Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Volunteers I: supporting BSBI in Ireland

The words 'volunteering with the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland' might conjure up days out in the field, recording wildflowers for Atlas 2020 or monitoring a patch for the National Plant Monitoring Scheme. That's exactly what many of our amazing volunteers do, but there's also a lot of essential work to be done indoors throughout the year and BSBI is also very grateful to volunteers who help behind the scenes. 

Shane's work set-up
Image: S. Brien
One such volunteer is Shane, who has been assisting BSBI Irish Officer Maria Long. Here Shane tells us what he's been doing - and why! 

"It is hard to believe that I contacted Maria Long over a year ago to discuss possible volunteering options. I came up with this initiative as part of my academic studies in trying to further promote my botanical skills, network, and gain that much-needed experience in the area I wish to pursue. After my masters, I have not had much joy of finding work placement but I still carrying on volunteering for the BSBI when I can. 

"Maria has been nothing but supportive whenever I have asked her questions about botany or ecology. She has given me such joyous and interesting tasks to undertake during my time volunteering. My main tasks usually involve data entry, which may seem tedious and long winded but someone must do it and I always find it interesting to see what people found & where. 

Old records of Co. Westmeath
Image: S. Brien
"Recently, I entered Maria’s record cards from the Kerry recording event which I was unable to attend. Reading through some of the plant records they stumbled upon and the wonderful scenery of Kerry, I was quite jealous. 

"However, it was great to hear of what they found, the new attendees to BSBI events, and the number of plants records over the five days. My primary task has been digitising Co. Westmeath (VC H23) pre. 2000 records mainly from Con Breen (Vice County Recorder). 

"There is a lot of records (I mean A LOT) to enter into Excel format, but this particular task requires me to act as a sort of botanical detective. The maps and GPS devices that many people would use nowadays, weren’t as available then. Townland names and a description of the area recorded were the next best thing and being eager botanists, as members in the BSBI would be, a lot of ground was covered in a day or two. The record card would be assigned a grid reference at hectad, or if we are lucky, tetrad level, after searching through both old & new maps, and referred to Con for changes or confirmation. 

Shane out with the Dublin BSBI group -
he's the one in the purple hat.
Image courtesy of A. Murphy
"The use of Stace (2010) acts as my trusty sidekick whenever old names need to be updated to the current botanical names, providing less confusion for new eager botanist’s in the future. It can be laborious at times, Con’s wealth of knowledge (especially with Carex species) can put down nearly 200 plant species on one record card, and typing them out takes a bit of time. Sometimes at the end of the day, I feel like an encyclopaedia for botanical names in Westmeath.

"Taking in this experience from the voluntary work helps me remember botanical names in the field, usually because people still use the old name of a species. The best way to learn any of these species off is to go out with other enthusiastic botanists and help with the valiant effort BSBI recorders do every season toward Atlas 2020. Maria and the Irish vice county recorders encourage others to go out and learn to increase their botanical knowledge. 

"I have been on a couple of outings across the country and encourage others to partake in upcoming BSBI events".

Many thanks to Shane for telling us about his volunteering experience with BSBI, and for all the volunteer hours he's already given to our society. If you'd like to find out more about volunteering opportunities with BSBI, please email us here