Sunday 31 July 2016

Botanising in the Outer Hebrides 2016 Part One

This year's Outer Hebrides Recording Houseparty is now underway and the first report is in from Paul Smith, County Recorder for the Outer Hebrides and Chair of BSBI's Records & Research Committee

Over to Paul:

"Sparganium (Bur-reed) is a tricky genus, and many plants cannot be identified when not in flower. So far we have had probable S. emersum, S. erectum (image below), S.angustifolium (very common in  nutrient poor lochs) and S. natans (usually in richer sites). 

The pic (above) shows Claudia photographing S. erectum in the Handay River on Barvas Sands. 

"Too early to do the subspecies yet, but at least the species is clear. The possible S. emersum was in a river on the moorland, with floating and strongly keeled, partly emergent, leaves. But without flowers it's hard to be sure. 

"Also on Barvas Sands are huge numbers of Gentianella amarella, in its northern subspecies septentrionalis with creamy yellow flowers (image below). 

"There was no sign of G. campestris at this site. Two plants contained aberrant double flowers (but not consistently - only one flower on each affected).

"The following day we looked at Juncus filiformis - a nationally scarce but apparently spreading species. It is known from a couple of sites in the Outer Hebrides and today we revisited the longest-known one at Loch Arnol in the course of Atlas 2020 recording

"It proved to be abundant but diminutive - only around 10cm tall - around quite a lot of the margin of Loch Arnol. 

"Although it has only been recorded in one tetrad - NB34 - it was easy to extend this to NB24 as the loch straddles the boundary. It is most abundant where the margins are quite bare (as in the pic below left with Claudia, Sally & Mags), but also as more scattered plants among Carex nigra beds".

Many thanks to Paul for this report and for the images on this page. If you'd like to find out more about the species mentioned on this page, try the plant cribs on the ID page here and there is a full species account for G. campestris on this page

To find out where the various plants grow, just type the scientific name into the taxon box on this page to generate a BSBI distribution map. 

Thursday 28 July 2016

Botanists out in force in Wales Part 2

Bog Orchid, Caerdeon
Image: S. Stille
Last week we told you about the various field meetings happening in Wales this month, culminating in the Caerdeon weekend. organised by Sarah Stille.

Sarah has been in touch to tell us about an interesting find made during the weekend. Over to Sarah: 

"On Sunday the County Recorder was greeted back at Caerdeon by an enigmatic Martyn Stead, who was bursting with excitement, but refused to tell us why. 

"Only when the finder, Graeme Kay, appeared did we learn that they had found Bog Orchid (Hammarbya paludosa), for the first time in the county for 43 years." 

Sarah and Graeme at the 
Bog Orchid site
Image: C. Lovatt

That's quite a find after such a long gap!

Here's a distribution map showing where Bog Orchid is recorded across Britain & Ireland. 

You can also download a Species Account for Bog Orchid from this page.  

Sarah also mentioned another plant find which would be a possible first county record but this is still being checked so you'll have to hold your breath a little longer. 

Many thanks to Sarah for this update and for the images. And congrats on the Bog Orchid!  

Saturday 23 July 2016

A Passion for Eryngium campestre

"Dad looking at his beloved
Eryngium campestre"
Image courtesy of Helen Brown
A few weeks ago, we received an email from Helen Brown, informing us of the sad loss last month of her father, botanist Mervyn Brown. We'd like to extend our sympathies to Helen and her family at this sad time, and also tell you a little about her father's contribution to botanical conservation.

Mervyn's particular passion was the conservation of Eryngium campestre (Field Eryngo), a distinctive plant which is listed as Critically Endangered on the GB Red List (2005); the England Red List (2013) tells us that there are fewer than 30 locations for this plant in England.

Helen very kindly sent us these words about her father:

"Dad was a keen naturalist all his life. He was the chairman for North Kent Wildlife Preservation Society for many years, and led many walks. He had excellent botanical knowledge, especially on grasses. 

"He was in the Kent Field Club, also leading walks and giving talks.  He worked with Eric Philp collecting data for his Atlas of the Kent Flora

Eryngium campestre
Image courtsey of John Crellin/Floral Images
"He had a special passion and affinity for Eryngium campestre, lovingly protecting a single rare plant which grew in Darenth, the village where dad lived as a boy. Over the years it flourished into almost 200 plants, with dad fending off rabbit attacks, advancing scrub, and competing vegetation. 

"He ended up quite an expert on this species. He has lots of notes on it; enough to write a book on it I should think, along with his many emails to fellow enthusiasts. I understand some of his views were quite left field. 

"He ended up looking after plants on four sites in Kent, and advising on those further afield. Lou, his partner, remembers driving with him down to Hampshire just to put a bit of silver sand around a plant that had been discovered at the roadside there. 

Eryngium campestre
Image courtsey of John Crellin/Floral Images
"He was even captured on Bing, (like Google Earth) when they made satellite maps, peering at the Eryngium campestre. I think I still have that image somewhere. 
What will become of the plants now? 

"Dad's eulogy contained several Eryngium references, and his wicker casket was garlanded with the more common Eryngium". 

We are very grateful to Helen for sharing this glimpse into her father's botanical life and his passion for Eryngium campestre. She tells us that many of her father's friends from the wider botanical community have already been in touch to offer their condolences and share their memories of Mervyn. If you would like me to pass on any such message to Helen, you can email me at

BSBI was also very moved by Helen telling us that a collection for donations to the society had been made at her father's wake. We'd like to thank her for this very kind gesture and for the donation, which will be used to support our charitable activities.   

Friday 22 July 2016

New Journal of Botany 6.1 published

It's here at last - the latest issue of New Journal of Botany, BSBI's scientific journal and one of our most popular publications, was published today.

Ash buds and flowers
Image courtesy of John Crellin/Floral Images
The issue is available on-line here and everybody can read the abstracts but only BSBI members have full access. If you are a member, just log in to the members-only area of the BSBI website (email me if you've forgotten the password) and you will be able to read and download all the content: six papers, one short note and three book reviews.

One paper likely to make a bit of a stir is by Ruth Mitchell et al. on the potential impacts of the loss of Ash (Fraxinus excelsior), due to ash dieback, on woodland vegetation in Great Britain.

This paper will be of interest to anybody concerned about ash dieback - especially people who have taken part in the SPLASH project to record the plants, mosses and lichens associated with Ash. The authors' results suggest that ash dieback could drive substantial changes in the ground flora community composition of woodlands currently dominated by ash.

Wednesday 20 July 2016

Botanists out in force in Wales

Dyer's Greenweed, Betony & Devil's-bit
Scabious, seen during Welsh AGM
Image: J. Crellin
Across Wales, botanists are out and about this month!

First there was the annual Recording Week at Glynhir, which attracted botanists from as far afield as Hampshire and Leicestershire. Polly (BSBI Welsh Officer) joined the group for a day and you can read her blogpost here.

Then came the Welsh AGM, which ran from 12th - 15th July in Brecknockshire. Many thanks to Sarah Stille, of BSBI's Meetings & Communications Committee, who sent through a few images from the day (click on the image to enlarge it) and to Organiser John Crellin (of Floral Images fame!) who has been in touch with this summary:

Field of Marsh Helleborines
seen during Welsh AGM
Image: S. Stille

Llangorse Lake botanical boat trip
Image: J. Crellin
"On Tuesday, Polly, Martin Stead and Megs Rogers, led by one of my Botany Group (Sue Goodhead) explored Ogof Ffynnon Ddu NNR above Penwyllt and saw Hairy Greenweed, Lily of the Valley etc. 

Meanwhile I led a leisurely walk in the afternoon around the venue. (Progress was very slow - lots to see...)

On Wednesday, a visit to Vicarage Meadows was led by Steph Coates ((BWT), one to Cwm Cadlan was led by Julian Woodman and Andy Jones, while Andy Shaw led the visit to Stanner Rocks.

On Thursday it was Llangorse Lake - boat party led by me (really we just went out on two boats and explored!). The land party walked around the lake looking at Rumex maritimus, abundant Veronica catenata, Juncus compressus and much, much more. 

A visit to Cribyn and Pen y Fan cliffs was led by Tim Rich and Joe Daggett of the National Trust - to see the Attenborough's Hawkweed and more. They returned via Cwm Sere and saw lots there I think.

Lemon-scented Fern
Image: J. Crellin
On Friday I took a small group to Henallt Common near Hay - the only site in Wales for Blysmus compressus - that's where I took the Lemon-scented fern picture. [Ed: download a Species Account for Blysmus compressus from this page.]

But a more objective view will have to come from someone else!"

We may have to wait a little longer for further reports on the Welsh AGM, because there is yet another recording bash about to start in Wales: the Caerdeon Weekend. 

This one is organised by Sarah Stille - more details, including a programme, on the Merioneth page here.

I'll leave you with two photos by Sarah which give a reminder of what botanists do after a long day in the field...

Sunday 17 July 2016

NPMS meadow survey to feature on BBC Countryfile

Tonight's episode of Countryfile on BBC is all about meadows.

It features a National Plant Monitoring Scheme (NPMS) surveyor who has been monitoring plants on presenter Adam Henson's farm.

If you can't catch the programme at 7pm this evening, it will be available soon on iPlayer here.

You can read more about the NPMS here and here is what Pete spotted while out surveying for the NPMS.

Friday 15 July 2016

A New Flora of Devon: publication due in December

Click on the image to enlarge it and
view the pre-publication offer
Image courtesy of R. Smith 
Botanists in the southwest are looking forward to the publication later this year of A New Flora of Devon

The pre-publication offer has now opened, and will also appear in the September issue of BSBI News, so you have until the 5th of November to order your copy and save a whopping £20 off the publication price: £40 rather than £60 (plus p&p).

The authors of A New Flora of Devon are Roger Smith, Bob Hodgson and Jeremy Ison. 

Roger told me: "A New Flora of Devon was first suggested at the AGM of the Botany Section of the Devonshire Association in 2000 but little was done until 2005 when all three authors had retired from full time work. 

Click on the image to enlarge it and 
view the pre-publication offer
Image courtesy of R. Smith 
"We are most grateful to all the other people who have contributed chapters, reviewed species accounts or helped with proof-reading - rather too many to acknowledge here. 

"We all hope that its publication will excite the extended botanical community as much as it does us".

In his Foreword, Michael Proctor says of A New Flora of Devon"It combines the virtues of its two 20th Century predecessors, and adds some of its own” and "A New Flora of Devon will stand as an archive of the state of the Devon flora in the first quarter of the 21st Century. It will fulfil that function with distinction."

Here's the link again to download the pdf shown on this page if you want to order your copy at the pre-publication price.

Wednesday 13 July 2016

Collecting seed for the Millenium Seed Bank

Hypopitys monotropa
Image: P. Stroh
Some of you have been kind enough to say how much you are enjoying the recent updates from BSBI's Science Team, which have been shown in full on the BSBI Science page here with headlines on the News page here

These updates give you an idea of what BSBI Head of Science Kevin Walker and BSBI Scientific Officer Pete Stroh have been up to recently.

Pete's most recent update will appear on those pages in summary but it includes an interesting offer so here it is in full: 

Pete says "As a break from writing, catching up on emails, attending meetings, doing the occasional bit of square bashing, etc., I made time last week to target the collection of seed for Kew as a part of their Millennium Seed Bank project. 

Luzula pilosa
Image courtesy of John Crellin/Floral Images
"The BSBI have been tasked with gathering samples of seed for a select list of species, and I sought out Hairy Wood-rush (Luzula pilosa) and Yellow Bird's-nest (Hypopitys monotropa) as there are recent records for both relatively close to my home.

"The job isn't quite as easy as it sounds, as you have to first find the target species, often easiest when in flower, and then return at a later date when you think the seed will be ripe. This involves not only relocating the plants, but also hoping that the fruits have not been eaten in the intervening weeks or months (or blown away in the wind - Spotted Cat's-ear (Hypochaeris maculata) is another one I plan to collect later this week). 

Luzula pilosa in close-up
Image courtesy of John Crellin/Floral Images
"Despite heavy deer browsing I managed to find enough seed of Luzula pilosa, and then moved on to the Hypopitys. 

"I find this plant infuriatingly difficult to locate, but after mentally throwing in the towel after an hour of searching in a nearby beech woodland, I then immediately stumbled across 30+ spikes. The seeds won't be ripe for a good couple of weeks yet, but I will certainly remember the location. 

"Collecting seed for the Millenium Seed Bank is very rewarding, and we are looking for folk to help. As the work is funded by Kew we can offer to pay for fuel. 

If you are interested in being involved, please contact BSBI Head of Science Kevin Walker for more info."

Friday 8 July 2016

Botanical recording in Dingwall

Kirsty, Fay, Brian & Maud, Dingwall shore
Image: M. Dean 
Mary Dean has been in touch to tell us about last weekend's joint BSS /BSBI field meeting at Dingwall. Over to Mary:

"On 2nd July 2016 Brian Ballinger, County Recorder for Easter Ross, assisted by Mary Dean, ran a joint BSS / BSBI meeting at Dingwall. The two aims of the recording meeting were to update records for BSBI and also contribute to the BSS Urban Flora project.

"We were joined by four keen botanists and started off in Silver Jubilee Wood, a narrow strip of woodland within the town. We spent most of the morning in the wood, identifying a number of woodland species such as Enchanter’s-nightshade (Circaea lutetiana), Wood Avens (Geum urbanum), Wood-sedge (Carex sylvatica) and an impressive specimen of Common Figwort (Scrophularia nodosa) (see photo below).  

Maud & Kirsty with the impressive Figwort!
Image: M. Dean
"The flora was surprisingly diverse for a town wood, yielding three species of orchid: Bird’s-nest Orchid (Neottia nidus-avis), Common Twayblade (Neottia ovata) and Common Spotted-orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii).

"Fungi expert Bruce Ing showed us Burgundydrop Bonnet (Mycena haematopus), a small reddish fungus that ‘bleeds’ when its stalk is broken. Although BSBI does not include fungi records, the record was useful for the BSS project which includes bryophytes and fungi.

"On the route to the park for lunch we recorded some typical urban species and the less common Mossy Stonecrop (Crassula tillaea), growing abundantly on the gravelly path. The weather held as we lunched at a picnic table in the park.

Bruce Ing (centre) shows the group
Burgundydrop Bonnet
Image: M. Dean
"In the afternoon we followed the path along the banks of the River Peffery, stopping to explore an area of waste ground. Here we recorded our fourth orchid species, Northern Marsh-orchid (Dactylorhiza purpurella), a good number of species for an urban setting. 

"We continued along the path to reach the shore where we found both Eelgrass (Zostera marina) and Dwarf Eelgrass (Z. noltei) before returning along the opposite riverbank. A most enjoyable day and plenty of sharing of knowledge".

Brian, Fay & Maud, Dingwall shore
Image: M. Dean 
Many thanks to Mary for this report. If it has whetted your appetite, check out the list of field meetings here - some will be fully-booked but some still have spaces - contact the organiser to enquire. 

Or check out your local botany group and see what field meetings they are planning. 

Beginners are welcome on our field meetings, although a specialist training or recording meeting is probably not the best place to start! Look out for meetings marked 'General' - they're a great way to dip a toe in the water and see if you want to get involved in botany!  

Thursday 7 July 2016

BSBI eNews now available to all botanical recorders

Jim (on left) botanising on Ben Nevis
Image: I. Strachan 
BSBI's eNews has long gone out each month to our network of County Recorders, expert plant referees and BSBI staff and officers. Now under Jim McIntosh's editorship, eNews has become an excellent resource so we thought - why not share it with all active botanical recorders, whether or not they are BSBI members?

The latest issue has details of the forthcoming Recorders' Conference; lots of info about Mapmate; a new project to collect material which will help us unravel the taxonomic arguments around Ophioglossum spp. (Adder's-tongues); an interesting note on Deergrass; invitations from some of our plant referees for specimens of particular taxa; and help in separating Hawkweeds from Northern Hawk's-beard.

Ophioglossum vulgatum
Image courtesy of Floral Images
You can download the July issue, and three equally useful back-issues, from the BSBI Publications page here. As Jim says, contributions and comments are welcome, so let us know what you think of eNews and please share it with friends and colleagues.

On the subject of publications - but for BSBI members only this time: you can now download recent copies of BSBI News from the members-only area of the BSBI website. Just click on the green box on the BSBI homepage, enter your password and scroll down the resources for members. Back-copies of BSBI News, from 1972 to 2014, are available to all via our Publications Archive.

The latest issue of our third periodical, New Journal of Botany, is due to be published next week - watch this space!

Wednesday 6 July 2016

BSBI supports the Young Darwins again in 2016

BSBI is delighted to support the Young Darwin Scholarships once again this year, helping young naturalists get started. This report from Zach gives a taste of why these scholarships are so important: 

Young Darwins at
FSC Preston Montford
Image courtesy of FSC. 
"I didn't know much about the Young Darwin Scholarship before I applied for one; name-dropping arguably the most important naturalist who ever lived, it certainly sounded like something special, but in the week-long residential that followed my receipt of the scholarship, all my expectations were exceeded.

"Set up by the Field Studies Council (FSC) in 2012, and having accepted 15 new applicants every year since, the Young Darwin Scholarship is an initiative with the goal of encouraging and supporting the next generation of 'Darwins' - young people aged from 16 to 17 with an interest in the natural world, and a desire to pursue this interest further. Beyond the advice and support afforded by an ever-expanding network of fellow scholars, I had the chance to go on a weeklong residential course at the FSC-owned Preston Montford Estate in Shrewsbury - the very same town that Darwin himself was born and grew up in.

"With the fourteen other scholars, I took part in activities ranging from moth and mammal trapping to canoeing along the River Severn in search of wildlife. We explored a disused lead mine in Snailbeach Rocks (oddly enough, a place which was neither a beach nor particularly renowned for its snails), which proved to be both fascinating from a geological point of view and darkly atmospheric in its own right. 

Sue Townsend (FSC) and
Young Darwins 2015
Image courtesy of FSC
"Some days we would spend hours simply walking through Shrewsbury's most impressive landscapes, including the vast, craggy Stiperstones (a stretch of rocky heath moorland whose name unsurprisingly means, in the local dialect, the sharp stones), in search of rare species like red grouse or kites - the rain, of course, was unrelenting, but the heavy banks of mist only added to the land's remote beauty. The last day was given over entirely to a BioBlitz - an intense series of sessions focused on identifying as many species on the estate as possible, with assistance from a range of environmental experts. Excitingly, the results we recorded were then uploaded by us onto an international database, meaning we had contributed to vital biodiversity statistics.

"I've taken away a lot from that week: I've learnt that I'm terrible at identifying bird calls, but not too bad at bats; I've realised that moths are far more diverse than I previously imagined, and (at least to me) have an unusual beauty that far outshines the ever-popular butterflies; that otters never show up when you want them to, and a few twigs cracking is all it takes to scare away a family of badgers after waiting an hour to see a single shining eye; I've learnt that every species is fascinating in its own way, from the worms we surveyed on the first day to the barn owl that flew within a few metres of my face on the last night. The Young Darwin Scholarship taught me all this and more, and I can't wait to see what it teaches me next".

Monday 4 July 2016

Commemorating Oliver Rackham

Oliver on the acropolis of
Ancient Anafi, Greece. May 2014
Image courtesy of J. Moody

A reminder about the approaching deadline if you would like to book to attend the Commemorative Symposium for Oliver Rackham.

Prof Rackham was one of this country's foremost authors on woodland ecology and a BSBI member from 1980 until his sad death last year.

You can download the latest newsletter from the Friends of Oliver Rackham here

Online registration closes on July 10th for the Symposium which is to be held on August 13th and 14th, 2016 at Corpus Christi College Cambridge. 

Please book here or contact Mrs Sarah Wordsworth, Conference & Accommodation Manager at Corpus Christi College.