Monday 29 May 2017

Help requested from BSBI botanists

Calling all BSBI botanists who are also interested in gardening - your help is requested please. Over to Biology student Lana:

"For my final university project I have been working with the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) to determine which pests and diseases are considered to be most problematic in UK gardens - something for which I need your help!

"I have produced a survey to document the opinions of UK gardeners and would be incredibly grateful if BSBI botanists and gardeners alike could take only 5-10 minutes out of your day to let me know what you think the most problematic pests and diseases are in your garden/allotment. 

"The survey is designed so that gardeners of any level can fill it in, from experts to complete beginners.

"If you're feeling extra generous, please forward the survey link to your friends and family or anyone you think may be interested too.

"I hope you have a lovely day and thank you in advance for your help!"

BSBI botanists were incredibly helpful last year when Oli asked you to help with his powdery mildew survey so I'm hoping that you will now rise to the challenge again and be able to help Lana with her survey. Thank you in advance for your help.

Thursday 25 May 2017

Last few spaces on Kerry BSBI event

Booking for this year's recording extravaganza on the beautiful Dingle peninsula in the west of Ireland closed yesterday (officially) but if you missed out, don't despair! I was just chatting to BSBI Irish Officer Maria Long and ace botanist Rory Hodd of Rough Crew fame - Rory is organising the event - and I asked how bookings were going.

As you'd expect, there has been huge interest in this event which runs from 1st - 5th June. 35 people have already booked, but the good news is that there are two twin rooms left unbooked at 'base camp' for the Friday/Saturday/Sunday nights.

Maria said "I'm so excited about the #KerryBSBIevent. We'll be spending five days recording in one of my favourite places in Ireland, the Dingle peninsula. It's just stunning down there and has it all - amazing beaches, formidable mountains and rarities galore. We already have 35 people attending but still have two twin rooms available at base camp' (Harbour House Guesthouse). I wonder who'll be filling those spots? Will it be you?" 

Well if I wasn't working that weekend then yes, it would be me! But as I can't make it, one of you lucky people can go instead. Please email Rory as quickly as you can and book your space at the recording event of the year. I'll be following the action on Twitter and trying not to be too jealous!

Wednesday 24 May 2017

Review of a training course on grasses, sedges and rushes

Dominic demonstrates grass characters
Image: R. Mabbutt 
BSBI member Richard has sent us a review of a training course he attended recently for grasses, sedges and rushes. Over to Richard:

"This is the year I've decided to tackle my Achilles heel; grasses, sedges and rushes. 

"I needed some kind of foundation course, so I followed the links on the BSBI Training page and found a one-day course run by the Species Recovery Trust on 'Early Season/Vegetative Grass and Sedge Identification'. I had already seen a video on YouTube by Dominic Price (the tutor) about grasses and was impressed, so I booked.

"The day started at Old Sarum, Salisbury with Dominic talking us through the vegetative properties of five grasses, showing us the characters to look for. We then had to find these five species for ourselves, and talk through the characters we found. For me this was a little difficult and I found three out of the five but fumbled at naming them.

"Next up was a slightly different area that was banked with completely different species, and this contained the three oat grasses. I did a little better this time and managed to name three out of the five - like anything in botany, practising over and over again is necessary to nail it. My confidence was gaining a little.

Lying down to inspect the "lawn"
Image: R. Mabbutt
"We then moved on to what just looked like lawn, and following our tutor’s example, we all lay down for a good inspection. I was surprised at just how many species were there. Much discussion was had and we bombarded Dominic with questions, all of which he answered.

"After the grass introductions we were split into groups of three and given a little patch to name the species. It was only about 4 square metres and we managed to find and name eleven species. I felt a little better working with others: our pooled knowledge worked well as we bounced thoughts and ID tips off each other.

"A quick stop for some ice cream and the rest of the afternoon was spent doing little patches in different areas, seeing just how many species could be ID'd.

Specimens for examination
Image: R. Mabbutt
"All in all I came away with a fair few pointers and a completely different insight into the world of grasses and sedges. I’ll be putting what I learned into practice when I’m out square-bashing for Atlas 2020 and surveying my NPMS squares

"I also have a four day grass/sedge/rush course with Mark Duffell (Field Studies Council) booked for July, and I’ll be attending Mike Porter’s Sedge workshop on 10th June, so I’ll be looking forward to passing on some useful ID tips to beginner botanists on the Botany for Beginners course. I attended the course last year and, as promised, I’m back again this year as a ‘Botanical Buddy’ (a volunteer assistant tutor). I’ll keep you all posted on how I get on with grasses, sedges and rushes this year!" 

Thanks Richard, looking forward to the next instalment of your mission to get to grips with grasses, sedges and rushes.

Tuesday 23 May 2017

Resources for BSBI members

Posts on this News & Views blog are usually aimed at all botanists, whether or not they are BSBI members, but this post is actually aimed just at BSBI members. 

If you haven't joined the society yet then sorry about excluding you today but please check back tomorrow, when there will be a review of a training course aimed at beginner botanists. Or head over here and join BSBI!

Now, members: this post is to alert you to some of the latest resources available on the password-protected members' only area of the BSBI website. Firstly, there is a pdf of the most recent issue of BSBI News. Some of us like to have a paper copy of the BSBI's newsletter and some of us prefer to read it on-line. Members can choose either or both, as they please.

Blinks Montia fontana
Image courtesy of John Crellin/Floral Images
Secondly, there is an Index, lovingly compiled by Gwynn Ellis, to back issues of BSBI News nos. 111-120. You can find the issues themselves in the BSBI Publications Archive but if you want to find a particular article, using the Index is an easy way to search by keyword for what you want.

Thirdly, there is a new Membership List, updated on 1st May, so you can check contact details of any fellow members (as long as they have agreed to share those details).

There are also a few changes to contact details for our expert plant referees, with a new referee for subspecies of Montia fontana and a change of referee for Populus nigra subspecies betulifolia

Catkins of Populus nigra subsp. betulifolia
Courtesy of John Crellin/Floral Images
Access to our 113 expert referees, who between them cover more than 150 difficult plant groups, is one of the main perks of BSBI membership. The names and full contact details of all our referees are in the BSBI Yearbook, sent to members and available in the members' only area, along with details of what sort of material to send them if you need help with a particular identification. Some can accept photographs, some need fresh rather than pressed material, some recommend that you phone them first to check that they are not away on fieldwork... all incredibly useful stuff to know!

If you are a BSBI member and haven't yet used the members' only area, you'll need a password - email me if you've forgotten yours. Don't forget that I'll need either your membership number, or the email address you used when joining, before I can give you a password. Then you'll be able to access six year's worth of New Journal of Botany, read the results of the recent BSBI Review Group, find out about special offers for members... and a lot more!  

Friday 19 May 2017

Review of a "brilliant training course" on Grass ID

Rowan (on left) and fellow students
FSC Juniper Hall
Image: P. O'Brien
BSBI member Rowan emailed me recently enthusing about an excellent ID course she had just attended, so I suggested that her report could be shared here. So, over to Rowan:  

"I have just been on the most brilliant FSC short course run by Judith Allinson at Juniper Hall, Surrey, over the Bank Holiday weekend on ‘The Vegetative Identification of Grasses’.

"This was an extraordinarily good training weekend...

"Judith Allinson was remarkable for her ability to bring the topic alive using a wide variety of techniques (from teaching each other to songs, poetry and hand-made demountable models of grass features) to ensure everyone grasped the detail.

Judith surrounded by her students
Image courtesy of R. Roenisch
"We all collected specimens to press of some 38 non-flowering grasses from several distinctive habitats and Judith brought in one or two further samples to supplement what we were able to see on the various excursions. 

"These were mounted under clear plastic in specially provided pocket-sized books with space to write up key identification features. 

"We entered the specimens according to the character of the emerging shoot and ultimate size of the grass and the books are now our easy-to-access, indexed ‘field guides’ with room to include other species yet to be encountered.

"Judith also provided detailed charts of grass features to take home and generally had put in an extraordinary amount of thought (not to say extremely hard work) to making the varied presentations and activities educational, entertaining and memorable.

Anne & Mike getting to grips with grass ID
FSC Juniper Hall
Image: P. O'Brien
"I have been on several courses with FSC, various Wildlife Trusts and the BSBI locally and nationally and I have to say that this was truly remarkable for the clarity of presentation, the accessibility of the material and the systems devised (including earlier work with Richard Pankhurst) to enable students to actually identify the different species not only during the weekend but during future forays and surveys that we might undertake.

"Despite the long hours of application each day (9am -10pm) I, and I know the other twelve students, found the whole experience not only profitable, but riveting and extremely enjoyable. Highly recommended!"

Thanks Rowan! If any News & Views readers have attended a particularly good ID course recently - or if you were disappointed in a course - why not send me your review and we can share it here for the benefit of fellow botanists.

Tuesday 16 May 2017

Irish Botanical News - whether or not you're Irish!

Interesting form of Orobanche
 found in SE Galway
IBN #27, page 33
Image: C. Roden
The latest issue of Irish Botanical News was published (in print) in March and an electronic version is now available to download from the BSBI Ireland page.

Oi, British botanists - come back here right now! You're wandering off because you think Irish Botanical News isn't for you? Well, you couldn't be more wrong... 

This bumper issue kicks off with a report on the changes in the flora of a mixed farm. I think it will appeal to botanists on both sides of the Irish Sea. Ralph Sheppard (County Recorder for West Donegal) looks at losses and gains over a twenty year period and draws some interesting conclusions. 

Then Ralph Forbes (one of two County Recorders for Fermanagh) offers a fascinating account of the biochemistry behind the sting of the nettle - yes, we have a few of those in Britain! 

We're still only on page 18 of this 27th issue of Irish Botanical News (IBN to its friends) and there are more than 70 pages to go, and some fabulous colour photos too.

Rumex hydrolapathum x conglomeratus - a new
hybrid dock for Ireland - found in Co. Monaghan
IBN #27 page 34
Image: A. Fitzgerald
Next up is a fascinating paper by Tony O'Mahony about a sedge which is not only new to Ireland - it's also new to Britain! 

No, I'm not going to tell you which one it is because that would spoil the surprise. I suggest you head over to the BSBI Ireland page right now and download your free copy of Irish Botanical News #27.

Editor Paul Green (also one of two County Recorders for Co. Wexford) has done a superb job with this latest issue. He, Angus Hannah (who edits the Scottish Botanical Newsletter) and Sally Whyman (who edits the Welsh Bulletin) deserve our thanks. And you all deserve to read these excellent newsletters, wherever in Britain or Ireland you are based. Why not take a look at one now and see if you agree with me?

Postscript: I tweeted a link to the Irish Botanical Newsletter, with the comment "A great read whether you're Irish or British!" and author Robert Fripp from Ontario replied "... or maybe Canadian?" So let's just say that botanists across the world will enjoy reading this excellent newsletter! 

Thursday 11 May 2017

Countdown to the BSBI Annual Summer Meeting

Bluebells and Red Campion
 in Flintshire last week
Image: J. Shanklin
With only four weeks to go until the BSBI's Annual Summer Meeting, which this year will be held in Flintshire, I asked organiser Jonathan Shanklin (also BSBI's Field Meetings Secretary and Secretary to our Meetings & Communications Committee) to tell us how things are going. 

Over to Jonathan:

"I visited Flintshire last week and found a stunning display of wildflowers in the lanes and woods. Crosswort, Greater Stitchwort and Red Campions (and Cow Parsley) lined the lane banks, whilst the woods were carpeted with Bluebells, interspersed with patches of Wood-sorrel and Yellow Archangel.

Gorse in Flintshire: but is it Common Gorse or
Western Gorse? Find out on the Summer Meeting!
Image: J. Shanklin 
"There has been plenty to do behind the scenes. Members have been registering for the event, though some of those that have said they are coming have yet to send in their forms – there is still time to add your name to the list of participants. 

"With their details put into the spreadsheet, a favourite is emerging on the choice of location for the excursion, but with the numbers booked in so far, we will have just the one coach.

Gail Quartly-Bishop has organised the transport and some of the after dinner sessions. 

Goronwy Wynne, the former County Recorder, author of the Flora of Flintshire and compiler of Flintshire's Rare Plant Register is giving us a talk on Wednesday evening after dinner. 

David Earl has promised a session on Brambles – Flintshire has 58 species according to the BSBI Database.

More Bluebells and some - is it
Wild or Barren Strawberry?
Find out at the Summer Meeting!
Image: J. Shanklin
Jonathan continued "Remarkably my own county of Cambridgeshire has a similar number – 59, but it is rather bigger. Quite a few County Recorders are coming, so it is a chance for them to compare notes, and for improvers and beginners to gain expert help. 

"There is always something new so my challenge for participants is for everyone to find some new plant that they have never seen before. We will post the results during the week!"

A reminder that one feature of the Annual Summer Meeting is that Jonathan sends me daily reports to share with you all via these pages. This is great for anyone who really can't attend but there is no substitute for actually being there! 

It's not too late to book so why not head over to the Summer Meeting webpage, download the flyer, get your diary out and see if you can make it along to Flintshire next month? The Summer Meeting runs from Monday 5th -  Friday 9th June and it's open to everyone, whether BSBI members or non-members, beginners, improvers or experts. So that includes you! 

Tuesday 9 May 2017

BSBI Training Grant helps another botanist in 2016: Part Six

Many thanks to David Hawkins for this account of a training course he was able to attend thanks to a BSBI Training Grant. Over to David:

Difficult Higher Plants Made Somewhat Easier

Lady Fern on the edge of the woods
Image: D. Hawkins
"A long weekend doing a course at the FSC’s legendary Preston Montford would always be a cause for excitement. I was doubly blessed (in a time of straitened finances) by having more than half the cost covered by a BSBI training grant. May 2016’s ‘Identifying Difficult Higher Plants’ was taught splendidly by Mark Duffell, with a star guest appearance from Tim Rich.

"I was initially disappointed when it emerged that the course would be largely classroom based; but this in fact turned out to be a very positive thing and within a couple of hours my reservations had evaporated and been replaced by a flurry of sori and ligules. We were presented with a fantastic range of fresh specimens that had been gathered by Mark, and which also included examples of some rare (and exquisite) sedges that had been cultivated in pots in Sarah Whild’s garden.

Rich's Whitebeam at Portishead
Image: D. Hawkins
"To my delight, we began with ferns, sorting out some of the differences within the Dryopteris affinis agg. Following pteridology, we made a lengthy excursion among sedges before wandering through seas of grasses. Mark’s patient and good-humoured tutelage pervaded the atmosphere of collaborative learning throughout. Many a hair – stellate, medifixed, septate – danced under the lens of the microscope.

"Tim appeared and delivered a compelling overview of the genus Sorbus, of particular interest to me as I live a grapnel’s throw from the Avon Gorge. Afterwards I even sought out his very own Sorbus richii, the type specimen of which happens to be about half a mile from where I grew up. Later, after a short field trip, he went on to give a lecture explaining the importance of recorder effort (or lack thereof) and the significant effect this can have on distribution and frequency data.

"The final day was dedicated to aquatics – and by amazing coincidence the pond outside the classroom had been stocked with all manner of native waterplants, garlanded around the edges by Sweet Cicely and hybrid (Wood x Water) Avens.

David has continued plant-spotting!
Basil Thyme in the Avon Gorge
Image: D. Hawkins
"My notebook glitters with evocative phrases and facts gleaned from the weekend:
‘A microsatellite is a little loop of DNA that can be tracked…’
‘Girth more useful than height for indicating age of Sorbus…’
‘Nectaries at the base of water crowfoot petals morph over time…’
I even have a sketch map from Tim Rich showing the location of Carex depauperata near Cheddar!

"Ashamed as it makes me to say it, often I am a rather impatient botanist and tend to go on ‘jizz’ where possible, working backwards and only turning to keys as a last resort. Having plenty of time with a wide variety of high quality specimens side by side, aided by expert guidance, allowed for many breakthroughs – both minor and major – in terms of identification and using the books as they were intended.

"I am an active recorder in VC6 and the southern fringes of VC34, and a member of Bristol Naturalists’ Society and Somerset Rare Plants Group. I hope I carry some of the wisdom gathered over those few days with me on any jaunt out into the field. It was a very useful and memorable time. ‘Difficult’ plants may well be some of the easiest to love".

Thanks David! 

Friday 5 May 2017

Book now for the Kerry Recording Event

The lovely Dingle peninsula
Image: R. Hodd
Bookings have just gone live for the Kerry BSBI Recording Event, to be held 1st-5th June on the Dingle peninsula. The leader will be Rory Hodd (he and Caroline Mhic Daeid are the two County Recorders for Co. Kerry), and the event is aimed at helping with recording for Atlas 2020

If Rory's name sounds familiar, that's because he is also a key member of the celebrated Rough Crew. BSBI Irish Officer Maria Long (who needs no introduction to regular News & Views readers!) will also be in attendance, as will Caroline, so there will be lots of support and botanical brains to pick.  

Friendly botanists at the Cork Recording Event
(Maria is, as always, right in the middle!)
Image: L. Weekes
Participants will be based at the Harbour House Guesthouse at the tip of the Maharees peninsula for this five day recording extravaganza, so there will be opportunities each evening for both examining specimens collected during the day and also for socialising. This event promises to be as successful as last summer's Cork Recording Event, at which BSBI's botanical find of the year was recorded! 

Whether you are a seasoned botanical recorder or a beginner keen to learn more, if you can be in Co,. Kerry during the first week in June then the #KerryBSBIevent is for you, so head over to the BSBI Ireland webpage to find out more and download a booking form.

P.S. Once you're on the BSBI Ireland page, you can follow the link to the new Irish Conferences webpage and download presentations from the recent (and incredibly successful) Irish BSBI Conference. It's all happening for botanists in Ireland!

Monday 1 May 2017

Five million BSBI records go live on NBN Atlas Scotland

Primula scotica
Image: J. McIntosh
On the 1st of April, the NBN Gateway closed and was superseded by the new NBN Atlas. Simultaneously five million Scottish BSBI records went live on the NBN Atlas Scotland - at full capture resolution and with site and recorder names.

Jim McIntosh, BSBI Scottish Officer, said "It has taken much patience and persuasion to convince Scottish County Recorders that the data should be made public. I think what swayed it is the growing realisation that there is a greater risk of inadvertent damage if people are not aware of populations than deliberate damage if they do. And, of course, there is provision to withhold records of a short list of sensitive species such Arabis alpinaPrimula scotica and Trichomanes speciosum, or of any population a County Recorder prefers not to make public. 

"One million of the records were captured by a BSBI project to digitise paper records in Scotland between 2005-2012, kindly funded by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). Notably it includes rare plant data from SSSIs that we digitised for SNH and much of the vascular plant data underlying Plant Life of Edinburgh & the LothiansThe Changing Flora of Glasgow and The Flora of Lanarkshire. This is a great step forward in making data freely available to conservationists, researchers, land managers and other botanists and we hope it will encourage botanists to go out and re-find records of notable species and send updates to County Recorders".