Thursday 25 February 2016

Botanical training opportunities in Scotland

Getting started with the Rose Family: 
a page from Faith's Pocket Guide to
Wildflower Families
If you will be in Scotland this summer and want to get started in botany, build up your field ID skills or brush up following a long gap, then you'll want to hear about the very popular Plant Families Workshops which are now successfully into their fourth year

Over those years, a guide to common plant families has been tested and refined and I hear that the students have all voted it very helpful for identification.

Learning about plant structure 
with Faith's hand-outs

The weekend workshops are run by Dr Faith Anstey and her team of BSBI tutors, and will be held this year at four locations across Scotland. 

Click on the link to book your place on any of the workshops:

The aims of these weekend workshops are to teach you how to identify wild flowers through recognising their families and to help you build up your confidence in using identification keys. 

Tutors and students work together in small groups
On Saturday morning, you start by learning about the plant kingdom and some of the botanical terms used to describe plants - don't panic, there are helpful hand-outs that you can keep referring back to. 

Then Faith introduces you to plant families, with her specially designed booklet containing a flowchart to, and descriptions of, 24 common families to enable you to ‘find the family first’. This makes it much quicker and simpler to identify the species at hand.

An extract from Faith's famous
Plant Family Flowchart!

At this point, you split into groups and the tutors guide you through using the flowchart to work out the family. 

After lunch, Faith introduces you to using ID keys - always a hurdle to get over when starting out but again you have a chance to work in small groups with Faith and the other tutors, both in the classroom and in the field. 

Fieldguides and handlenses - the essential tools of the botanist's trade - are essential equipment here, but you don't need to worry about buying these items in advance if you don't already have them: Faith and her team will have spares for you to try out, as well as lots of handy hints on how to use them.

Trying out ID keys in the field

On the Sunday morning, there is a follow-up field excursion where you spend three hours practising your new-found field ID skills and again there is lots of support on offer whenever you get stuck. 

I asked Faith to tell us what sort of people attend the Saturday workshops and what she feels they get out of the workshops, which are proving so popular! Here's what she said: 

Getting started with the Campion Family
"This one-day course is aimed at people keen to learn, improve or refresh skills in field botany, using an approach to ID via plant families. Participants tend to be students in various disciplines, workers in plant-related jobs, and those with a general interest (and sometimes quite a lot of practical experience) in botany.

"The basics of plant structure and nomenclature are reviewed. Then a flowchart is introduced which covers 50 families and has a high record of success in leading students to the correct family for a given specimen. 

"This is supported with descriptions of the typical characteristics of 24 families. 

Workshop participants practice their skills
at the follow-up field meeting
"Dichotomous keys are also covered, from a very simplified example through to those in Francis Rose's Wildflower Key. Small-group, hands-on work with a tutor, in the classroom and later outdoors, is an essential part of the course.

"The course has proved so popular that the Pocket Guide to Wildflower Families, an A6 spiral-bound weatherproof booklet containing most of the material, is now on general sale, at".

Many thanks to Faith for telling us more about the Plant Families Workshops. They book up quickly, so if you are interested, please use the links above to reserve your space, or go to the BSBI Scotland pages here

All images courtesy of Faith Anstey.

Tuesday 23 February 2016

BSBI County Floras and Rare Plant Registers

Do you have any idea how many counties in Britain and Ireland have now published their own Floras? Or how many have a Rare Plant Register?

I wouldn't easily have been able to answer these questions last week but I can now and so can you, thanks to the excellent David Pearman, BSBI President 1995-1998, former Chair of our Records & Research Committee, co-author of numerous BSBI publications including the New Atlas of the British & Irish Flora and last year's Hybrids Flora, and an all-round good egg. 

We admire him so much that we held a special Pearman Day at Kew in September 2014 to celebrate David's many achievements and honour his contribution to the society (and to thoroughly embarrass the poor man all day long!)

David has produced this helpful spreadsheet which lists all the published Floras and Rare Plant Registers currently available. 

A very helpful resource, and David was the ideal person to compile it - he is also the man who co-ordinates all those lovely flyers in BSBI News for pre-publication offers, which save botanists money whenever an essential new publication comes out. 

Here's what David had to say about County Floras: 
"Pride in one's county has led generations of botanists to crown their recording efforts by writing definitive accounts of the plants on their patch. Modern techniques of mapping and colour have made today's productions even more appealing, but behind them all is an extraordinary amount of volunteer time, often involving scores of botanists. 

"Since 2000 alone nearly forty Floras have appeared, as well as check-lists and supplements. All of England is covered now, as well as most of Wales and much of ScotlandIreland is more of a problem, as there are so few botanists there with a large area to cover. This new list aims to set out what is there, and what is available to buy or download."

As a Corresponding Member of BSBI Publications Committee, David is a key player in our crack team, led by John Poland of Vegetative Key fame, which helps guide authors of BSBI Handbooks and County Floras towards publication. 

Pubs aims to make sure that you all have the periodicals and publications you need to help you botanise more effectively. Any suggestions for Handbooks you would like - or offers to write one yourself - would be gratefully received.

Thursday 18 February 2016

Increase in Mediterranean natives in British & Irish flora?

Giant Fennel: flowerhead above, leaf below
Images: C. Thorogood
Why, you may wonder, should British and Irish botanists be taking an interest in plants native to the Mediterranean Basin? Unless of course a holiday is in the offing! 

Because, as Bristol botanist Dr Chris Throrogood suggests below, we may start to see more Mediterranean natives turning up in the next few years, either as casuals or becoming established. 

In this guest blogpost, Chris also flags up a few distinctive aliens that botanists in southern parts of Britain and Ireland might like to watch out for this year:  
“The UK is predicted to develop a more Mediterranean climate with global warming in the 21st Century. With increasing temperatures and changing rainfall patterns we may see changes in our flora. In 2016 we’ve already seen more plants blooming out of season than ever before. 

We may also expect to see an increase in the abundance of aliens originating from the Mediterranean Basin as conditions in the UK become more similar to their native habitats. Two such examples are noteworthy from recent years and when they crop up you can hardly miss them!

Giant Fennel (Ferula communis) is a spectacular member of the Carrot family (Apiaceae) with tree-like stature. It is a common and prominent feature of Mediterranean roadsides in spring, with towering, woody inflorescences persisting long after blooming. Gardeners will know the plant takes years to build up a stock big enough to bloom. The species is casual in the UK and usually considered to be a garden escape. 

Bean Broomrape spike: above & below right;
close-up below left of individual flower
Images: C. Thorogood
There are some recently established quite spectacular stands of the plant along motorway embankments in Kent, which it shares with its more diminutive relative, the culinary Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) – also a Mediterranean native. As our weather becomes warmer, we may see an increase in this impressive plant along our roadsides.

Bean Broomrape (Orobanche crenata) is rarely cited in UK plant field guides and is an uncommon, casual member of our flora. However when this parasitic plant does occur, it is often in spectacularly large numbers! I first saw this plant in the UK in Cranham, south Essex, where it has long been known since large numbers of it appeared as a pest on cultivated crops. It now re-appears sporadically there on field margins and fallow land on wild host plants such as Smooth Tare (Vicia tetrasperma). 

More recently, several million Bean Broomrapes infested Broad Bean fields in Kent. This extraordinarily large population presumably will have deposited a significant seed bank so the plant may well persist in the area for years to come. Worryingly for farmers, this outbreak suggests this common Mediterranean pest may well be on the increase in the UK.

Other ‘weedy’ broomrapes infect various crop species in the Mediterranean for which we should be on the lookout, particularly if farmers turn to new crops such as sunflowers. 

Branched Broomrape (close-up below)
Images: C. Throrgood
For example Branched Broomrape (Phelipanche ramosa; previously known as O. ramosa) which has long been recorded (though not recently) in the UK on various herbaceous hosts. 

With a recent resurgence in Mediterranean natives such as the two described above, and even remarkable observations such as the presence of desert species such as the Prickly Pear (Opuntia phaeacantha) naturalised in east Kent, it looks like we could see an increase in Mediterranean components of the UK flora in the future”.

Many thanks to Chris for alerting us to some of the Mediterranean natives we may start to see turning up more frequently in the south of these islands. And who better to record and map any such newcomers than BSBI botanists?

All of the species above (apart from the Prickly Pear) appear in Stace 3 (the “botanists’ Bible”!) but without illustrations, sadly. 

If you’d prefer to have colour photographs and line drawings to help you identify those aliens with confidence, or if you’re heading to the Med this year and fancy IDing them on their home turf, you might want to check out the sample pages here for Chris’s new field guide to the wild flowers of the western Mediterranean, which Kew Publishing are bringing out this month. 

The images and illustrations on this page are Chris's work - click on an image to enlarge it.

Monday 15 February 2016

Botanical outreach in Galway

Cheese and wine before the talk
Image: D. Lynch
BSBI Irish Officer Dr Maria Long has been out spreading the word about BSBI among students at the National University of Ireland Galway. Their Botany Society welcomed Maria last month and her talk about BSBI seems to have gone down very well indeed! Over to organiser Deirdre Lynch:    

"For our first event of 2016 and semester 2, we here at Botany Society NUIG had the pleasure of hosting Maria Long, the Irish Officer of BSBI, for a talk on the work they do and its importance.

We had done our wine and cheese shopping and set up in record time, and weren’t behind schedule for once, so the evening was off to a good start.

"Maria arrived and introductions to the committee were made. As the crowd started to arrive, we happily noted a particularly large number of undergrads at this particular talk. 

Maria giving her presentation
Image: D. Lynch
"Maria began the talk with a brief history of mapping plant species in Ireland, and a run-through of how the technology for it advanced over the decades, from hand-drawn maps in the 30’s, to rather sizeable computers in the 60’s right through to the latest mapping software.

"Of course, all that lovely technology would be left idle without data acquired from the field work, and so this was the main focus on the night. As a picture can tell a thousand words, there was an abundance of photos showing the highs and lows (but mainly highs) of the field meetings, with familiar faces from NUI Galway cropping up in a few! We were shown the beautiful landscapes that are to be seen during field work, the various roles the volunteers play in plant identification, and most importantly, what to do when a ‘botanical huddle’ breaks out (join it of course).

Maria (on right) faces her audience!
Image: D. Lynch
"Maria also included information on the work of the County Recorders and how to get involved with the BSBI at every level of experience. We were all especially impressed with the establishment of the Rough Crew.

"After the talk, it was clear that an impression had been made. The discussion with fellow attendees was centred around getting out with the local groups. Stephen, whos in final year Environmental Science, said “It was great to be able to learn how we've figured out what plants grow where and the people behind it. Definitely going to join the BSBI”. 

"On the whole, the talk was a roaring success and Maria was a hit with everyone who attended. It’s safe to say BSBI will have a few new Galwegian members after this".

Many thanks to Deirdre for this report and well done Maria for promoting BSBI so brilliantly. Looking forward to hearing more about what the Galway botanists get up to this season!

Thursday 11 February 2016

Is the next Japanese Knotweed already in your garden? Part Two

Are your garden plants staying put or trying
 to  get over the border? Tell Katharina!
Image: K. Dehnen-Schmutz 
Great to hear an update from Katharina about her survey to identify which of today's ornamental plants are most likely to become tomorrow's invasive aliens

"My survey of ornamental plants spreading in gardens has been quite successful with 40 respondents reporting 147 plants, comprising around 117 different species - I'm still checking synonyms etc. I have also been lucky enough to receive funding from Coventry University to develop this further by having someone to support the database work as well as developing a project proposal for a larger scale project – including the BSBI of course! 

Green Alkanet Pentaglottis sempervirens:
this garden plant escapes and can become a real thug!
Image courtesy of Floral Images
"Since the data so far look quite promising, ideally I would like to have a few more responses to help make a more credible dataset for publication and for any future funding application. 

"I was wondering if BSBI botanists who can identify ornamental plants with confidence would like to contribute to the survey? I am planning to run it until the end of February and - in case I get overwhelmed by responses - I now have some support, so should be able to manage!"

So, if you can help Katharina, please check out the survey page and get in touch with her. Maybe you are a New Year Plant Hunter just itching for a new challenge for February? And if you are one of the 40 respondents - thank you very much for your contribution, which has helped Katharina's project get this far!  

Wednesday 10 February 2016

Getting ready for a season of BSBI meetings

Meetings & Communications Committee in action,
February 2016. Jon in green jumper, Sarah on his right.
Image: L. Marsh
Off to London last week for a meeting of BSBI's Meetings & Communications Committee. A small team of people (I'm proud to be among their number) meets twice each year to plan our programme of national field and indoor meetings and to make sure that BSBI is communicating clearly and effectively with our members, our wider support base, policy-makers, academia and the media. 

This year's programme of field meetings across Britain & Ireland is already available here and Field Meetings Secretary Jon Shanklin keeps the webpage updated weekly. 

Sharing ID tips in the field -
visit to The Umbra, one of four field trips
on offer at the BSBI Summer Meeting 2015
Image: O. Duffy 
Jon is also leading on organising this year's Summer Meeting, to be held at Blencathra, Cumbria, over the long weekend of 19th-23rd of May. More details here, including a booking form. 

If you haven't been to a Summer Meeting before, you can get a flavour of what's on offer by reading some of the reports filed by me from last year's Summer Meeting in Northern Ireland and by Jon from the 2014 Summer Meeting in Scotland

We have also started to prepare for this year's BSBI Exhibition Meeting, to be held on 26th November at CEH Wallingford where committee member Jodey works, so she'll be leading on organisation with Kylie, Ian and I helping again. And Sarah is already looking at possible locations for next year's Summer Meeting, which will be held in Wales, and for the 2017 Exhibition Meeting in London. Are we organised or what!

Meetings & Communications Committee,
February 2016. From left: Jodey, Kylie &
BSBI Head of Operations Jane Houldsworth
Image: L. Marsh
The committee seemed quite pleased with my report on BSBI communications. It was difficult to report on our Twitter following, which is growing by the day, the many people participating in #wildflowerhour every Sunday evening, the outreach success of the New Year Plant Hunt, the young people we've engaged and the media coverage we generated without sounding horribly smug! 

Committee member and Plant Hunt Co-ordinator Ryan did an amazing job processing the data and he really enjoyed working with BSBI Head of Science Kevin Walker on the analysis, which is almost ready for publication - we are just triple-checking those amazing results and then we'll communicate what we've found - but first you have time to check out those lovely meetings!  

Monday 8 February 2016

Botanical snippets for February

Image courtesy of Floral Images
A few botanical snippets for you: 

There's a new version of Plant Tracker here - the app that helps you track the spread of invasive non-native species.

Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust has an interesting campaign, reported here in the local paper, to "reverse the dramatic decline in many wild flowers that were once a common sight in the county".   There is a mention for BSBI and reference to some of the once common plants designated Near Threatened on the England Red List 2013, such as Ragged-robin, Green-winged orchid and Common rock-rose.

Wildflower Hour goes from strength to strength, with hundreds of people taking to Twitter on Sunday evenings from 8-9pm so they can share images of plants seen in bloom during the previous week. 

Common rock-rose
Image courtesy of Floral Images
This is a great time of year to check out training courses coming up during 2016. As well as looking in the obvious places like the BSBI Training page and the Field Studies Council website, do check out your local Wildlife Trust to see what they are up to. Here is BCNWT's training programme for this year, with courses on sedges, aquatics, and an introduction to using a wild flower key from the excellent Brian Eversham. Book quickly if you want a space on Brian's course!  

While you have your diaries out, have you seen the programme and booking form for this May's NFBR conference? 17 speakers already booked - 16 of them look really interesting and the other one will be me, wittering on about BSBI. Feel free to come along and heckle!

Monday 1 February 2016

Corn Cleavers: Endangered and unloved

BSBI received an interesting invitation last week from ARKive, the multimedia guide to international endangered species. They wondered if BSBI would like to nominate an unloved and overlooked plant for a global Valentine's Day poll to find the species most deserving of our love. 

Corn Cleavers - note the diagnostic fruits
Image: Ian Denholm
Ian Denholm proposed Galium tricornutum Corn Cleavers and here is why we think this plant deserves your love:

 ·         Name of species:
 Galium tricornutum Corn Cleavers (Rubiaceae)

·         Conservation status:
 Critically Endangered: GB Red List 2005; England Red List 2014.

·         Why the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland love it:

This may be Corn Cleavers’ last chance to find love. Unlike Coffee and Gardenia (in the same family) nobody longs for Corn Cleavers in the morning or swoons at his scent. Formerly a widespread “weed” among cereal crops but - unlike Centaurea cyanus  Cornflower and Agrostemma githago Corncockle – nobody wants the unshowy flowers of Corn Cleavers in their 21st Century Wildflower Seed Mix. Easily confused with Galium aparine Common Cleavers or Sticky Willie, but Corn Cleavers is much less common and not so clingy.

·         Threats to Corn Cleavers survival:

Corn Cleavers has declined drastically due to increasing agricultural intensification and only one viable population now remains in Britain – it needs the regular cycle of disturbance enjoyed back in those traditionally-managed cornfields. Although it comes up occasionally as a casual, eg in Newcastle in the C19th and in Cambridgeshire in 1996 following disturbance due to road works, Corn Cleavers cannot persist in such surroundings. 

Ian Denholm examining arable weeds
 at Rothamsted Research
Image courtesy of I. Denholm
·Information on BSBI's work with this species:

BSBI’s volunteer members continue to record and map any sightings of Corn Cleavers across Britain and Ireland and our expert plant referees confirm any identifications. We monitor the one remaining viable population in Hertfordshire and our Head of Science has been working with the Oxfordshire Rare Plants Group to reintroduce it to a site where it once occurred. Seed from Hertfordshire has also been sown in an arable weed reserve in Buckinghamshire and is stored in Kew’s Millenium Seed Bank.

You can also see this profile of Corn Cleavers on the ARKive website here. Note that this is an international poll so Corn Cleavers may not get many votes in Australia, where we are told it is a pest! 

Please show your love for Corn Cleavers, and your support for the work BSBI is doing to conserve it in England, by voting in the ARKive poll here.