Friday 30 September 2016

Botanising in Co. Derry

From left: Valerie, Dave, Maria, Sharon & John
Image: D. Rainey
At last year's BSBI Annual Summer Meeting, based at the University of Ulster's Coleraine campus, I had the pleasure of meeting a wide range of Northern Ireland's botanists: from stalwart County Recorders such as Robert Northridge and Dave Riley, who have given years of their life in the service of botany and botanists, to keen young ecologists such as Sharon Spratt; from passionate local conservationists like Donna Rainey to the delightful Valerie Macartney who joined the society in 2012 but hadn't attended a BSBI field meeting before.

Everybody got on so well and and had such a great time botanising together in the field, that they decided to stay in touch and meet up again whenever they could. And so it came to pass that... but I'll let Sharon take up the story at this point!    

Drumnaph Nature Reserve, Co. Derry
with Carntogher Mountain in the background.
"On the morning of Saturday 13th August 2016, a small but enthusiastic group of botanists descended upon a lesser known spot of Ulster. Drumnaph Nature Reserve in the Sperrins, south Co. Derry was the location for the V.C H40 field meeting. This part of the country is steeped in Celtic lore, rural culture, natural beauty and Gaelic tongue. 

"It is my pleasure to write a wee piece on this special place as it is a local haunt of mine. The diversity of habitats within it are reminiscent of a traditional Irish farmed landscape and the hard work that has gone into ensuring its conservation is admirable.

Botanists filling in their recording cards.
Image: M. Long
"The botanical party included: John Faulkner (BSBI President and County Recorder for Armagh), Dave Riley (V.C H40 recorder), Maria Long (BSBI Irish Officer), Donna Rainey, Kevin Johnston, Valerie Macartney and myself, Sharon Spratt. 

"We were met by the lovely Kelley Hann in the newly created visitor carpark just off the Halfgayne Road in the townland of Carntogher. Kelley moved to the farm a few years ago along with her husband Glenn White and their two children, in order to take care of the reserve. Kelley kindly spent some time informing us all about this unique community owned nature reserve and its recent history. 

Conservation graziers are used, to maintain
species-rich habitats on the reserve.
Image: S. Spratt
"The site originally contained an area of ancient woodland on the western side which belongs to the Woodland Trust (approximately 80 acres). A significant piece of former farmland adjacent to the ancient woodland was purchased by Carntogher Community Association in 2012 with Heritage Lottery Funding. 

"The site is approximately 130 acres and contains a mosaic of semi-natural habitats ranging from ancient woodland to species-rich wet grassland to lowland hay meadow vegetation and fen vegetation. There is a 10 year conservation management plan in place for the nature reserve which includes extensive conservation grazing practices (see image above left) alongside ancient woodland management techniques. 

Sharon tweeted this photo with the caption:
"When ye don't even get past the spoil heap
in the corner of the 1st meadow,
ye know yer on a @BSBIbotany meeting" 
"This management plan can be viewed on the reserve’s dedicated website here, where there is more information of interest to be found for this unique site. 

"Let’s start with the carpark because that is where all the best BSBI botanists begin! Here I should mention the presence of a rather handsome looking dry stone wall built by local volunteers. 

"Amongst many others, Polygonum aviculare sensu stricto (Knotgrass) and P. arenastrum (Equal-leaved knotgrass) were identified and later confirmed by John Faulkner. Moving into the first field and finding it difficult to lure everyone past the spoil heap in the corner, it became obvious that the whole site could not be covered in one day. Cue the cunning plans forming in one's head to ensure a return visit to this bountiful site in the future!

Foggage field on the reserve
Image: S. Spratt
"The first field we explored was a lowland hay meadow habitat type, which by this stage, had gone to seed. Here, Glenn told us about the term "foggage" which is where a grassland meadow is left uncut and ungrazed and is then grazed in late summer after the grasses have flowered. This is also known as “standing hay”. 

"Here amongst the common hay meadow suspects of Rhinanthus minor (Yellow rattle), Cynosurus cristatus (Crested dog’s tail) and Centaurea nigra (Common knapweed) for example, was an abundance of the Eyebright, Euphrasia arctica (borealis). 

"Great times and great weather!"
Image: M. Long
"We had a cosy, dry, wind-proof and chairs-provided lunch in the recently converted outbuilding on the farm used for various activities including a Wild Gym. 

"Following this, we moved into the wetland site proper of the reserve to explore some of the late summer species of these habitats. 

"This area was quite species-rich, with lots of plants to keep us busy. In particular, Mentha arvensis (Corn mint), got us talking and checking our ID books.

Botanists exploring the flora of Loch Bran
Image: S. Spratt
"The star species of this plant hunt came from the Cyperaceae family. 

"Most of these were found on the bog habitats of Loch Bran. 

"Three sedge species in particular elicited excitement amongst the group given that they have sharply contrasting distributions across Ireland but were all found in this one site: 

  • Carex diandra (Lesser tussock sedge), is characteristic of wet fens, primarily in the centre of Ireland but extending into the north. It is noticeably more widespread in Ireland than in GB
  • Carex limosa (Bog sedge), occurs largely in bog pools in the west but with scattered occurrences further east. 
  • John Faulkner & Dave Riley discuss
    differences between Goat and Grey Willow.
    Image: S. Spratt
  • Finally, Carex pallescens (Pale sedge), has a very pronounced northern distribution, being almost confined to Ulster with a few scattered occurrences elsewhere. 
"We had a brilliant day – the company was great, so were the plants and it was a very interesting site. Thanks again to all who participated - can't wait to do it again!"

Many thanks to Sharon for this account of a great day's botanising with lovely people - and for telling us about Drumnaph Nature Reserve and how it's managed for wildlife. What an interesting site!

Thursday 29 September 2016

BSBI Plant Referee on the case, Part II

Giant Horsetail - in close-up
Image: M. Allen
Last month, we reported on what happened when Martin found an unusual Horsetail and, as a BSBI member, was able to contact the BSBI's expert referee for Horsetails. Now here's the second part of Martin's story: 

"Thanks to Pat, the BSBI’s expert referee, I now know that what I found was an unusual form of Giant Horsetail. 

When Pat searched the shelves of the Natural History Museum Herbarium (which has one of the most important collections of ferns and other seed-free vascular plants in the world) there was not one there with secondary branching. 

Giant Horsetail - in abundance!
Image: M. Allen
However, recently Pat found one in the field with “most stems having a solitary secondary branch per stem somewhere near around two thirds up and it was on many of the stems” and so had to change his notes from ‘never’ to ‘rarely branches’. 

Pat then told me: “Early this year or last I was sent a specimen that had enormous numbers of secondary branches but right along the branches unlike your ones which seemed to be concentrated around the middle close to the stem … Therefore, I have only seen three in recent years with this condition but it may just be that I never looked before. I always do now.” 

Close-up showing secondary
branching on Field Horsetail
Image: M. Allen 
So, I’m very pleased to have been able to add to the sum of knowledge about our UK flora – hopefully the UK Floras we use in the field will be updated in time with a change of ‘never’ to ‘rarely’ – though I’m still rather bewildered that I never noticed it before in over ten years of visiting that wood, which considering the vast patches that are present next to the path seems to be quite a tricky feat!

Following on from this I started to notice secondary branching in another Horsetail I saw whilst out surveying. I sent a couple of specimens to Pat because I thought they were Field Horsetail (Equisetum arvense), but again was confused as my field Flora says it is only simply branched. 

Pat writes “I regularly find secondary branching on larger plants of E. arvense with green stems but also a lot on the larger stemmed plants where the internodes are turning or are mostly white.” And that “this is a reasonably common affair in large colonies of E. arvense.”

Secondary branching 
on Field Horsetail 
Image: M. Allen 
It seems to be reasonably common near me too as I noted at least eight different sites locally over the last few months – it made me wonder how many of us note the secondary branching and assume it is Wood Horsetail (often given as the only UK Horsetail with secondary branching): A useful reminder to look closely at other features too before making an identification".

Many thanks to Martin for these useful notes about Horsetails and a timely reminder of how incredibly helpful and approachable BSBI's expert plant referees are! I hope Martin's comments encourage fellow members, whatever their skill level, to use the referee service more frequently.

Friday 23 September 2016

Faith's Plant Families Workshops: botanical training opportunities in Scotland

Dan & botanists at the workshop in Glencoe
Image courtesy of F. Anstey
Last February, we reported on the training programme which Faith Anstey and her team had planned for the year ahead - a series of workshops focusing on plant families. As the 2016 botanical season draws to a close, Faith has been in touch again with this short report on how those workshops went and plans for 2017:

"We held three one-day Plant Families Workshops in 2016 – our fourth year of operation – at Glencoe, Stirling and Dundee, in association with Plantlife. 

"There were 55 participants in total, all of whom expressed their enthusiasm and gratitude for the opportunity to learn more about plant ID. 

Robin (on right) & botanists
at the workshop in Stirling
Image courtesy of F. Anstey
"They were mainly young adults working, studying or volunteering in plant-related activities; their aims to increase their skills and enhance their prospects they considered to have been well met. Fifteen leaders and tutors volunteered their time and expertise to provide this. Although we aimed to break even, we ended up with a small financial surplus.

"For spring 2017 we plan two Plant Families Workshops, in Glasgow and Ayrshire – precise dates and venues yet to be arranged. These will follow the current successful format, including free copies of the Pocket Guide to Wildflower Families, which has this year been a popular seller to a wider market.

Ian & botanists at the workshop in Glencoe
Image courtesy of F. Anstey
"After much demand for a follow-up course, we have decided to run a workshop on grass identification for beginners in Edinburgh in 2017. This will be targeted at people who have done the Plant Families course (or are at an equivalent level) but up to now may have believed identifying grasses to be horrendously difficult and only for experts. 

"By concentrating on the commonest species of neutral grassland, we hope to enable them to recognise and if necessary record these with confidence, paving the way for tackling the less familiar ones at a later stage".

Many congratulations to Faith on establishing such a very successful annual programme of training workshops. You will be able to book for them nearer the time via the Scotland page on the BSBI website, and don't forget that on our Training page we also have a list of short botany courses run by other providers from across Britain and Ireland.

Sunday 18 September 2016

Diary of a Young Darwin Scholar: Days 4 & 5

After three very enjoyable but botany-lite days as a Young Darwin Scholar, George Garnett finally gets his teeth into some plants and spends time in the field with ace botany tutor Mark Duffell

Over to George for the final instalment of his diary: 

Tuesday 23rd August 2016:
Young Darwins learning from the experts
Image courtesy of G. Garnett 
"This was a day of identifying things so I was in my element! A moth trap had been set up on Sunday. We emptied it on Monday, keeping the moths in the fridge. Tuesday morning was spent identifying all the moths that we’d caught using picture guides and keys. This data is then used to study the annual flight times of these species at Preston Montford. These data can be useful in studying population trends in the species and provide an insight into how climate change is influencing the moths’ flight times.

After listening to two interesting talks, one on biological recording and the other on the FSC’s publications department; we prepared to do a Bioblitz of the centre. Present were experts in the fields of Bees/Wasps, Dragonflies/Damselflies, soil invertebrates and of course, plants! 

Centaurium erythraea
Image: G. Garnett
The day was split into a morning and afternoon session. We were given the opportunity to choose what we wanted to study in each session.

I decided to spend the morning session Bioblitzing Bees and Wasps with Ian Cheeseborough. I really enjoyed this. I’ll admit to knowing very little about anything in the natural world other than plants (and I’ve still got a lot to learn in botany), so it was nice to learn a bit about such an important group of insects. 

Highlights were the numerous beautiful Ruby-Tailed Wasps, as well as other parasitic wasps and the fascinating solitary bee species. In many ways identification requires many of the same skills used in botany, so it was interesting to draw parallels. 

Overall, I’m glad I chose this session. It’s sometimes nice to know the identity of the bee or wasp sitting on the plant you’re looking at!

The gall Livia junci 
Image: G. Garnett
The afternoon session was the one I’d been waiting for however: Botany with Mark Duffell! The first half was spent using Stace to identify Juncus species, a group of plants I know very little about. We found Juncus articulatus, J. effusus and J. inflexus, all growing alongside each other in a damp patch of turf near a pond margin. 

Continuing our walk around the pond, we came across Lycopus europaeus and Epilobium hirsutum. We then stumbled across another patch of rushes, all of which we’d already seen, except J. acutiflorus which we duly keyed out. We soon reached a sandy, and in places, sparsely vegetated area on the pond margin where we found yet another rush, the diminutive J. bufonius

This small area also produced two exciting records. Firstly, I spotted a small pink flower in the turf. This turned out to be Centaurium erythraea, the first official record of this species at Preston Montford since 1963! There were around 3 flowering plants, and one rosette that will most likely flower next year. 

Juncus bufonius
Image: G. Garnett
Near to this, Mark spotted an unusual looking rush inflorescence which he informed me was a gall made by Livia junci. This is an invertebrate but it was the first ever record of this species at Preston Montford. No mean feat considering Preston Montford is one of the most recorded locations in Shropshire!

This had to be my favourite day of the course. The Preston Montford campus is really biodiverse and it was a privilege to learn out in the field from people so knowledgeable. Just like the rest of the week, the weather was also fantastic! Thanks to Ian and Mark for sharing their knowledge.

To end the day we had dinner with the Darwin Scholars who come from all over the world and work in conservation. It was fascinating to hear about conservation in countries so different from my own. We then walked around campus with students from Vision England which was a nice end to the evening.

Wednesday 24th August 2016:
As on Monday day, this was a half day. We entered records from our Bioblitz of Preston Montford into iRecord and discussed career plans. Then at lunchtime it was sadly time to say our goodbyes.

I had a great time on the course; I learned absolutely loads and met some really great people. I’m sure that I will continue to gain from the scholarship and am really grateful to the FSC and the sponsors of the scheme (including BSBI) for giving me this opportunity. Thanks also to Angela Munn and Cathy Preston for organising and tutoring the course. 

If you are interested in the natural world and are aged between 16 and 17, I really hope you consider applying for the scholarship, I can’t recommend it highly enough".

Catch up with George at the BSBI Exhibition Meeting in November, when he will be presenting an exhibit about his botanical exploits this year. And many thanks to him for sharing his Diary of a Young Darwin Scholar. 

Friday 16 September 2016

Diary of a Young Darwin Scholar: Day 3

Following a break for yesterday's coverage of BSBI at the launch of the State of Nature report, we now return to George Garnett's Diary of a Young Darwin Scholar. This is an FSC scheme which is supported by BSBI and aims to help young naturalists - the next generation of 'Darwins'.

George happy to be proved wrong!
Image: Sorrel Lyall
We left George on his second evening at FSC Preston Montford, having failed to see a badger and with little faith in the Longworth traps he and fellow scholars set before they went to bed. Over to George for Day 3:

Monday 22nd August 2016

"The next morning we went to check our traps. I’ll admit, I was wrong to be pessimistic! We found loads of small mammals: 5 bank voles and a wood mouse. In my trap was a bank vole as can be seen in the plastic bag in the picture. 

I was pleased to have caught something so I was happy to be proved wrong!

The main activity of the day however, was canoeing down a section of the River Severn. We were in Canadian canoes which were rafted together in pairs. In the morning, we just paddled downstream pointing out anything of interest. 

George's catch: a bank vole,
just before it was released again
Image: G. Garnett
We saw Herons, Mute Swans, Sanderlings, Banded and Beautiful Demoiselles, a Kingfisher, numerous Willow species (Crack, White, Grey) and lots and lots of Himalayan Balsam! 

The most exciting find had to have come from our boat though, an otter. 

Running with the theme of animals I have missed, all I managed to see was the ripple it left behind after diving back under the surface of the water. It was some consolation that half of our boat and the other two boats had also missed it.

After lunch, we were given a net and tray to carry out freshwater sampling and determine water quality using the invertebrate species composition. 

Unfortunately we did not find a single invertebrate, instead catching small fry fish. In hindsight, our lack of success may have been because we were not sampling in gravelly areas where many of the freshwater invertebrates live.

The view from the canoe
Image: Fiona Boyle
The second activity required that each boat design a method of sampling Himalayan Balsam populations on the riverbanks from a canoe. 

In this we were more successful and did end up with data that could potentially be useful, with a little refinement to the method.

I won’t go into detail of the method here however, as I want to keep this blog post relatively brief!

This was a really lovely day out and again, it was nice to appreciate Shropshire’s natural beauty and continue learning more and more from my fellow scholars.

Birds at Venus Pool NR
Image: G. Garnett
The rest of the afternoon was spent on dry land back at the centre where we enjoyed a talk from two ecological consultants on how to forge a path on this career. 

It was eye opening and although not a path I currently intend to take, it’s always good to keep an open mind.

After dinner we visited the Venus Pool Nature Reserve, owned and managed by the Shropshire Ornithological Society. 

Evening at Venus Pool NR
Image: G. Garnett
My knowledge on birds is embarrassingly poor so I was grateful to the birders in the group who could name the species we encountered for me. Among these were Green Sandpipers, Lapwings, Little Egrets and Greenshanks. 

We were even fortunate enough to hear, and then see, Barn Owls in the arable fields on the reserve".

Good to hear that, after so many near-misses, George had a few decent sightings at last but that's the trouble with animals - they fly/run/wriggle away before you can get a good look. Plants on the other hand sit still very obligingly until you've got the ID book out and applied your handlens! 

In tomorrow's final instalment, George gets to do some botany at last, and with an expert tutor - tune in tomorrow for what George describes as his "favourite day of the course!"  

Thursday 15 September 2016

BSBI at the State of Nature 2016 launch

The audience at the State of Nature launch 2016
Image: L. Marsh
On a sweltering hot day, the Royal Society in central London wouldn't usually be a botanist's destination of choice. But that's exactly where I and Kevin Walker, BSBI Head of Science, headed for yesterday, to join representatives from our 53 partner organisations at the launch of the 2016 State of Nature report. 

Sir David Attenborough opened the proceedings, as he had at the launch of the first State of Nature report in 2013, to which BSBI also contributed, with Kevin Walker a co-author on both reports as well as papers like this one.

After a few words summarising the report and thanking Secretary of State Andrea Leadsom MP for attending the event, Sir David handed over to Dr Trevor Dines, Plantlife's Botanical Specialist and a longstanding BSBI member

Sir David, Trevor and the Secretary of State
Image: L. Marsh
Trevor's talk was a tour de force, starting with Matt Damon on Mars and the affirmation #iamabotanist, and taking us through the changing fortunes of the wildflowers on the family farm where he grew up. 

He closed with images of three plants whose names were recently removed from the Junior Oxford Dictionary and invited the audience to guess their identity. 

All present were able to name Bluebell, Buttercup and conker and so could legitimately say #iamabotanist - but will the next generation find it as easy to recognise these common plants?

Kevin congratulates Trevor
on a great talk
Image: L. Marsh
You can read Trevor's talk in full here.

BSBI's data and analysis have already helped reveal the plight of once common plants such as Harebell, Ragged-robin and Wild Strawberry, which are now assessed (under internationally-recognised criteria) as Near Threatened in England. So the pleasure of seeing those distinctive blue flowers nodding in the breeze, or parting foliage to reveal jewel-like fruits, has already become a less common occurrence for children in England. 

The State of Nature report challenges us to think about whether we are happy with this state of affairs and if not, how we propose to turn things around.

Andrea Leadsom then took took the podium and there is good coverage of her comments here, here and here, including a commitment to "truly ambitious plans for the environment" and a forthcoming "25 year plan for nature" as well as using new technology in innovative ways. You can read the full speech here.

The panel - click on the image to enlarge it
Image: L. Marsh
The Secretary of State also confirmed "we must have good data" on which to base policy, which of course is where BSBI comes in, with our database of 31 million plant records, collected by thousands of our volunteer members, augmented by insightful analysis of these data by our Science Team

As the State of Nature report flags up, more than 7.5 million volunteer hours go into monitoring the UK's nature every year. That grand total includes the contribution of BSBI botanists!

A panel discussion followed, looking at ways forward, with contributions from the farming and business communities alongside wildlife campaigners such as Iolo Williams, whose passionate defence of the natural world and criticism of recent government policy and reduction of funding in this area drew loud applause.  
BSBI members always like to read a range of views and then make up their own minds on any issue, so you may want to look at these comments from the Countryside Alliance alongside this personal opinion from Miles King

Everybody wanted to talk to Kevin!
Image: L. Marsh
My personal opinion is that we should be applauding those farmers who are taking action to support wildlife on their land and working together to find innovative and cost-effective ways to help and support those who are not yet doing so. Farmers a generation ago rose heroically to the challenge of providing us with more and cheaper food. I'm optimistic that, with the right support and encouragement, the current generation of farmers will feel able to throw themselves just as enthusiastically and effectively into managing the land for biodiversity AND for food production.  

But that's just one opinion and BSBI's role, as always, will be the provision of hard data showing which plants grow where and how this is changing over time, alongside objective analysis, supplied by our Science Team, on which policy decisions can be based. 

Kevin exchanges ideas with Martin Harper, RSPB
Image: L. Marsh
The launch closed with an opportunity for networking and Kevin Walker was in great demand as always, chatting to colleagues from agencies and NGOs such as Plantlife and RSPB, whose Director of Conservation Martin Harper was kind enough to comment on how much he likes the BSBI Twitter feed, especially #wildflowerhour

You can see the State of Nature infographic here on the BSBI website and click here to download the full report from the RSPB website. To find out how BSBI can help you make a contribution to the essential data on which our policy-makers rely, please click here and here.

Apologies to BSBI botanist George Garnett that the serialisation of his 'Diary of a Young Darwin Scholar' was interrupted by State of Nature coverage. But as a passionate teenage wildlife enthusiast, I think he'd be the first to agree that the State of Nature report is very important and so we needed to cover it on these pages. The next instalment from George will be posted here tomorrow. 

I'll close with the logos of the partner organisations who contributed to the State of Nature report. BSBI is proud to be amongst their number. Can you spot our logo? 

Tuesday 13 September 2016

Diary of a Young Darwin Scholar: Days 1 & 2

George talking about Asplenium hybrids,
BSBI Exhibition Meeting 2015
Natural History Museum, London
Image: T. Swainbank
Regular News & Views readers will be well aware of botanist George Garnett, one of our younger members, from his talk at last year's BSBI Annual Exhibition Meeting, his exhibit the previous year, or his participation in the New Year Plant Hunt

This year, George was selected for a Young Darwin Scholarship, under a scheme set up by the Field Studies Council (FSC) in 2012 and supported this year, as in previous years, by BSBI (and several other charities). 

George kept a diary of his first week as a Young Darwin Scholar and here we present the first instalment. Over to George:  

Ryan, George (centre) & Reuben,
BSBI Exhibition Meeting 2015
Image: K. Garnett
"Every year, 15 nature enthusiasts aged between 16 and 17 are awarded scholarships to support and encourage their interest. 

"The Young Darwin Scholars (YDS) attend an introductory field course at FSC’s Preston Montford centre in Shropshire. The aim of this course is to allow the year’s Young Darwin Scholars to meet each other, and to develop knowledge. In future years, the YDS receive bursaries for further FSC courses and there are also reunions which allow the Young Darwin Scholars to meet again, and to meet Scholars from other years.

"I was fortunate enough to be selected for the Young Darwin Scholarship this year and so here is a short overview of the experience.

Saturday 20th August 2016

The course started at lunchtime on the first day. This day was mainly about getting to know each other and the course leaders; as well as settling into the accommodation in the lovely Preston Montford house. Our first task was an Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) earthworm survey in an area of the campus designated as an allotment. We searched for mature earthworms in a 20 x 20 x 10 cm pit and upon finding them, we identified them. Except, my group didn’t find any. Oh well, we were united in our disappointment.

Our next stop was a visit to the garden of the man who has inspired us all, and from whom the course takes its name: Charles Darwin. Darwin was a resident of Shrewsbury, where his large house and expansive grounds are open to the public. We were told the history of the estate and how it influenced the young Darwin in his ideas that would later go on to shape scientific thinking so profoundly. The grounds were also a haven for wildlife and we were allowed time to explore and find animals or plants that we could then show each other.

Sunday 21st August 2016
Exploring Snailbeach lead mine
Image: Sorrel Lyall
This was our first full day, after a good breakfast we drove to the Snailbeach lead mine. Here we were given the chance to explore the visitor centre and were given a short history of the mine. Then we were lucky enough to enter the mine itself. Here we walked through the claustrophobic tunnels, learning about the extraction of ores such as Galena and attempting to spot what hadn’t been mined out in the heyday of the mine before it became unproductive in 1955.

This was a really interesting morning. It was great to learn a bit about the mine’s history and the geology of the area. Thanks to the Shropshire Mines Trust for showing us around and telling us about the Snailbeach Mine.

After exploring the mine, we had the chance to study the flora and fauna of a lead spoil outside the mine. There was nothing particularly rare plant wise, mainly; Tussilago farfara, Polypodium interjectum, Campanula rotundifolia and some very unhealthy looking Fraxinus excelsior seedlings! I did see Mycelis muralis for the first time here though. Clearly the spoil heap had a relatively high pH, perhaps due to the calcite extracted from the mine. 

Mycelis muralis
Image: G. Garnett
Botany tutor Mark Duffell had this to say about the flora of Snailbeach:
“Snailbeach is an odd site, there is an area of sown grassland below the mine that has lots of very weird species, partly because it has been sown (20 years ago?) with a seed mix that contains native species but the wrong subspecies (hence the common roadside verge sown Lotus corniculatus ssp. sativus and Onobyrnchis viciifolia), weirdest of all is a first county record of an unusual subspecies of Bladder Campion Silene vulgaris.”

Unfortunately I didn’t see this area of grassland but it’s definitely one for next time I visit the area!

The afternoon was spent walking Stiperstones, the second highest hill in Shropshire. We spent around four hours admiring the quartzite formations and vast areas of heather, although there was some debate as to whether this heather should truly be there, which of course led to the question; are there any truly wild areas left in Britain? That debate is beyond the realms of this blog post however. The heathland also provided masses of bilberries which were a highlight of the walk for many!

Of particular interest was the ancient Holly grove, one of the oldest in Europe. It was protected for so long due to its use as a supply of winter fodder for the livestock that were farmed on the hills. It is amazing to think what the gnarled, stunted trees have seen in the centuries that they have stood there.

The Shropshire countryside
Image: G. Garnett

This walk was a great opportunity to appreciate the beauty of Shropshire, a county I’d previously only travelled through, and hearing everyone’s different opinions on various conservation issues was enlightening.

Old holly and hawthorn at the end of Day 2
Image: G. Garnett
That evening, back at the Preston Montford centre, we learnt how to set Longworth small mammal traps and each of us placed one in an area of hedge on the edge of a nearby field. I was full of doubt as I had used Longworth traps before with a group and had been exceedingly unsuccessful.

The final activity of the day was badger watching at a nearby sett. I had never seen a badger (they don’t live on Guernsey, where I’m based!) and so the thought of seeing one was an exciting prospect. We sat for a good hour or so on the slope overlooking the sett. Two people in the group by chance had picked the perfect spot and spent the hour watching badgers. The rest of us couldn’t see a thing and couldn’t move for fear of disturbing the animals! I’ll have to wait a little longer until I can say I’ve seen a badger".

We'll leave George there and return tomorrow for Day 3 - having missed out on the badger, and the mature earthworms, will his Longworth traps yield anything interesting? And will he get to see any interesting plants - they are after all his main passion! Find out tomorrow in the second instalment of George Garnett's Diary of a Young Darwin Scholar.