Thursday 24 December 2015

Last-minute Christmas present for a botanist!

Kevin Walker at the launch of  the
England Red List, RBG Kew, 2014
Image: L. Marsh
If you are visiting plant-loving friends or family members over Christmas, and are stuck for a last-minute present, try sitting them down with a cup of tea and this link while you go and do the washing-up for them. They will be able to enjoy a new batch of Species Accounts courtesy of the BSBI Science Team and you will accrue brownie points. 

Obviously, when you come to go through the Species Accounts yourself, you should allow several hours for this, as there 80 already published (and 10 more in the pipeline) and they all make fascinating reading for anyone interested in nature conservation. But at this stage, you may wish to reclassify them from 'gift' to 'essential research which precludes my doing any washing-up right now'.

Kevin's work does have certain advantages -
the views and the company can be amazing!
Image courtesy of K. Walker
The Science Team is behind some great resources for botanists, conservationists and academics - last year's England Red List is another example - so I asked BSBI Head of Science Kevin Walker how the Species Accounts came about. Here's what he said: 

"I was always frustrated by the lack of accessible accounts for British species. The Biological Floras in the Journal of Ecology are excellent but these only cover a small number of species and are widely available. They’re also very academic and often don’t answer the questions we want answered. 

"So we trialled some accounts on the website. These generated a lot of interest which led to funding for us to produce more detailed accounts for a suite of threatened species. 

Antennaria dioica growing in profusion
on The Burren, Co. Clare, RoI
Image: K. Walker
"This proved that the demand was there and so we’ve been working away on them ever since and this year we finally managed to set up a webpage where anyone can access them for free. What we aim to do is cover species which are not well known but for which there is lots of useful information scattered amongst the literature. 

"Take Antennaria dioica for example. This is a species that is always nice to see but probably not a species that would generate much interest in the north and west. However, A. dioica (Mountain Everlasting) is vanishingly rare in much of England and Wales and appears to be declining for unknown reasons - Gentianella campestris (Field Gentian) is another example. It has a fascinating ecology that has attracted eminent ecologists such as Turesson. 

Kevin in the field with David Pearman,
BSBI President 1995-8
Image courtesy K. Walker
"As most botanists know, it’s a dioecious species with a predilection for short-turf on extremely nutrient-poor soils. That is not a good combination in the lowlands of England, where its populations have become smaller and more fragmented, except in a few places where large meta-populations have managed to survive with both male and female plants (e.g. on dunes in Cornwall). These insights have come from discussions with BSBI recorders and a review of the literature".

Some interesting thoughts from Kevin - something for us to mull over if festivities start to flag! Just before he headed home to spend Christmas with his family, I asked Kevin if he would come back in the New Year and do a full interview for us, telling us all about the Science Team and some of the projects they are involved in. He agreed and then, talking of New Year, I had to ask if our Head of Science would be taking part in the New Year Plant Hunt

Kevin said: "Yes, with the family in the woods around my village. We did a recce at the weekend and found at least three unexpected plants in flower and if this warm weather continues I’m sure we’ll have something to record!"

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