Monday 31 July 2017

New resources on the NPMS website

Workshop for NPMS participants on identifying
members of the Carrot family (Apiaceae):
led by expert botanist Nick Law.
Image: N. Law/FPCR ltd.
Are you participating in the National Plant Monitoring Scheme? If you are, you need to be able to work out what sort of habitat your plots are in and sometimes, that's not as straightforward as you'd think!

Fortunately, there are lots of extremely useful resources available to NPMS participants and the latest of these is a series of videos, courtesy of our colleagues at FSC.Tom.Bio

Click here to find the links for videos on how to identify these four habitats: dry acid grassland, dry heathland, neutral pastures and meadows, and neutral damp grassland.

Of course there's nothing to stop you browsing the excellent NPMS website even if you haven't (yet) registered for the scheme! If you do, you'll also see this blogpost about NPMS training in Scotland.

Sunday 30 July 2017

Getting to grips with grasses

We've featured Faith Anstey's very popular plant family ID training sessions on these pages before, but this year, for the first time, she also also ran a Grass ID workshop. 

Over to Faith to tell us how it went:

"Twenty people participated in a very successful Grass ID workshop held at Holyrood Park Education Centre in Edinburgh earlier this month. It was organised and led by Faith Anstey and a team of BSBI volunteer tutors.

"The workshop started off in the classroom comparing grasses with other monocots, examining the structure of grasses and learning terms essential for ID.  

"Keys were not used at all – because of "kleidophobia": the fear that keys invariably induce in beginners! 

"However, participants were introduced to 20 common grass species of neutral grassland by means of a flowchart. In the afternoon there was a practical field work session looking at the species in Holyrood Park. 

"The softly-softly approach and the practical sessions with experienced tutors in the classroom and field were much valued and enjoyed by the students. 

"Given the great feedback we got from students, we will almost certainly repeat the workshop next year".

Many thanks to Faith for this report and to Sandy Edwards (one of Faith's volunteer tutors and also County Recorder for Fife & Kinross) for the photos.

Saturday 29 July 2017

Remembering Robert Brown (1773-1858)

Robert Brown, 1773-1858
Our chairman Ian Denholm has been corresponding with Miss M.F. Brown of Kingston, Surrey, who is a cousin, four generations removed, of the famous Scottish polymath Robert Brown

Although born 36 years before Charles Darwin, in later life these two illustrious biologists would have overlapped and there are interesting parallels in events that shaped their scientific achievements. After formal training in medicine and a period of military service, Robert was appointed as resident naturalist aboard a ship `The Investigator’ for a voyage circumnavigating Australia.

Partly through having Sir Joseph Banks as a mentor, he focused his attention on plants and at least 2,000 of the species he collected proved to be new to science. Consequently a number of Australian species bear the epithet brownii and he is also recognised through the genus Brunonia (Goodeniaceae) – the Australian blue pincushion flower.

Back from his travels, Robert Brown pioneered many aspects of microscopy and coined the term “nucleus” for one of the most distinctive intracellular organelles. He was the first to describe the behaviour of particles (initially by observing pollen grains) that is now universally known as Brownian motion.

In 1988, Miss Brown wrote an article on Robert in `The Linnean’, and this is now freely accessible through the archives of the Linnean Society. This link takes you to the start of Volume 4 and the piece on Robert Brown starts on page 38. 

Miss Brown also recalls with delight a recent visit to Kew to inspect the original microscopy equipment used by the great man himself (see photo on left)!

Tuesday 25 July 2017

New on the BSBI's News page

Chris in the Herbarium at Univ Leicester
Image: L. Marsh
If you haven't taken a look at the News page on the BSBI website recently, you may have missed some of the links we've been sharing to recently published papers and conferences.  

Here are a few recent items which may be of interest:

The future for biological surveys: BSBI members are invited to attend a forthcoming Linnean Society Symposium titled ‘What is the Future for Biological Surveys? Are specialists for key taxa at risk of becoming extinct?' One of the speakers will be Chris Metherell, BSBI's incoming President. The Symposium takes place on 7th September, 11am – 4.30pm, in the Linnean Society’s Meeting Room in Burlington House, Piccadilly, London. More here.

How will climate change affect our wild flowers? BSBI's Head of Science Dr Kevin Walker is a co-author on a newly published paper in the journal Biological Conservation which assesses the impact of climate change on the distribution of over 3,000 British plants and animals across 17 taxonomic groups. Click here to download the paper in full.

Gunnera tinctoria: an ornanmental
species naturalised on Benbecula
Image: F. Donald 
Vegetation monitoring: Click here to download 'Long-term vegetation monitoring in Great Britain - the Countryside Survey 1978-2007 and beyond'.

Garden plants and invasive species: In 2015, BSBI members contributed to a survey aimed at trying to identify garden plants likely to become invasive in future. The authors have now published a paper based on the data collected. You can read 'Integrating invasive species policies across ornamental horticulture supply chains to prevent plant invasions' in full by clicking here.

Are Beech trees native to Scotland? According to researchers at the University of Sterling - yes they are! More here or go straight to the abstract. The full paper appears in the latest issue of Journal of Biogeography.

If you hear of any forthcoming conferences or symposia, or spot any new papers which may interest fellow botanists, please let me know so we can share them on the News page.

Monday 24 July 2017

Ely Wildspace survey

Branched Bur-reed
Image: M. Frisch
Last time we heard from Cambridge botanist Monica Frisch, she was at the Cambridge Conversazione reporting on the various botanical exhibits, but a few days later she was back out in the field again. Here's her latest report: 

"On Saturday 15th July 2017 the Cambridge Flora Group surveyed Ely Wildspace. This included Ely Common, Roswell Pits and various meadows alongside the River Ouse, all now part of the Ely Pits and Meadows SSSI. This area, about 85 hectares (though we did not explore all of them), includes parts designated for their geological importance and for their breeding birds. But there was plenty of interest to occupy eleven botanists, including some of Cambridgeshire’s most experienced:  Alan Leslie and Jonathan Shanklin, the County Recorders, Chris Preston, Mark Hill and Owen Mountford who is working on a Fenland Flora.

"Guided by local expert Tim Inskipp, we started looking at the eastern part of Ely Common, which was the more diverse part when surveyed by Tanner & Vejakob (Nature in Cambridgeshire, 2014). It is mainly rough grassland but improved as a result of the addition of hay from nearby Chettisham Meadow. One benefit was the appearance, earlier this year, of Green-winged Orchid. That was over but we did see one of the patches of Adder’s-tongue Fern Ophioglossum vulgatum. There was lots of Hoary Ragwort Senecio erucifolius growing tall and lush.

Image: M. Frisch
"Having more or less circumnavigated the common we meandered down and along the wooded banks of the western edge of Roswell Pits, stopping to debate the differences between the two yellow-flowered melilots and concluding that the one that we were finding was Tall Melilot Melilotus altissimus. There was plenty of Purple-loosestrife Lythrum salicaria, a plant I consider looks particularly attractive silhouetted against water, masses of Teasel, mostly at the stage where not all the flowers had opened, resulting in bands of blue on the inflorescence. There was plenty of Upright Hedge Parsley Torilis japonica the more delicate successor to Cow Parsley and surprising amounts, to me, of Stone Parsley Sison amomum though most of us could not smell the nutmeg as well as petrol which some books say are meant to characterise the species.

"Tim Inskipp was able to let us into a meadow closed off, apparently for safety reasons, to the general public, though the danger of falling into the watery pit seemed no greater there than elsewhere. We looked at the brambles, with Alan Leslie concluding one was probably close to a hybrid of Rubus caesius x ulmifolius. I enjoyed seeing lots of bright pink Centaury Centaurium erythraea and it was a pleasant spot to stop and eat our lunch.

Rumex maritimus (on left), R. conglomeratus
 (on right); in between: R. x knafii
Image: M. Frisch 
"Most of the afternoon was spent exploring the meadows alongside the River Great Ouse where the experts debated about carices and studied the docks, finding three different hybrids amongst the mass of species: Rumex x schulzei (R. crispus x conglomeratus) which had been previously recorded, in 2007,  Rumex x knafii (R. conglomeratus x maritimus) and Rumex x pratensis (R. crispusobtusifolius). Easier to recognise was Orange Foxtail Alopecurus aequalis living up to its name. This was an exciting record as it hadn't been seen in the hectad since 1855. Also fairly distinctive, for an umbellifer, was Tubular Water-dropwort Oenanthe fistulosa.

"For me other highlights were the Branched Bur-reed Sparganium erectum subsp. neglectum showing flowers and fruits at different stages, seeing Sweet Flag Acorus calamus for the first time and in flower, some unexpected seaside plants on a road verge, and a new crucifer: Bastard Mustard Rapistrum rugosum on the verge of Lisle Lane.

"All in all, an enjoyable and successful day, which added about 50 species to the list for Ely Wildspace, as well as helping with recording for the Fenland Flora". 

Thanks Monica! We're always keen to share what botanists are seeing out in the field - just send a short report like Monica's to and we'll be delighted to publish it on these pages. 

Tuesday 18 July 2017

BSBI Training Grants helping botanists in 2017: Part One

Sedges collected and displayed by Lynda
Image: S. Brien
Another year, another round of BSBI training grants awarded to budding botanists keen to improve their skills

The first of this year's grant recipients, keen to tell readers about the course they were able to attend thanks to that BSBI training grant, is Shane. Last time we heard from him, he was volunteering with BSBI Irish Officer Maria Long. Now he's brushing up his sedge ID skills. 

Over to Shane:  

"I took it upon myself to attend a course on the “Introduction to sedges” with the National Biodiversity Data Centre (NBDC) in Co. Waterford. I was highly interested and enthusiastic in learning more for this group, the different structures, how to key them to species level, and ID tips that may help in the field. Also, when I heard Lynda Weekes was teaching it (after her amazing talk on rushes at the Irish BSBI conference 2017), I put my name on the list instantly.

Schoenus nigricans, one of the "other sedges"
Image: S. Brien
"The morning session involved a slideshow presentation on the differences between sedges, rushes, and grasses (the saying I was taught before this course, “sedges have edges; rushes are round; grasses have nodes right to the ground). It can be confusing to a person learning this group for the first time, but once shown the different characteristics of sedges first hand it becomes engrained in the mind afterward. Sounds simple from a presentation than an actual specimen.

"The next segment looked at the number of different species found in Ireland. Mainly observing the differences between other sedge and true sedge groups. This interesting part involved looking at some specimens that were brought in (thanks to Lynda), which were held up in bottles and arranged per habitat type. We worked in pairs, due to the limitation of handouts, using draft copies of the sedges & rushes book being devised by the NBDC that will have a similar format to the grass guide (Fitzpatricket al., 2014). The other sedge specimens brought in for the day included Eleocharis palustris, Schoenus nigricans, Schoenoplectus lacustris, Trichophorum germanicum, Eriophorum angustifolium & Bolboschoensis maritimus. After looking at these specimens, everyone dispersed for lunch as the afternoon session started the true sedge (Carex) fun.

Carex otrubae, one of the "true sedges"
Image: S. Brien
"I found the afternoon session very helpful when trying to distinguish Carex species that looked very similar in the field, it only takes a bit of practice to figure things out eventually. It started off with some of the more notable species such as Carex pulicaris and C. otrubae, with the obvious inflorescence they both possess. The key was needed for the next specimens which possessed an inflorescence of the terminal spike on top and other spikes on the stem below (appressed or hanging). Everyone struggled at the first obstacle in the key with “are the utricles flat?”, and most answers being “maybe”, “possibly”, “I don’t know”. Lynda said “they shouldn’t be” then grabbed another specimen to show us the flat utricles in comparison to the specimen we were keying out. 

Groups looking at and keying out sedges
Image: S. Brien
"She boosted our confidence after that to work from there on, having each pair work at their own accords or collectively as a working group. I and my partner worked through the specimens quite well but stumbled from time to time. One specimen (C. laevigata) we worked with was slightly immature which made it difficult to key. Lynda was extremely helpful in pointing that out and highlighted the need to look at several specimens when in the field.

"The final part involved a walkabout around the data centre in search of a few sedges in the overgrown grassland area and Waterford IT campus. Carex sylvatica and C. pendula weren’t picked purposely because Lynda wanted the pairs to find them in the field and see how different sedges looked in the field aspect. 

"I found this course extremely useful and would like to thank the BSBI grant scheme for funding this. I have already put my knowledge gained into practice. The BSBI Dublin group went to Clogherhead, Co. Louth where I pointed out C. distans and C. otrubae while scanning through the sand dunes, salt marshes, and rocky areas".

Many thanks to Shane for telling us about the course he was able to attend, thanks to a BSBI training grant.

Monday 17 July 2017

Training sessions for the NPMS

How are you getting on with your monitoring your plot for the National Plant Monitoring Scheme?

If everything is going swimmingly - thank you for taking part!

If you feel that you need a bit more support - have you checked out all this year's free training sessions available only to people who have already registered for the Scheme? The image above right shows a recent training session on ferns, led by top botanist Nick Law. Find out about the 2017 programme of training sessions, which are held across the country, here.

There are still lots more squares to survey, so if you haven't registered yet, you can check here to see what squares are available in your area.

And if you'd like to find out more about the data collected so far, click here for the NPMS dataset 2015-6. 

Thursday 13 July 2017

Botany at the Cambridge Conversazione

Vince has his eye on Roger's live specimen!
Image: R Horton 
Cambridge botanist Monica Frisch has been in touch to tell us about the botanical exhibits on display at last month's Conversazione.

Over to Monica:

"The Cambridge Natural History Society’s annual Conversazione on 16th & 17th June 2017 attracted, as usual, a wide variety of displays on many aspects of natural history, including plants, from local organisations and individuals.

"Trees were the main feature for three displays:

"Roger Horton put together a display about Black Poplars, often called “Britain’s rarest tree” which reported on his efforts to refind Black Poplars in the Cambridge area. As well as maps and photos he even had a small Black Poplar which he is growing.

Roger was tweeting from the Conversazione:

16/6 Vince looks at my P. nigra betulifolia poster! : He wants to plant my live specimen!

Gwenda Kyd with her display about
Bountiful Birches
Image: M. Frisch
"Another CNHS member had recorded an A-Z of trees – mostly planted – on the Science Park on the edge of Cambridge. 

"From Apple to Zelkova (a genus related to Elms) he had pictures and brief descriptions of trees for almost every letter of the alphabet. X was an exception (excuse puns) though it was suggested Xylem could justifiably be included. 

"Gwenda Kyd focused on Birches and their many uses, with a display including products made from birch bark, bottled birch sap, which could be tasted, and birch wine (which was being saved for a special occasion).

A tank of Floating Pennywort
 with the Cam Valley Forum display
 about this invasive weed
Image: M. Frisch
"Invasive species were part of the displays of the Cam Valley Forum, who had a tank of Floating Pennywort extracted from the Cam, from which they are trying to eradicate it, while Cambridge Conservation Volunteers had a large specimen of Himalayan Balsam.

"Pam Butler and Sandra Chapman, from NIAB, had a display about seeds, including information about the history of seed testing in the UK.

"Many other displays made passing mention of plants, from the Bird Cherry trees which have been infested with Ermine Moth caterpillars, to the species found during the CNHS field surveys of sites around Cambridge.

"Photos of many of the displays are in the Conversazione 2017 album on the CNHS Facebook page here." 

Many thanks to Monica for telling us about this year's Conversazione in Cambridge.