Saturday 24 January 2015

BSBI President enthuses local botany groups

If you think BSBI President Ian Denholm spends his weekends reclining on a chaise-longue, while botanists feed him freshly-peeled grapes... well, you couldn't be more wrong! 

Our President likes nothing more than visiting local botany groups and enthusing them about wild flowers, especially orchids. 

He is one of two BSBI Referees for orchids, having studied them for more than 30 years while simultaneously running the now defunct Plant and Invertebrate Ecology Dept. at Rothamsted Research. 

Ian and his co-Referee Richard Bateman have published some of their research on orchids in New Journal of Botany (NJB), the BSBI's members-only scientific journal. A quick note here that NJB Editor Richard Gornall and Maney Publishing have just made ten 'Editor's Choice' papers available to view here and among them is this recent paper on Military Orchids by Prof Bateman & Dr Paula Ruddall. Orchidophiles can also read this paper on the elusive Ghost Orchid.

This afternoon, Ian travelled up to Leicester to talk to 34 members of the BSBI VC55 botany groupAs one of the admins for the group, I had the privilege of organising this visit and introducing Ian's talk. 

His presentation 'From Orchids to Agriculture and Back Again' took us through Ian's botanical life, starting with his arrival at Rothamsted with a shiny new PhD under his belt, and his first meeting with a young lab technician called Richard Bateman. We heard about their early orchid-hunting trips and publications and then Ian took us through his three decades at Rothamsted. 

We heard about the famous Broadbalk and Park Grassland experiments and were treated to images of the rare arable weeds found in some of the trial plots, including the famous species-rich plot which has been monitored since 1843 and has never been treated with herbicide. 

Then Ian switched back to his and Richard's orchid research and how DNA analysis had caused them to rethink some of their earlier conclusions. Gasps and sighs were audible as Ian's gorgeous orchid images filled the screen and people noted down where to see these gems. Ian talked us through what to look for in an orchid and almost made us feel that we could make a stab at identifying these notoriously tricky plants ourselves!

A lively Q&A followed. Prof Pat Heslop-Harrison (University of Leicester) was interested in the BSBI maps, showing distributions of the various orchid taxa, which Ian had shown us, and asked "What about fungal mycorrhizal species associations?" Conclusion: more research needed! 

Chris Hill from the local Wildlife Trust asked about the received wisdom that hybrids are always bigger and more vigorous. Ian swiftly dispelled this myth. 

Local entomologist Ray Morris asked about impacts on invertebrates of the various treatments applied to trial plots at Rothamsted and received the kind of detailed response that only a fellow insect person like Ian could give. Apologies that as a non-enty I am unable to summarise Ian's response, but Ray seemed happy enough!

Ian & Geoffrey in the pub after a great afternoon!
We also managed to fit in coffee, a nice array of cakes including three baked by local members (thanks Uta, Geoffrey and birthday girl Sue!), lots of mingling, catching up and meeting new people, and finally a visit to a nearby watering hole to buy our eminent speaker a pie and a pint. 

Briefly donning my VC55 hat, I'd like to thank Ian for coming up to talk to the group, University of Leicester Botanic Garden for hosting the event and the 34 local botanists who came along and made it such an enjoyable afternoon. I wonder which local botany group will be next to invite Ian to talk to them about orchids? No promises, but if you'd like it to be yours, drop us an email here.

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