Sunday 20 March 2016

BSBI members in Ireland get together for annual conference

Matthew Jebb introduces BSBI botanists to
Irish Yew Taxus baccata 'Fastigiata'
 at Glasnevin Botanic Gardens
Irish Members' Conference 2016
Image: C. Heardman 
The BSBI Irish Members Conference took place last weekend, organised by the excellent Maria Long, BSBI's Irish Officer

Maria was due to fly out to Honduras after the conference (not for a holiday but for a month of unpaid survey work!). But first, she made sure that presentations from the conference were uploaded to the BSBI Ireland webpage for you all to view or download.

She also suggested that I ask Oisin Duffy, Mairead Crawford, Rory Hodd and Clare Heardman if they'd like to share their experiences of the weekend. 

Maria Long opens the conference
Image: O. Duffy
Not only did they all say yes by return, but the ever-helpful Oisin agreed to collate everyone's comments and share the whole story with News & Views readers. So sit back and enjoy the craic from a 21st Century botanical shanachie:

Hello News and Views readers, my name is Oisín Duffy, you might remember me as that person who recorded the first plant of the year for the BSBI New Year Plant Hunt a few months ago [LM: and last year!] potentially from some of my blog posts relating to botanical outings [like last year's BSBI Summer Meeting] and there’s even a small amount of you out there who might actually know me from real life. 

Coltsfoot in close-up
Image: O. Duffy
Recently I was made a Vice County Recorder (VCR) for East Donegal (H34) and even more recently started a new job in conjunction with the National Biodiversity Data Centre in developing a plant monitoring scheme for Ireland.

Over the 12th and 13th of March, the Irish section of the BSBI had their annual conference. These are great events and generally have speakers and workshops on a wide range of botanical interests. Last year, myself and Mairéad (who were recently appointed VCRs for East Donegal H34 in January of this year) were speaking about what it’s like to be young aspiring botanists. This year I got to sit back and enjoy two days of botanical fun. 

One of the best aspects of any conference/AGM/outing is that you get to catch up with friends, and there’s a good chance you haven’t seen some since the last field season and of course there are lot of opportunities to meet new people also.

From Pete's talk: Atlas records from Ireland
Image: O. Duffy  
After signing in and settling down, it wasn’t long before the talks began and the first person up was Pete Stroh who is the Atlas 2020 Co-ordinator. Atlas 2020 is an amazing and massive project and I’d imagine is the main focus of most VCRs. Pete gave background information to the Atlas 2020 and also mentioned the previous Atlas project (unfortunately when Atlas 2000 came out I was still in primary school). 

We received facts and figures on the amount of records that have gone into the system already while also seeing beautiful pictures on every slide from the BSBI Photography Competition.  

Slide from Seamus' talk
Image: M. Long
Next on the stage was Seamus O’Brien, who is the Head Gardener at Kilmacurragh Botanic Gardens. The talk was simply fascinating, giving us detail on the history of the families and people who were instrumental in looking after and building the gardens. 

We were also treated to a host of wonderful photos of some truly amazing plants and also some of the restoration work that has gone on in the last number of years. Seamus appeared to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of everything associated with the gardens and has certainly made me put it on the list of areas to visit this coming year.

Matthew Jebb and BSBI botanists
Image: M. Long 
After lunch Jim McIntosh, who is the BSBI Scottish Officer gave a great talk on utilising MapMate. I’ve been using MapMate over the last year, so it was great to get a refresher on all aspects of it. Jim gave us tips and advice about being more efficient and time saving with our data entry. 

We heard some other tips from VCRs and members in the crowd also, some of whom have been using MapMate for many years and are also experts.  

Matthew Jebb and Phyllocladus
Image: C. Heardman
After the MapMate talk by Jim, I headed to the Database session. Having only recently been made a VCR for East Donegal I hadn’t really used it before this. I was amazed at the amount of records and information that’s on there and this will certainly help myself and Mairéad to focus our recording to tackle recording gaps in the map. 

Unfortunately I missed out on a walk around the gardens looking at interesting conifers, but fortunately for you readers Clare Heardman (VCR for West Cork H3) was there – “Matthew Jebb (Keeper at the National BotanicGardens) led a fascinating walk focussing on some of the more intriguing stories of conifers in the Botanic Gardens. 

"Who knew there was such a thing as a ‘sheep eating’ bromeliad, that the green ‘leaves’ of Phyllocladus are actually flattened twigs or that the gardens feature ‘the loneliest plant in the world’? The latter is a cycad Encephalartos woodii which is considered extinct because all that remains are clones of a single male plant.” (CH)

Matthew Jebb & BSBI botanists in the glasshouse
Image: M. Long
The next day we made the journey up from Waterford to Dublin again, but before I tell you about some of the activities held on the Sunday, I’ll pass the page to Mairéad to tell you of her highlights from the Saturday:

“Highlights from day one of the conference were Head Gardener Seamus O’Briens talk 'Kilmacurragh – through the seasons' which involved an overview of the estate's history and wonderful photographs of this less-known branch of the Botanic Gardens. I for one need no further encouragement to visit! 

Tom's database workshop.
 Mairead & Oisin in foreground
Image: M. Long
"I also enjoyed the Database workshop led by Tom Humphreys as I had not utilised this resource to its full potential and have now registered as a VCR on the system. I was not able to attend the quiz which was written by David McNeil (VCR Antrim H39) but was treated with a sneak peek and it looked like brilliant fun, I even took one of the sheets home with me!” (MC)

I have to admit, I thoroughly enjoyed having a sneak preview of the quiz also and was disappointed that I wasn’t able to make it, but Clare did – “David McNeill (VCR Antrim H39) provided the evening’s main entertainment with a very clever and enjoyable plant pub quiz that he’d devised. The rounds ranged from straight questions to Pictionary, Dingbats and word puzzles! Great craic!” (CH).

Hedera helix courtesy of John Crellin
First thing on the agenda for the Sunday morning was getting our MapMate sorted, we had been having a few hitches with it and was very relieved to have Jim McIntosh have a look over everything. I wasn’t the only one to get their MapMate woes alleviated as Clare mentions – “A special mention for Jim McIntosh (Scotland’s BSBI Officer) who was the MapMate wizard of the weekend. 

"He patiently sorted out everyone’s MapMate problems including my own which required two Windows updates to be uninstalled. As if by magic, my MapMate now works perfectly. Now all that needs to be done is enter all the records. Does anyone have a magic wand for that element of MapMate?!” (CH)

While we were having our MapMate session, talks on Ivys and Eyebrights were taking place and thankfully, yet again Clare was in attendance – “Before the conference, I had thought that most of the ivy seen in my part of the world (West Cork) was Hedera helix

Hedera hibernica courtesy of John Crellin
"Paul Green gave a very informative talk on the complexities of ivy identification and revealed that he’s recently discovered that the majority of ivy in Co Wexford is Hedera hibernica. Close examination of the samples I’d brought along, revealed the orange-brown hairs of H. hibernica. A lesson in keeping up with recent research and not getting complacent – I’ll be looking more closely at ivy from now on!” (CH)

“Maria Long (Ireland’s BSBI Officer) tackled Eyebrights - the difficult Euphrasia genus. Her talk was based largely on knowledge gleaned from the recent workshop in Ireland given by Chris Metherell, author of an upcoming BSBI Handbook on Euphrasia. Her clear presentation and photographs made Eyebrights seem a lot more approachable!” (CH)

Ficaria verna
Image: O. Duffy
After getting MapMate all patched up (literally and metaphorically) we headed back to listen to the final talks of the day. Lynda Weekes of the National Biodiversity Data Centre gave a great talk on some tricky grass species. 

We got some really useful advice from Lynda and other recorders on difficult Poa and Agrostis species. 

The final talk of the day was with Paul Green on Ficaria verna (Lesser Celandine) subspecies. We were shown images and sample plants with some distinctive features, which should really add another aspect to the recording of such a common spring wildflower.

Botanists on Bull Island after the conference
Image: R. Hodd
On the final day, botanists were able to get out into the field. Rory Hodd said "We had a pleasant afternoon botanising in the dune slacks of Bull Island. It's a lovely place, especially considering it's so close to the city, and is as good for bird-spotting as it is for plant-hunting. Ten botanists attended the fieldtrip." 

Another extremely enjoyable conference over for 2016 and I’m already looking forward to next years and of course the coming field season, really excited about that as we’re holding an outing in East Donegal again this year. I think I’ll leave it to Mairéad and Clare to finish – 

Mairead, Maria and Oisin (from left) talk plants
 while John Faulkner and Donncha Madden
photograph them,
BSBI Summer Meeting 2015
Image: L. Marsh
“One of the best things about attending the BSBI Irish members conference is getting to talk with other Vice County Recorders and members of the society. I never leave without learning something new and as a recently appointed VCR I have a lot to learn about the role and it is great getting advice from seasoned recorders.” (MC)

“Finally, many thanks to Maria for all her hard work in organising such a varied programme and making this such an interesting and worthwhile conference to attend. I definitely came away inspired and ready to crack on with recording for Atlas 2020.” (CH)

Many thanks to Mairead, Clare, Rory and particularly Oisin for telling us all about the Irish Members' Conference. The next thing I want to hear about is this new plant monitoring scheme in Ireland - maybe Oisin could come back and tell us about that soon?  

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