Saturday 29 November 2014

Using the England Red List to assess site quality

Gentianella amarella Autumn Gentian
Image: R. Clark
Another of our AEM exhibits is now available for you to view here and we invited blogger, photographer and conservationist Ryan Clark to put together this guest post explaining how he used the new England Red List to assess the conservation value of a SSSI in VC24 (Buckinghamshire). Ryan joined BSBI as a junior member earlier this year and here is what he made of exhibiting at his first-ever AEM:

“Last Saturday botanists from across Britain and Ireland congregated in Leicester for the BSBI Annual Exhibition Meeting. The day was packed with talks, exhibits, workshops and herbarium tours. 

"This was the first time I had been to a BSBI meeting so I didn't know what to expect but I came back with a mind full of new ideas and excitement about the projects taking place in the future. You can see my summary of the day’s talks on my blog here.

Botanists at post-AEM dinner (Ryan lost in throng!)
Image: P. Heslop-Harrison
"For me, the evening meal was a very important and enjoyable part of the day. Apart from the amazing food, the company was lovely too. I am fairly new to botany so the opportunity to converse on a level playing field with botanists with a wide range of backgrounds and experience in the field was unmissable. 

“Apart from enjoying the talks, I was also an exhibitor at the AEM. You can see my exhibit here inspired by the publication earlier this year of A Vascular Plant Red List for England. This groundbreaking publication, for the first time, assesses the current state of England’s flora against standardised IUCN criteria. 

Blackstonia perfoliata Yellow-wort
Image: R. Clark
"The report and an Excel spreadsheet of the data are freely available from the BSBI website here. The opportunity to use this publication to analyse my vascular plant records from the site seemed like a good way to highlight how important this site is for wildlife.

“During this survey, 125 vascular plant species were recorded (as well as 203 invertebrate species). On looking up the plant species in the England Red List, I found that 112 species were classified as least concern in England, 12 were classified as near threatened and one was classified as vulnerable.

“This made it possible to work out the more important aspects of the site for vascular plants. For example, although a mosaic of habitats is important I believe this study highlights the importance of the short turf on site. This requires careful management and the correct grazing pressures to be in place. 

Juniperus communis Juniper at the survey site
Image: R. Clark
"The site is currently grazed by sheep in the winter, however I believe that it is more difficult to maintain the appropriate grazing pressures using sheep, therefore I have suggested that cattle should also be used on site. Cattle create bare ground in their hoofprints, allowing for seedling establishment, and also pull up more coarse grasses, allowing for higher species diversity.

Poterium sanguisorba Salad Burnet
Image: R. Clark
“Overall the England Red List gave me the tools to highlight the importance of this site and should help my local Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) to protect and manage this site even more effectively in the future.

“I would like to take the opportunity to thank Pete Stroh and colleagues for their excellent work on the England Red List, Louise Marsh for inviting me to exhibit at the event and many thanks to everyone who saw the exhibit on the day and was kind enough to offer feedback. If you have any questions or feedback, please do comment below or email me here.”

Succisa pratensis Devil's-bit scabious
Image: R. Clark
Many thanks to Ryan for this report and for sharing his exhibit – I can’t wait to see what he exhibits at next year’s AEM! 

And do let us know if you are using the List as a conservation tool. 

As Ian Taylor (Natural England) said on publication of the List “The scientific rigour brought to the England Red List by a partnership of the country’s leading botanical organisations will enable us to target our conservation efforts more precisely and with greater confidence on those plants, habitats and landscapes revealed to be most urgently in need.”

More AEM exhibits for you to check out

Three more of our AEM exhibitors have responded to the call to share details of their exhibits more widely:

Dr M and Apps at AEM 2014
Image: P. Heslop-Harrison
Katrina Sharp (Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Bangor) was unable to attend the AEM in person but offered a small exhibit about a project that BSBI members might like to get involved with. 

Katrina and colleagues are trying to build up a database of incidences of leaf damage due to ozone pollution. 

She is asking botanists to submit any sightings: you can find out more about what to look out for, download a brochure and register here. There is a smart-phone App that you can use, or you can submit records the old-fashioned way if you'd rather.

Jonathan Mitchley (aka Dr M) offered an activity-based stand, with botanists encouraged to try out some of the plant ID Apps currently on offer. 

Nichola (on left) and botanical activities
for children, AEM 2013
Image: L. Marsh
He was particularly keen to compare the Book of Stace with the App of Stace. If you would like to download and try out any of the Apps that Dr M used, I'm sure he'd be delighted to hear how you got on: you can leave a comment on his blog.

Nichola Hawkins exhibited her Botanical Activities for Children, and is happy for you to download these resources free of charge here

Nichola is also Publicity Officer for the Wild Flower Society, and if you aren't aware of the excellent plant ID resources on their website, or their annual programme of field meetings, then I suggest you head over here and take a look. 

Friday 28 November 2014

Clive Stace talks about Hybrids at AEM 2014

Clive in the Herbarium at Leicester
Image: L. Marsh
Clive Stace's new book The Hybrid Flora of the British Isles is due for publication next spring and at last weekend's BSBI Annual Exhibition Meeting, it was standing room only at the back of the lecture theatre as Clive offered a preview of what we can expect. 

Stace specimen reproduced in the New Flora
Image: K. Widdowson
Some of the AEM guests had just hot-footed it back from the the last of our herbarium tours, where one of the treats on offer was a chance to see some of Clive's herbarium sheets stored in LTR (the code for the Herbarium at the University of Leicester). 

The image above shows Clive, on a recent visit to the Herbarium, looking at a specimen he collected himself in June 1953, when he was just 14. 

He told me "I remember the day, I remember the plant, and I remember the friend who was with me". Every herbarium sheet tells a story

Kevin W. joined one of the AEM herbarium tours and then shared the image (on left) and this post on Facebook :

Kevin says "The picture shows one of the many specimen records collected by Clive Stace and its reproduction in New Flora. A real privilege to see some of the primary research that went into producing such a key botanical text".   

If you didn't make it to the AEM and are now kicking yourself for missing out - you're in luck! You can now download a pdf of Clive's talk 'Hybrids 40 years on: the Hybrid Flora of the British Isles' if you head over here to our AEM webpage. 

If you were there at the AEM - well, you'll probably agree that Clive's asides and responses to questions from the floor were what made his presentation so memorable. For such an eminent botanist, he's very warm and approachable, even taking the time to sign a copy of his New Flora of the British Isles for one first-time exhibitor, who posted the image on the right and tweeted: 

Sheet of Stace, Book of Stace, Sign of Stace, brilliant event thank you!

Thursday 27 November 2014

More AEM presentations for you to download

Two more of the presentations from Saturday's BSBI Annual Exhibition Meeting are now available for you to view. 
Ryan Clark's exhibit, using the
England Red List
Image: R. Clark

Firstly, there's Pete Stroh's presentation on the new 'England Red List' aka A Vascular Plant Red List for England. The List can also be downloaded from the BSBI website here (free of charge) and you can read more here about when we launched the List to the press at Kew Gardens in September. We all hope that it will prove to be an important new tool for botanists and conservationists.  

Secondly, we have the Euphrasia three-hander which went down so well at the AEM: Chris Metherell on work towards a new Euphrasia Handbook; Fred Rumsey (NHM) on illustrations for the Handbook; and then Alex Twyford on research he is carrying out on Euphrasia - with an opportunity for you all to get involved.

You can view all these presentations by going to our AEM webpage here and clicking on items in the list (top right). Not quite as good as being there, but you can at least get the flavour of a BSBI Exhibition Meeting without leaving your armchair, which can't be bad!

New BSBI Handbooks coming soon

One of the images from the forthcoming Viola Handbook
Courtesy of M. Porter
Two more exhibits at this year's AEM are now available to view: a couple of posters on forthcoming BSBI Handbooks.

You can click here to see Mike Porter's poster about his Viola mini-handbook. It's nearing completion and the poster shows some of the features we can look forward to. There's  a comparison of two similar species - V. riviniana and V. canina - and some gorgeous photographs.

Or click here to see Mark Lynes' poster about his forthcoming Alchemilla Handbook, and if you follow him on Twitter @AlchemillaMan you will catch glimpses of some of the specimens he is working on. 

Wednesday 26 November 2014

National Plant Monitoring Scheme: Oli's talk at the AEM.

Oli (on right) chats to Pete Stroh (BSBI's
Scientific Officer) over lunch at AEM 2014. 
The first of the presentations from Saturday's BSBI Annual Exhibition Meeting has just been uploaded to our website here and it is Oli Pescott introducing the new National Plant Monitoring Scheme

We hope that lots of botanists, at all skill levels, will register here to take part in this exciting new project which will be launched in March 2015.

It's a joint project between BSBI, the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, JNCC and Plantlife, but you don't have to be a member of either BSBI or Plantlife in order to take part. 

There will be (free) training sessions to help people improve their ID skills, especially with more difficult groups of plants. This interview with Oli should give you a bit more background on the National Plant Monitoring Scheme, and you can also check out this NPMS page on Plantlife's website

Oli (hatless here!) in the field with Paul Smith, Chair of
Records & Research Committee.
Outer Hebrides, August 2014.
Oli wears several hats - as do many of us in BSBI! He sits on BSBI's Records & Research Committee and is a keen local recorder, both on his home patch(es) and further afield

He also exhibited this poster at the AEM, titled 'A systematic pavement flora of Sheffield'. 

And you can read Oli's blog here.

The BSBI Panel of Referees

Here is the first of the exhibits shown at last weekend's AEM - so even if you weren't there, you won't miss out entirely! Jeremy Ison offered this poster on the BSBI Panel of Referees and Specialists. 

Jeremy (centre) with Uta from the AEM Organising Team
BSBI currently has 105 Referees covering 180 difficult plants or groups of plants. They do an amazing job - all completely unpaid - and having free access to BSBI Referees is one of the main perks of membership. There are even two dedicated Referees to support our beginner botanists.

Full contact details for all our Referees, and instructions on how to send your material to them, are available in the BSBI Yearbook, sent to all our members. Jeremy's poster shows the excellent work they do, the challenges they face, and some possible solutions. What do you think? Do you use the Referee system? Do you find it useful? Let me and Jeremy know please - email us here or leave a comment below. 

Tuesday 25 November 2014

More about the AEM 2014 talks.

So, I allocated half an hour to writing a fuller report on the speakers at the AEM for you, and what do you know - Ryan Clark got there before me! 

A packed lecture room at the AEM
Ryan is one of our recent members who exhibited for the first time at this year's AEM, and it's great to see how keen he was to share his experience of the day. I'm glad to say it was a positive experience, so click here to read all about the talks (and I get a half-hour break - many thanks, Ryan!) 

But any of us who saw his exhibit at the AEM shouldn't be surprised that Ryan was so quick off the mark. He had applied the England Red List for Vascular Plants to a site survey he carried out this summer, and was exhibiting his results only two months after publication of the list. A very popular exhibit on the day, and great to see first-time exhibitors like Ryan at the AEM!

Standing room only at the back (don't tell Health & Safety!)
Ryan has kindly agreed to write a guest article here on News & Views about his exhibit, so watch this space. 

You can also follow his blog here - and I've added him to the list on the right of blogs by BSBI members. There are rather a lot now (hurrah!) so you will have to scroll down to see them all. Some informative and inspirational reading in there for a grey day.

Monday 24 November 2014

BSBI Exhibition Meeting 2014: volunteer members show what they can do!

John Poland's Plant ID Quiz
182 botanists from across Britain and Ireland came together on Saturday for the BSBI Annual Exhibition Meeting, held this year at the University of Leicester. This makes it our best-attended provincial AEM since records began: we didn't quite beat last year's attendance figure of 192 at the Natural History Museum, in London!

Feedback so far suggests that all the hard work from BSBI's Meetings & Communications Committee and the VC55 volunteers paid off, and a great botanical day was had by all. 

The Lecture Room was full to capacity for talks!
The theme for this year's AEM was BSBI new projects and publications, and the lecture room was packed for our keynote speaker Prof Clive Stace (Emeritus Professor of Plant Taxonomy at University of Leicester). 

His talk 'Hybrids 40 years on' really whetted our collective appetite for his forthcoming Hybrids book, scheduled for publication next spring. BSBI staff offered updates on projects like the England Red List and Atlas 2020, Oli Pescott got us all raring to go on the new National Plant Monitoring Scheme and lots of you liked the three-handed presentation on Euphrasia by Chris Metherell, Fred Rumsey (NHM) and Research Fellow Alex Twyford. 

Clive Stace (right) &
Mike Wilcox (VC63)
We hope to make all these presentations available on our website soon, along with any of the 31 exhibits that can be uploaded. 

But going through our feedback forms, one complaint keeps recurring. Under "what could we do better next time?" fourteen people complained that there just wasn't enough time to do everything. 

They had to chose between attending talks, browsing the exhibits, catching up with old friends and chatting to fellow botanists, joining herbarium tours or participating in the Euphrasia workshop. 

To which I can only reply that we were adhering to the old showbiz adage - always leave your audience wanting more of you, not less! If too much choice was the worst aspect of the day, then I think we have done our job!

Arthur, Chris & Ian: catching up over a Euphrasia or three!
Our herbarium guided mini-tours were heavily over-subscribed, even after several regional members graciously stood aside for those who had come from farther afield. 

Diane and Rowan (two of the VC55 Herbarium Volunteers) turned down the opportunity to hear the presentations, in order to show specimens collected by local collectors and former curators such as Tom TutinTony Primavesi and Clive Stace, and current curator Richard Gornall, to 36 visiting botanists. 

They talked people through what goes on in a herbarium and how you can get involved, by volunteering in your local herbarium or via Herbaria@Home. 

Diane (on right) leading a herbarium tour
Five more VC55 volunteers (Uta, Geoffrey, Pouran, Russell and Ian) spent the day making sure that all our guests were well looked after, and Ian and Jon from Meetings & Communications Committee chaired the sessions beautifully. 

Many thanks to all of them for their hard work, and to all of you who contributed to this year's AEM and made it such a success. 

Keep an eye open here for those uploaded presentations and confirmation of the date of next year's AEM, when we are back at the Natural History Museum.

Thursday 20 November 2014

Guess who's coming to the AEM?

Melampyrum arvense
Image: B. Laney
Apologies that preparations for the Annual Exhibition Meeting, being held this Saturday in Leicester, have taken up so much time in the past fortnight that I haven't had time to keep you updated on these pages.

The good news is that we are all set for a great AEM, and almost 150 of you have already booked to attend. The even better news is that it's still ok to drop in unannounced, although you may not get a lovely name badge with your name printed on it! But the venue is big enough so I think we can fit in a fair few more of you.

You already know who is on the programme and that John Poland will be running one of his vegetative ID quizzes. This year's is on IDing winter twigs.
M. pratense habitat
Image: B. Laney
But here's some news for you: plantfinder extraordinaire Brian Laney will also be coming along for the day! Brian tells me he has "collected a large number of samples especially from Northamptonshire but also the odd specimen from other counties for the past couple of years that I am struggling to identify. Some of the species were found while square bashing for Atlas 2020."  Brian is hoping that fellow members might offer some help with ID. 

I'm hoping to find out more about the habitat management projects Brian is carrying out, to conserve rare and endangered species such as Field cow wheat Melampyrum pratense.

You may want a little light relief after struggling with all those IDs. Jonathan Mitchley may be able to provide that with his trial of plant ID Apps. And if you really can't make it to the AEM, why not check out Jonathan's blog and then maybe trial one of the Apps yourself on Saturday? 

You can leave a comment below - we will have this page open (wifi permitting!) to receive your comments and Jonathan or I can respond and we will share your comments with other guests trialling the Apps. You could also use Twitter - tweet your comments to us: @BSBIbotany for me, or @DrMGoesWild  to reach Jonathan. Let's see if the technology can support a lot of botanists with opinions to share :-)

Tuesday 4 November 2014

The AEM programme

The AEM programme has now been finalised - it should be up on the website soon but here, as you'd expect from News & Views, is a sneak preview of the three talk sessions:

The BSBI Summer Meeting in Perthshire: report (Ian Denholm).
The Irish Species Project (speaker tbc).
The new England Red List for Vascular Plants (Pete Stroh, BSBI Scientific Officer).

The National Plant Monitoring Scheme (Oli Pescott, Biological Records Centre).
The forthcoming Euphrasia Handbook and related projects (Chris Metherell (BSBI)/Fred Rumsey (NHM)/Alex Twyford (RBGE)).  
Recording for Atlas 2020 (Jim McIntosh, BSBI Country Officer).

“Hybrids 40 Years On” (Prof Clive Stace, University of Leicester and BSBI President 1987-1989)
Q&A session with BSBI staff, trustees and officers.

AEM 2013 at the Natural History Museum
If you are new to BSBI and/or the AEM and are unsure what to expect, this video shot by one of last year's speakers may give you a flavour. Rest assured that this year, we will make sure we get everybody's presentations in advance!

If you do want to come, this is absolutely your last chance to book the £10 food and drink package - we are not allowed to bring our own lunch into the venue and the cafe 5 minutes walk away is likely to be very busy at lunchtime. But if you can book via Paypal before final numbers go through to the University caterers tomorrow, then you will enjoy the package outlined on the AEM flyer.

Hope to see you on the 22nd November in Leicester!

Monday 3 November 2014

The erosion of collections-based science

The latest issue of The Plant Press has just been published - it's a quarterly newsletter from the Dept. of Botany and the U.S. National Herbarium. Although its main focus is on American botany, this article on 'The Erosion of Collections-based Science: alarming trend or co-incidence?' includes an update on what's happening at Kew and offers an overview of how botanic gardens, herbaria and botanical institutions across America are responding to budget cuts.

VC55 Herbarium volunteers
The article makes depressing reading about large botanical institutions, and many of us are already aware of smaller UK herbaria experiencing difficulties. In a presentation given at the BSBI's 2012 Annual Exhibition Meeting, Geoffrey Hall - then Curator of Leicestershire Museum's Natural History Collection (LSR)  - highlighted threats faced by British and Irish herbaria and I outlined how local BSBI members were attempting to reverse the trend in VC55's other herbarium at the University of Leicester (LTR). 

VC55 Herbarium volunteers
If you are one of the 36 people who have booked a Herbarium tour at this year's AEM, you will be able to see for yourselves how we got on and how a few hours each week volunteering in your local herbarium can start to make a real difference. Interest in these tours has been overwhelming and we have had to slot in a third tour to fit everyone in.

If you didn't manage to book a Herbarium tour, you can still get a flavour of why herbaria are so well loved by those of us who frequent them if you check out the VC55 exhibit at the AEM. It is provisionally entitled Botany in VC55: past present and future. A suggestion that we call it Standing on the Shoulders of Giants was vetoed because some of the giants are still with us and would be embarrassed at such hyperbole. One of them, Clive Stace, is giving the headline talk at the AEM, so you can judge for yourselves, and you may spot a few others milling around on the day! 

The VC55 exhibit will also include items from LSR, assembled by Geoffrey who is now sadly its former curator and can tell you more about the fate of the collection. Ask any VC55 member on the day if you want to hear about the amazing and much-missed workshops and talks Geoffrey used to run, using items from the collection. 

On a brighter note, the VC55 Herbarium Team is looking forward to welcoming you on 22nd November and, as well as the three tours, we are also hosting a Euphrasia Workshop in the morning with Chris Metherell, using only herbarium specimens to trial the ID keys in the forthcoming Euphrasia Handbook. We still have a few spaces on this workshop, so please email if you are coming to the AEM and would like to put your name down. 

Sunday 2 November 2014

Very sad news from Ireland

We have received some very sad news this week from Maria Long, the BSBI's Irish Officer.

Caoimhe (on right) in Antrim 2014
"I can't believe I have to write this post. It is in memory of my close friend Caoimhe Muldoon, whom many of you will have known. Caoimhe passed away suddenly this weekend. She loved nature, she loved life, and she was about to unleash her enthusiasm on the BSBI Committee for Ireland as Field Meetings Secretary."

Our thoughts are with Caoimhe's family, friends and colleagues at this very sad time.