Friday 28 August 2015

Daffodils (native & non-native) on Radio Four

Narcissus pseudonarcissus
Courtesy of Floral Images
Have you noticed that we are starting to hear more botany on Radio Four? Earlier this month, Dr Mark Spencer was on the Infinite Monkey Cage talking about forensic botany and now here is another Natural History Museum botanist (and BSBI member) taking to the airwaves!

Dr Fred Rumsey was on 'Natural Histories' on Monday and you can catch the programme again here on iPlayer. Fred was talking about Daffodils - which of the ones we see outside gardens are native and which are naturalised garden plants? Where do the wild daffodils grow? 

How about the Tenby daffodil, a "botanical conundrum"? Fred checks out historic herbarium sheets and refers to Gerard's Herbal and Sowerby's English Botany to tell us about the first UK record of this plant.

Mick Crawley (centre) with Lynne Farrell & Peter Marren
Image: L. Marsh
Identifying daffodils to species or cultivar level can be very tricky but fortunately Prof Mick Crawley put together this excellent ID key on his Daffodil Site. It's free to download (non-commercial use only) so next spring, why not try out Mick's ID key on any Daffodils you find in the wild? 

And if you are interested in recording cultivated plants which have 'jumped the garden fence' and become naturalised, Mick is running an urban botany field meeting in Welwyn Garden City next month where participants will encounter alien plants "in all stages of naturalisation". Booking details here but act quickly if interested - I think most spaces have already been filled.

Tuesday 25 August 2015

Botanical snippets for August

BSBI botanists take a break: Inishowen, 2015
Image: J. Conaghan
Some great stuff on BSBI members' blogs this month!

Oisin Duffy reports on the recent BSBI Recording Weekend which took place on the Inishowen Peninsula in Donegal

Ryan Clark shares his story of how nature helps him through those low periods and makes a heartfelt plea for children to be encouraged to reconnect with the natural world. 

Gail Quartly-Bishop reports on the recent BSBI Bramble Weekend in Flintshire. The next BSBI training meeting focused on a single genus will be the Atriplex Training Workshop which runs from the 18th-20th September in the Bangor area and on Anglesey. Booking details here.

How to read a Pocock herbarium sheet
(Click to enlarge).
Image courtesy of Robert Pocock
Herbarium Project
Once again the Robert Pocock Herbarium Project shows us how historic herbarium specimens can inspire and inform 21st century botanists.

Great to see high attendance figures at this BSBI local group meeting in S. Yorkshire which attracted 28 people. The interactive map on our homepage shows just how many counties now have a webpage with free local resources for botanists, links to publications such as county Floras and details of local field meetings and recording activity. 

Lycopodium clavatum seen by John Crellin
Image: Floral Images
John Crellin stumbles upon some nice plants while out surveying for the National Plant Monitoring Scheme in Breconshire - like this Lycopodium clavatum.

And finally, a few useful things I picked up via the BSBI Twitter account:

BSBI member Martin Allen points out that there's a new version of Tablefit from CEH which has Stace Ed.3 names. 

JNCC shared this link to the new GB Invasive Non-native Species Strategy.

For anyone wanting to take their first steps in biological recording, the Field Studies Council offers this weekend training course in December. Thanks to a subsidy from the FSC's Tomorrow's Biodiversity Project, this course is particularly good value for money!

Monday 24 August 2015

Commemorating Oliver Rackham in 2016

A Commemorative Symposium in honour of Prof Oliver Rackham is being planned and the organisers are keen to know if BSBI News & Views readers would like to attend any of the activities. 

Bluebells in Hackfall Wood
Image: K. Walker
The Symposium will be held at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge on the weekend of 13th-14th August 2016, and includes a field excursion to Hayley Wood, perhaps the site with which Prof Rackham was most associated. 

Many of Prof Rackham's books - such as this one on ancient woodland - are still in print and are much loved by conservationists and ecologists. He was a BSBI member for almost 30 years, a lifelong supporter of our woodlands and not afraid to speak out when he thought they were not being managed appropriately or valued highly enough.

Click here to view the pdf and express an interest in attending the Symposium.

Friday 21 August 2015

Viola mini-Handbook: progress report

Viola tricolor at Silloth, Cunbria
Image: M. Porter
Good to hear from Mike Porter about progress towards another addition to the series of BSBI Handbooks. Mike has been working hard on his Viola mini-handbook for the past few years and sends this short report:

"We had our editor, Chris Boon, staying with us a week or two back and he and I went through the editing so far; the introduction and main accounts are just about finished, apart from the difficult Viola tricolor which Michael Foley is finishing off at the moment. Sarah Holme is doing the final drawings and I'm adding some distribution notes for hybrids. We're also working on putting together the best photos we can manage and are aiming for publication before next season".

Mike is doing a great job working on the Viola mini-handbook alongside all the other botanical activities in which he is involved. He is Editor of Plant Records for New Journal of Botany, is heavily involved with the Cumbria Botany Group and is one of BSBI's 108 expert Referees, specialising in sedges, and running workshops on this challenging group of plants. 

One of the photographs in the new Viola Handbook
Image: M. Porter
Mike said "I'm finding that sedges are getting in the way of flat-out Viola work - I've never had so many to determine! Don't know why. I do enjoy looking at sedges for determination - I'm certainly not moaning at receiving so many specimens and being asked to comment on them, far from it, but, especially when there is the possibility of hybridity, it can be very time-consuming. I do tend to get engrossed, to the detriment of other responsibilities - both botanical and domestic!"

BSBI's volunteer Referees, such as Mike, do an amazing job supporting our members. If you'd like to consult one of our Referees, you will need to be a BSBI member and then you can start sending off specimens for checking. The BSBI Yearbook (sent out to all our members on joining and updated once a year) has full contact details and don't forget there are also two Referees who support beginner botanists getting to grips with plant ID.    

Wednesday 19 August 2015

Scottish botanists return to Kittyfield Farm

Carduus nutans Musk Thistle
Image: J. MacKinnon
Scottish botanist Jay MacKinnon is having a busy year! Last month she reported from the BSBI recording week in Ayrshire and now she has sent us a report and some images from a BSBI training meeting she attended earlier this month. 

The meeting was held at Kittyfield Farm, near Melrose (VC80) and was led by Luke Gaskell. It followed on from a successful beginners' field meeting held at the farm in 2011, and this time the focus was on how ‘improvers’ could get more familiar with farmland weeds. 

Botanists at Kittyfield Farm near Melrose
Image: J. MacKinnon
Jay says "The agricultural weeds teaching day at Luke Gaskell's farm was smashing. It's a stunning location, on steep slopes above the flat valley of the River Tweed. We could look down on the traces of vegetation differences in arable fields showing where the river used to meander.

"The location was unusually luxurious for a field meeting: we had ample quantities of tea, delicious home-made scones on arrival and ‘comfort breaks’ that were actually comfortable!

"Cattle and sheep are raised at Kittyfield Farm and fodder crops (kale, silage, hay, barley and others) are grown for them. 

Galeopsis speciosa at Kittyfield Farm
Image: J. MacKinnon
"We saw long-established pasture, nice unimproved grassland, newly re-seeded pasture demonstrating the weeds that had lain in the soil seed bank, seed crops sown for birds and the differences between more acid and more neutral-to-basic grassland.

"Luke worked hard to teach to the levels and interests of all those present. We covered the identification of common grasses and learned which are unpalatable to stock, met five thistles including Carduus nutans (musk thistle/nodding thistle), and I learned that I'm not the only one who can't get rid of creeping thistle (Cirsium arvense) by any means fair or foul. 

Botanists on a flowery slope
Image: J. MacKinnon
"We differentiated Geranium pusillum (short hairs on petiole) from G. molle (short and long hairs on petiole); Lamium purpureum from L. hybridum and L. confertum; and Atriplex from Chenopodium. Highlights included Sherardia arvensis, Cerastium arvense, and jammy scones!"

Thanks to Jay for this. I hear that she is hoping to attend the Aberdeenshire Recording Weekend at Ballater/Aboyne on 22nd-23rd August. 

This meeting aims to record across a range of habitats from river shingles, acid grassland and peatland through to native pine-woods and possibly some montane sites - many of the sites lie within the Cairngorms National Park

Let's hope that Jay is kind enough to send us another short report and some more of her fabulous images!

Sunday 16 August 2015

BSBI Recording Weekend: Inishowen Peninsula, Co. Donegal

Purple Saxifrage, Inishowen 16/8/2015
Image: O. Duffy
Reports are coming in from this weekend's Atlas 2020 recording meeting in under-recorded parts of the Inishowen Peninsula, Co. Donegal

The weekend was organised and led by John Conaghan, Oisin Duffy and Mairead Crawford. John is County Recorder for West Galway (VC H16) and Oisin and Mairead - who have featured on these pages before - are keen young naturalists who are making rather a name for themselves as ace botanical recorders, active across Ireland from Wexford in the south-east to Donegal in the north-west. Our next generation of BSBI botanists in Ireland!

Irish Spurge, Inishowen 14/8/2015
Image: O. Duffy 
Over three days, the team visited habitats including sand dunes, coastal heath and blanket bog and were particularly keen to re-find two rare species known from the area: Purple saxifrage (Saxifraga oppositifolia) and Irish Spurge (Euphorbia hyberna). 

Oisin is a superb photographer and it was difficult to pick just a few images from the many he has posted on his Twitter page over the weekend. So I'll limit myself to his pix of these two target species which the recording team did manage to re-find. Purple Saxifrage had not been seen in this part of Donegal for over a century so re-finding it was quite a coup!

Fingers crossed that Oisin will write one of his excellent blogposts on the weekend's activities. For now I'll leave you with this classic tweet and pic from Mairead at lunchtime today:

  1. Botanists break for lunch beside scots lovage (let's hope no one eats it!)

Friday 14 August 2015

BSBI Scottish Officer checks out 'The Rhum Plants'

'Rhum Plants' mascot on Arthur's Seat, where Jim
leads BSBI training meetings most years.
Image: courtesy of Mangonel Theatre
These pages reported last month on a new play, headed for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which was based on an article in BSBI journal Watsonia.

The play, called 'The Rhum Plants', was written by Phil Baarda who combines his playwriting activities with a day job at Scottish Natural Heritage, where he is a woodland ecologist.

Now the play has opened and is playing to near-full houses, including some big names in Scottish botany! BSBI Scottish Officer Jim McIntosh and Jonny Hughes, CEO of Scottish Wildlife Trust, have both been spotted in the audience and here is Jim's review:

'Rhum Plants' mascot by the roof garden on top
of the National Museum of Scotland
Image courtesy of Mangonel Theatre 
"Botany rarely features at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. So it was great to see Phil Baarda's "The Rhum Plants". This is the story of Heslop-Harrison on Rum and the subsequent investigation of his botanical activities by John Raven. 

"The small cast, clad bizarrely only in long-johns and with men suitably moustached, as befits botanists of the era, give a very amusing and light hearted account. 

"The actors playing Raven and Wilmott are by far the strongest while Heslop-Harrison was less so. But perhaps that was because I saw the play just after its opening night. 

"If you are a keen Fringe goer then I'd definitely recommend catching this play (even if you don't sport a 'tache!). Free drams on arrival and moustaches on departure!!"

Jim & BSBI Membership Secretary Gwynn Ellis
at Kew for launch of England Red List
Image: L. Marsh
Many thanks to Jim for these comments! He has been spending so much time in the field and also at his computer recently, whether co-ordinating recording activity on Scottish field meetings (as on the recent BSBI Recording Week on Shetland), or supporting Scottish County Recorders as they work towards Atlas 2020. 

Jim is working incredibly hard to help deliver the Scottish element of BSBI's strategy on 'Recording the British & Irish Flora 2010-2020'. 

So it's great to see him taking an evening off to go to the theatre! Mind you, it was a play about botany so a bit of a busman's holiday for our Scottish Officer ;-)

Of course there are different sides to every story, and the Raven vs Heslop-Harrison story is no exception. Check out this article for a new slant on this fascinating botanical story. 

Wednesday 12 August 2015

Botanising on Shetland 3: Perring-Farrell reunion

Emma, Lynne and Martha on Yell
Image: I. Denholm
A nice postscript to the BSBI Shetland Recording Week from BSBI President Ian Denholm:

"The primary aim of the recent BSBI visit to Shetland, like a lot of our current field meetings, was to record for the Atlas 2020 project, building on the foundations laid by the pioneering Atlas of the British Flora published by Franklin Perring and Max Walters in 1962. 

"It was therefore fitting that the BSBI team should be joined briefly by Franklin’s daughter Emma and grand-daughter Martha, who live on mainland Shetland. Emma and Martha joined Lynne Farrell (co-author with Franklin of the original British Red Data Book) and Ian Denholm to record a square on the southwest coast of Yell, which yielded interesting plants including the attractive Sheep’s-bit (Jasione montana). 

Jasione montana on Yell
Image: I. Denholm
"Emma pointed out that Shetlanders refer to this species as ‘Lucky Minnie’s buttons’. According to Shetland folklore, Lucky Minnie was an old hag who lived in a cottage by a burn and terrorised the local children. Her name also lives on in the local name for bog cotton-grass (Eriophorum): ‘ Lucky Minnie’s oo' (try googling it – the spelling is correct but the derivation seems obscure)".

Many thanks to Ian for this, You can find out more about the influence of BSBI's 1962 Atlas of the British Flora in this paper for New Journal of Botany by Chris Preston. Our maps and data page and Atlas 2020 page explain the why and how of BSBI's mapping projects and our Atlas recording. For details of all our national field meetings, whether aimed at recording, training or general interest, this is the page you want.

Tuesday 11 August 2015

Botanising on Shetland 2: Arctic Sandwort and Heath Fragrant-orchid

Alex photographs "his" Arctic Sandwort on Unst
Image: I. Denholm 
Great to hear from BSBI President and Orchid co-Referee Ian Denholm with another update about last month's Atlas 2020 recording week on Shetland.

We left our intrepid botanists on Unst, fitting in a little plant-spotting while they waited for the rest of the party to assemble.

Ian takes up the story: "Recording work by the BSBI visiting northern Shetland included a lot of routine square-bashing but also attempts to relocate or update on some particularly rare plants on the islands of Unst, Yell and Fetlar. 

Close-up of Arctic Sandwort found by Alex
Image: I. Denholm
"One important target was Arctic Sandwort (Arenaria norvegica subsp. norvegica), which is well-known on the Keen of Hamar nature reserve but hadn’t been recorded recently at the Hill of Clibberswick on Unst other than as a single plant in 1989. 

"Alex Twyford (co-ordinator of ‘An eye for eyebrights’ project) proved he has an eye for sandworts also by finding a single diminutive flowering plant on a bare area of serpentine at the latter site. 

Heath fragrant-orchid, Keen of Hamar
Image: I. Denholm
"Following this, it was possible to identify a number of non-flowering plants indicating a reasonably healthy, if extremely localised, colony.

The fragrant orchids (Gymnadenia spp.) are represented on Shetland by a single small colony of Heath Fragrant-orchid (G. borealis) growing close to the foot of the Keen of Hamar. A survey of this colony disclosed 25 flowering and non-flowering plants, a slight increase from c18 plants recorded on a previous BSBI visit in 2006".

Thanks Ian! Will I sound like an absolute toady if I say how lucky BSBI is to have a President who is happy to travel to the limits of BSBI's geographical range (at his own expense, not on expenses!) to find wildflowers? And who shares with "ordinary members" the same child-like glee that all botanists feel when they see a new plant? Well it's true so I'll say it anyway! 

One more Shetland Recording Week report from Ian to follow - watch this space!

Monday 10 August 2015

Dr Mark Spencer on Radio 4's Infinite Monkey Cage

I tuned in to the Infinite Monkey Cage, Radio 4's science programme, earlier today only to hear the dulcet tones of the fabulous Dr Mark Spencer talking about botany! 

Mark (on left) & Fred promoting Orchid Observers
Big Nature Day 2015, Natural History Museum
Image: L. Marsh
He was wearing his Natural History Museum hat but of course Mark is also a BSBI member and an active botanical recorder, as well as being one of the people behind Orchid Observers. 

If you don't know about this citizen science project, aimed at finding out when orchids come into flower nowadays compared with flowering times extracted from historic herbarium sheets, then click here to find out more.

Today on Radio 4 Mark was talking about brambles, forensic botany (including how hard it is to commit murder without detection!) and "weird green stuff". It was all very entertaining but with lots of Proper Science in there too, and Mark made forensic botany sound like a very cool cutting-edge career option. Excellent work Mark!  

Is Mark Spencer the Brian Cox of botany? He has the hair for it... check out this Orchid Observers video and see what you think  ;-)

If you missed today's programme, you can catch it again on iPlayer here.

Launch of the Burren Botany Bubble

Later this month, Ireland's National Heritage Week takes place and it's gratifying to see how much botany there is in the programme. 

These pages have already reported on the various events commemorating Ellen Hutchins, Ireland's first female botanist, but Heritage Week isn't just about looking backwards! 

So it was great to hear from Mary Bermingham at the Burren Nature Sanctuary in Kinvara, Co. Galway, about the recently-opened 'Burren Bubble' which is being officially launched during National Heritage Week. 

Mary says: "The Burren Nature Sanctuary is the interpretive centre for the natural history of the Burren. We have a unique location with five Burren habitats- pavement, orchid-rich grassland, hazel scrub, ash forest and a tidal turlough (fresh water that disappears twice every 24 hours). 

"The carefully designed paths around the habitats show the visitor, who may be casually interested in the Burren botany, many of the Burren plants in situ as an alternative to walking across fragile pavement on the Burren in search of, for example, the famous Gentiana verna (Spring Gentian).

"We are a new visitor centre (open since 2013 and fund aided by Galway Rural Development) and have won awards for 'Leave no Trace' and Visitor Interpretation with the Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark in 2014.

"We have just opened the 'Burren Bubble' which contains the National Collection of Burren Flora, which is being developed at the Burren Nature Sanctuary with Botanical Gardens Conservation International following the International Agenda for Botanic Gardens in Conservation as an educational resource and plant bank for conservation".

Mary invites botanists living in or visiting the Burren to drop in to the Burren Nature Sanctuary and see the Burren Bubble for themselves. Find out more here.

Thursday 6 August 2015

Tarspot on sycamore: we need your infected leaves!

We've had a request from Amanda Clay, a 3rd year student at the University of Derby, who is carrying out research into tarspot fungus and needs our help with sample collection. BSBI members have been very helpful in providing Oli Ellingham with leaves afflicted with powdery mildew so hopefully we can also help Amanda, who says:

"Rhytisma acerinum is a fungus found throughout the globe, most commonly in Europe and North America. It grows in the U.K on sycamore leaves and causes the disease known as tarspot. It is easily identifiable as it presents as very dark, black, tar like spots with a fine yellow rim. Although it does not harm the plant it is unsightly and a high infestation of the fungus can affect the leaves' ability to photosynthesise.

It has long been thought that Rhytisma acerinum has been an indicator of pollution levels. Associations between the fungi and  the annual average concentration of atmospheric sulphur dioxide, which can be estimated by calculating the number of tar spots per unit area of leaf surface, have led to this conclusion (Bevan & Greehalgh,1979).

New theories are beginning to suggest that this may not be the case. When leaves infected with the fungus fall during the Autumn, urban areas clear away the leaf debris, removing the source of inoculum before the following Spring. 

Rural areas, especially sheltered ones, have been seen to have higher concentrations of infection, as they leave the fallen leaves on the ground, allowing the fungus to wait in the soil ready to re-infect the trees in the next season (Leith & Fowler, 1988).

 In the U.K there has not been any genetic research done into R.acerinum. All current data on the Genbank website has come from papers written from other countries around the globe, like the U.S and Asia. As such it is not known whether there is a variance in the genetic information found in varying locations throughout the U.K.

A project I am undertaking at the University of Derby is hoping to gather as many samples as possible from around the U.K, and do some molecular work on the fungus. We hope to see if there are any spatial variances in the pathogen, or if there is more than one pathogen causing the same immune response from the host".

If you come across any leaves showing signs of infestation, please send them to Amanda, attaching the GPS co-ordinates of where the sample was collected. They can be sent in a regular envelope, folded if needed, and sent to:

Amanda Clay, 43 Station Road, Langley Mill, Notts, NG16 4DS

Email Amanda here if you need more info.

Bevan, R.J. & Greenhalgh, G.N. (1976) Rhytisma acerinum as a biological indicator of pollution. Environmental Pollution, volume 10, issue 4, pages 271-285.
Leith, I.D. & Fowler, D., (1988) Urban distribution of Rhytisma acerinum (Pers.) Fries (tar spot) on sycamore. New Phytologist, volume 108, issue 2, pages 175 -181.

Wednesday 5 August 2015

Hunting Eyebrights 2: Snowdonia

Euphrasia rivularis
Image: F. Rumsey
Following their successful trip Eyebright hunting in the West Country, Chris and Fred left Helena Crouch, North Somerset County Recorder, behind and headed north to meet up with Wendy McCarthy, County Recorder for Caernarvonshire. Chris takes up the story:

"If the weather was kind to us in Cornwall, it was spectacularly good on the first day of our visit to Wales.

We were joined by Wendy and caught the early train up Snowdon to visit the locus classicus for Euphrasia cambrica – Clogwyn Du'r Arddu. 

And within five minutes of arriving at the site we had found it, all 1.5cm of it, together with much E. ostenfeldii and the hybrid between the two. 

Chris & Wendy in Snowdonia
Image: F. Rumsey
It would be an easy plant to miss however, as one's eye was drawn to the huge numbers of E. rivularis also present with its huge flowers compared to the small size of the plant, like jewels in the grass.

E. cambrica is a truly diminutive plant, rarely more that 1.5cm tall, but quite strongly branched so that it looks just like a tiny bush which has been subjected to extreme bonsai treatment. The flowers are tiny too, usually about 4mm or so, with very small lower lips. 

Apart from its habit is differs only somewhat slightly from E. ostenfeldii and, although we had no trouble in finding it, intermediates between the two species appeared to be even more common. 

Euphrasia cambrica
Image: F. Rumsey
We had plans for the Black Ladders on the following day but Fred and Wendy had to go it alone due of the failure of the clutch on my car, leaving me stranded in the Euphrasia-free zone of Bangor Services".

Don't worry botanists, Chris made it home ok, then headed up to Shetland for a week of Atlas 2020 recording with Ian Denholm and other members of the Euphrasia Study Group, and is now back at home in North Northumberland (where he is County Recorder). 

Let's hope that Chris is hard at work on the Eyebright Handbook, due for publication next year. Some of us can hardly wait for this new addition to the series of BSBI Handbooks!

Tuesday 4 August 2015

Final results in from Mayo

Rough Crew in a Mayo gulley
Botanists who took part in BSBI's Mayo Recording Week are enjoying a well-earned rest today, following their amazing results - this just in from Irish Officer Maria Long:

"Final tally from the hugely successful Mayo BSBI recording week is in, and I can't believe what we achieved! 
  • 42 botanists took part (some for the entire 8 days!)
  • 33 hectads (10x10 km sq) all across Mayo were visited
  • 132 monads (1x1 km sq) were visited
  • And, ... ... wait for it, ... ...
  • 10,824 plant records were collected!!

Celebration dinner (takeaway!): 10,000+ records! 
Each and every participant should pat themselves on the back, and particularly the leaders!"

Hear hear! Congratulations to all the botanists who contributed to these excellent results which will feed into BSBI's distribution database and show up in Atlas 2020

Every dot on a BSBI distribution map is thanks to our amazing BSBI members who go out botanising across Britain and Ireland, recording where our beautiful - and often threatened - wild flowers are growing and feeding their records back via our County Recorders (186 of them!), with support from our team of 105 specialist plant referees. What a fabulous network! 

If you're new to botany but would like to get more involved in our work, head over here to find out more and then consider this next move!