thursday 14 August 2014

BSBI setting up for Birdfair 2014

Hot off the press: BSBI/BRC new poster
Record - Research - Respond
Image: L. Marsh
And so it begins... I've been preparing our stand at Birdfair all day with Michael Pocock of the Biological Records Centre/Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. 

As BSBI won last year's Best Stand award, the pressure was on us this year to produce something even more fabulous, so we thought - what could be nicer than to invite our friends and colleagues at BRC/CEH to share the stand with us this year? 

BRC is fresh from celebrating its 50th birthday this year, and the commemorative booklet they produced is full of references to how BSBI and BRC have worked together through the decades and the part we played in BRC's formation.

Michael adding some final touches to the  Birdfair stand
Image: L. Marsh
So, botanists and other biological recorders from both BSBI and BRC will be on our stand in the usual place from 9am tomorrow morning - Marquee 1, Stand 57. Actually, stand is a misnomer because we have four chairs. so we'll all be sitting around talking about plants, jumping up to show the planty exhibits to anyone who drops in, and encouraging everyone to take part in our Plant ID Quiz. 

More about the Quiz - and the prizes - tomorrow, when Michael and I will be joined by Chris Preston. That leaves an empty chair for you, so, if you are at Birdfair, do drop in for a chinwag and I'll post again here as soon as there's a lull tomorrow (and if the wi-fi works ok!). Or follow what's going on via Twitter here (me) and here (Michael). 

Saturday 9 August 2014

Gaps in Maps

One question which triggered an early interest in botany and ecology for many of us is: Why does this particular plant grow here but not there? Or, having seen a distribution map for the species, "Why is there a gap in this map?"

Arctic Cottongrass (Eriophorum angustifolium)
growing in a sedge-tundra meadow
at Colesdalen (78˚N) Spitsbergen
Image: R. Crawford
Eminent botanist and author Bob Crawford, Professor Emeritus at the University of St Andrews, addressed this issue in his presentation at the BSBI Mapping Conference in 2012 and the images he used to illustrate his talk were breath-taking, so we were delighted when he agreed to write it up as a paper for New Journal of Botany. This has taken a while, as Bob was busy reading the proofs for his latest book, 'Tundra-Taiga Biology: Human, plant and animal survival in the Arctic'. This has now been published, and you can read more about it here. This should whet your appetite for Bob's paper 'Gaps in Maps' which appears in the August issue of New Journal of Botany, due out in the next few days.

Bob said "Maps of species distribution are normally used for information regarding occurrence. Valuable as such information is, the converse of knowing where species do not occur can also be meaningful. This is particularly the case where there are no obvious reasons for absence. There is a long history of hypotheses in botanical writing as to the causes of gaps in distribution, which vary in their geographical dimensions from limited local absences to more extensive non-occurrences. Examples of this latter situation are usually described as disjunct distributions. Some of the commonest disjunctions are found in the distribution of the species commonly referred to as Arctic-Alpines. The evolutionary relationship between the occurrences of these species in the Arctic as compared with more southern montane habitats has long been a source of speculation. 

Glacial Buttercup (Ranunculus glacialis)
Image: R. Crawford 
"The main questions have been whether or not these disjunct distributions are merely accidents of dispersal or the remnants of former widespread and contiguous distributions that have suffered either from physiological failure or other aspects of evolutionary maladaptation to a changing environment. The advent of molecular methods and their role in the discovery of previously unsuspected migration routes now makes it possible to reconsider the causes of some of these gaps".

If you want to read all about Gaps in Maps, and see some of Bob's fabulous images  illustrating his points, you will have to wait just a few more days for your copy of NJB to arrive. If you're not a BSBI member.... you may never know why that plant grows here but not there! Better join BSBI at once and start receiving New Journal of Botany three times each year :-)

Friday 8 August 2014

Views and news from the Hebrides: some oddities

Paul and Oli ignore the view and peer at a sedge instead
Image: L. Marsh
Botany can take you to the most amazing places and sometimes the views are stunning. But botanists have rather a bad habit of walking around peering at the ground. 

A fabulous view is all very well, but a tiny plant you've never seen before can prove even more rewarding. And if there's something a bit odd about it, or you have to really work at the identification, even better!

A bifid Blechnum spicant or a particularly frilly Lady Fern can become quite a talking point, and one of the nicest aspects of field recording weeks is when botanists comes together over dinner and ask each other, "What was your Plant of the Day?" 

A bifid Blechnum spicant
Image: L. Marsh
Sometimes it's a pretty flower seen in the field, like a Gentian, but there are times when a botanist has to work a little harder to come up with a truly memorable Plant of the Day. 

Last night, Nottinghamshire botanist Sally Peacock spent quite a while conferring with Claudia Ferguson-Smyth and working with microscope, camera and various bottles full of strange liquids before uttering the memorable words, "Would you like to see my quadrifid hairs?" 

We looked nervously at the top of her head, not quite sure what the most polite response would be, but a glance at her computer screen made all clear. Sally had collected a Utricularia that afternoon and, to identify which species is which, you need to look at the four-armed hairs ("quadrifids") inside the bladder. So, here is an image which I hope will be new to most of you. Not the latest wallpaper, or the fabric for a new summer frock, but the stained quadrifid hairs inside the bladder of a Utricularia.  Enjoy!

Sally's quadrifid hairs
Image: S. Peacock

Thursday 7 August 2014

Swedish plants in New Journal of Botany II

Sebastian, equipped to start sampling
 vegetation changes in a rich fen
Image: I. Backéus
The August issue of New Journal of Botany will be mailed out next week but, to sustain you in the meantime, here is another sneak preview of one of the papers you can look forward to. 

Having published Torbjorn Tyler's paper on Swedish Hawkweeds in our April issue, we are delighted to bring you a paper on the decline of Swedish boreal plants by Sebastian Sundberg. This is based on a presentation offered at the BSBI Mapping Conference in 2012 and Sebastian very kindly agreed to write up his presentation and offer it to NJB. 

I asked Sebastian to tell us how he got started in botany and to say something about his research interests. He said "Starting off as a young birder, introduced to ornithology by my elder brother, I soon became fascinated by wetlands as local hotspots for various exotic life forms. 

In 2009, checking timing of Sphagnum spore discharge
 in relation to instant meteorological conditions
Image: A.Rydberg
"Wetlands have then been a common theme of my continuous plant ecological research, either on the ecology and restoration of peatlands (focusing on rich fens) or on plant dispersal using mainly peat mosses (Sphagnum spp.) as a model system. Especially that there was such a gap in our understanding of dispersal in relation to the observed patterns of distribution of wetland species attracted my curiosity during the 1990s – virtually every bog contains the same array of species despite that they are indeed patchily distributed in the landscape. 

"This has led me into studying dispersal mechanisms at the very small scale in individual species, via patterns and processes at the landscape scale, to models at the regional level to sum up and simplify the complex patterns.

Sampling vertical distribution of Sphagnum spores
 at different heights over a bog in 2010,
with the aid of a 4.5 m long, helium-filled blimp
Image: H.Sundberg
"As many wetlands have undergone dramatic changes during the past century, I also became generally interested in recent human induced changes in the landscape and how these in turn have affected species presence, distribution and turnover. I could not resist participating when the opportunity arose to analyse the changes in the flora of Uppland, with two comparable surveys at hand, where the first covers mainly the first part of the 1900s. I participated actively in the second survey, which also acted as an excellent, practical education for my learning of identity, requirements and abundance of vascular plant species. 

"The paper appearing in the coming issue of NJB is actually more or less a “custom order” from Chris Preston, who invited me to come and speak about the decline of boreal plants in Sweden, at the BSBI/RBGE conference: ‘A great leap forward – biological recording since the 1962 Atlas of the British flora’ in Edinburgh in September 2012. 

"The decline of boreal plants was one of the more evident patterns that we observed when analysing the floristic changes in the province of Uppland, while boreal plants appear to do particularly badly in Britain. This “order” made me dig deeper into the decline of boreal plants in southern Sweden, the result of which you can read about now!

In 2013, with the obligatory and necessary mosquito 
net, along the Arctic Circle in the boreal forest in
 northernmost Sweden, during survey of ‘white spots’
 for the developing Swedish atlas of vascular plants
Image: L. Fröberg
"All this quite diverse array of topics that I have been involved in, during 20 years of research and teaching at Uppsala University, suits me rather well at my present position, acquired three years ago, as a senior advisor on vascular plants at the Swedish Species Information Centre, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala. There I work with the national Red List, EU-reporting according to Article 17 about the status of species and habitats, and various other issues regarding information about species and nature conservation, with a focus on vascular plants".

Many thanks to Sebastian for telling us more about his work, and I hope you will enjoy reading the paper next week and finding out more about boreal plants in Sweden.

Monday 4 August 2014

Hebridean heroes and villains

Carex extensa
The Hebridean recording team is going from strength to strength, with recorders coming up from Nottinghamshire and Oxfordshire to join Paul Smith's merry band. 

On the first day out, southern recorders tend to squeal and coo over the Butterworts, Sundews and all the unfamiliar sedges, and marvel at not finding any Cocksfoot or False Oat-grass until after lunch. 

Today, we didn't see any Cleavers Galium aparine at all, although we botanised along a roadside and along the shore, and found almost 200 species over the course of the day. 

Gunnera tinctoria in a ditch on Lewis
On the saltmarsh, we found Carex extensa (Long-bracted Sedge) and in the last few days we have also seen Carex lasiocarpa (Slender Sedge), C. limosa (Bog Sedge) and C. pauciflora (Few-flowered Sedge, which we rechristened Windfarm Sedge because it looks just like a wind turbine).

A few days ago, Puccinnellia distans ssp. borealis was found... on a roadside. Plants up here really haven't read the book!

We have also found a few "baddies": Rhododendron ponticum is perhaps the most famous, but we also spotted this clump of Gunnera tinctoria. Only one bit for now, but odds are that if this invasive plant is not removed, it will spread and outcompete some of our native plants. 

Saturday 2 August 2014

Herbarium specimens tell us about people as well as plants!

The August issue of New Journal of Botany should be dropping through your letterboxes later this month, and one of the papers - by Quentin Groom, Clare O'Reilly and Tom Humphrey - offers a fascinating insight into the society's history. I asked Quentin to tell us more about their paper 'Herbarium specimens reveal the network of British and Irish botanists, 1856-1932'. 

Lydia Becker, British botanist and suffragist
Image: Wiki Commons
Quentin said "The Victorians were fanatical about botany. At the same time as professional botanists, such as Alfred Russel Wallace and Joseph Hooker, toured the globe for new species, amateur botanists at home did the same for the British Isles. This paper sheds light on the workings of these botanists, who they were, how they worked and who they worked with.

"Victorian botanists were the forebears of the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. They established societies to help botanists swap specimens and build their collections. Their legacy is the hundreds of thousands of herbarium specimens found in museums, botanic gardens and libraries around the country - and, for that matter, all over the world.

"The role of amateur botanists in science should not be underestimated, but it is not easy to study. The contribution of women in particular is difficult to assess, because few published, yet they were prolific collectors and illustrators. Nevertheless, the mass digitisation and transcription of herbarium specimens by the Herbaria@Home project has enabled us to piece together the interactions between botanists, creating networks of botanical exchange to show who were the main contributors and who they exchanged specimens with.

"The results of this study have shown that botanists of this period were well connected, exchanging specimens liberally across the country. It also shows the gradual increase in female participation and the decline of the clergy’s involvement. This mirrors the societal context of the period where women were campaigning for suffrage and, at the same time, Darwin was laying the scientific foundations of modern biology and ecology.

"The work of herbaria@home is far from finished and as more specimens are digitised their hidden data will be revealed. So far, 140,000 specimens have been transcribed, but we know there are many to go. British and Irish herbaria house about 20 million specimens. These apparently withered specimens are not just curiosities, but windows to the past and source data for historical and scientific research. They obviously tell us about the plants that were collected but, as this paper shows, they also tell us about the people who collected them".