Tuesday 31 October 2017

Training the Trainers: a roaring success!

Helena Crouch (County Recorder for Somerset)
 & Fred Rumsey (Senior Curator at the Natural
History Museum & President of the British
Pteridological Society) consider
what makes an effective trainer
Image: L. Marsh
BSBI's Training the Trainers was held in Shrewsbury earlier this month and it was a roaring success, building on the success of previous years

There was something for everyone who is involved with passing on plant ID skills, from Mark Duffell's presentation on 'Difficult groups for absolute beginners' to Chris Metherell's talk on 'Teaching a difficult plant group to experienced botanists'.  

Mark also demonstrated a snazzy bit of kit which he uses when teaching and which allowed him to show a classroom of students the parts of a flower he was dissecting. 

This triggered a display of synchronised reaching for pencils and jotting down of brand names, as umpteen botanical trainers spotted the exact thing they want to find in their Christmas stockings this year! (Please Santa I'd like one too!)

Listening to Mark Duffell's talk
Image: L. Marsh
Members of the BSBI's Training & Education Committee took their turn and showed us what they can do, but it wasn't all about sitting passively listening to people talking. 

There were various exercises designed to get us all thinking about how we handle feedback, how we prepare for a training session. 

The amazing Sue Townsend (Biodiversity Learning Manager at the Field Studies Council) managed the impossible and made health and safety fun with her six-step programme and the 'spot what could go wrong here' exercise!

TtT participants included BSBI Handbook
author Tim Rich (in the green top) and
Jeremy Ison (on right) who co-ordinates
BSBI's panel of expert referees
Image: L. Marsh
Everyone who attended was given a copy of the latest edition of the 'Training the Botanical Trainers handbook' - 36 pages of helpful tips to ensure a successful training session. 

As the afternoon session approached its close, I'm afraid I lowered the tone rather with a short presentation on mnemonics, some of which involved very bad puns and others were quite rude... 

But nobody seemed too offended so my Powerpoint will soon be available, along with others from the day, on the Training the Trainers webpage. You have been warned! 

Sunday 29 October 2017

BSBI News by and for BSBI members

Greater tongue-orchid
Courtesy S. Cole & M. Waller
Since 1972, our membership newsletter BSBI News has been a source of delight to BSBI members, dropping through our letterboxes three times a year. It has always been jam-packed with news about all aspects of British and Irish botany contributed by BSBI members. The excellent Gwynn Ellis (also BSBI's Membership Secretary) has been at the helm since 1986, joined in 2007 by the equally excellent Trevor James. 

Non-members can read back copies of BSBI News in our Publications Archive here but to get your hands on recent issues - and to hear that lovely thwumping noise as the latest issue drops onto your doormat -  you'll need to join the society!

The most recent issue of BSBI News included such delights as:

  • The discovery of a population of Greater tongue-orchid Serapias lingua in Essex: a surprising find, as this plant is principally a Mediterranean species. 
  • A report on what could well be the last population of Yellow Star-of-Bethlehem Gagea lutea in Leicestershire.
  • A note about Small Goosegrass Galium murale: is it overlooked?
  • Aberrant forms of plantains and giant horsetails.
  • News of an "exceptional population" of Shepherd's Cress Teesdalia nudicaulis.
  • A note about the impact of climate change on the distribution of Bee Orchid Ophrys apifera.
  • A request for volunteers to test a new visual wild flower key (BSBI members are usually at the front of the queue to try out new identification aids!).
Small Goosegrass
Image: Julian Woodman
Changes are afoot just now with BSBI News - Gwynn and Trevor will be handing over the editorial reins to Andrew Branson of British Wildlife fame, although they will still be on hand to help out. So it seemed like a good time to pay tribute to all their splendid work over the years. 

On behalf of all BSBI members: thank you Gwynn and Trevor for our much-loved BSBI News!

A reminder to non-members that our newsletter is only one of the many benefits of BSBI membership. Click here to find out about our Membership Special Offer which we're running this autumn. 

Whether you are already an accomplished botanist or if you're just starting out with plant identification and could do with a helping hand, there has never been a better time to become a member of the leading society for British and Irish botany!

Thursday 26 October 2017

The Orchid Hunter is coming to the BSBI Exhibition Meeting!

Leif in the field
Image: Adrienne Kerley
Last month we told you about The Orchid Hunter, a new book that has caused quite a stir since it was published. 

Author Leif Bersweden has been doing lots of book signings and was even interviewed on BBC television. 

Next month he is due to talk at the Hay Festival winter weekend but the day before, he has an even more important engagement - Leif will be coming to the BSBI Annual Exhibition Meeting

Bee Orchid
Image: L. Bersweden
Here Leif reminds us why The Orchid Hunter has become such a publishing sensation and gives us a sneak preview at what he'll be offering us at the Exhibition Meeting.

Over to Leif:  

"An idea conceived seven years ago has finally come to fruition and made it to the shelves - The Orchid Hunter: a young botanist's search for happiness is now in bookshops! 

"Aimed at the general public, it's a narrative of my summer-long hunt for all of Britain and Ireland's wild orchids in 2013, packed with anecdotes, British plant hunting history, folklore and travel writing about our beautiful countryside and its botanical inhabitants. 

"On Saturday 25th November I'm going to be at the Natural History Museum in London as part of the BSBI Annual Exhibition Meeting. I'm really excited to meet you all and talk to you about orchids. 

"Whether you're more of an expert than me, or just getting into botany, I'd love to speak with you! 

"I'll be showing you some photos and telling you about all the wonderful BSBI botanists who helped me find various orchid species during my hunt - I couldn't have done it without them. 

"We'll be selling copies of the book at a discounted price of £10 (cash only! Signed if you're lucky...) and if you buy one you'll get a free orchid hunter tote bag. So do come say hello!"

Leif the Orchid Hunter
Image: Rosie Williams
We're all delighted that Leif will be joining us at the Natural History Museum on 25th November. 

Watch this space where, in the next few weeks, we'll be giving you a heads-up on some of the many other exhibitors you'll be able to meet at the Exhibition Meeting. 

If you haven't booked yet then click here, where you can also view the programme of speakers. 

If you haven't been to a BSBI  Exhibition Meeting before, then click here to see some of the highlights from previous years. 

Wednesday 25 October 2017

Michael Proctor 1929-2017

We've just received the very sad news that Michael Proctor has died.

Michael was regarded as one Britain's most eminent botanists/ ecologists and co-authored many notable titles, including three books in the renowned 'New Naturalist' series. 

He was a contributing author to all five volumes of British Plant Communities by Rodwell et al. and he also taught botany and ecology at the University of Exeter for almost 40 years.

Michael joined BSBI in 1950 and was editor of Watsonia from 1961 to 1971. 
Proctor & Bradshaw's SEM of Carex flacca leaves
He published more than 100 research papers during his long career and BSBI members will remember his and Margaret Bradshaw's series of scanning electron micrographs of the leaves of British Carex species which were published in New Journal of Botany during 2014 and 2015. 

A full obituary will be published in the BSBI Yearbook and on our Obituaries page. For now, we'd like to send our condolences to Michael's family and remember his many contributions to British botany and ecology. 

Monday 23 October 2017

Busman's holiday!

Sagina nodosa near
Kirky Malham
Image: J. Shanklin 
What does Jon Shanklin, the Field Meetings Secretary do for a holiday? He goes recording of course! 

Jon emailed recently to let me know what he'd been up to on holiday. He said "Mid-west Yorkshire (VC64) is one of many counties needing additional recording for Atlas 2020, so a week in the Yorkshire Dales was a simple choice. 

"I stayed in Long Preston, not far from Malham Tarn. Whilst the Tarn is well recorded, many tetrads to the west were not, so I was trying to increase the coverage.  

"My first day out included a lovely marsh, with Grass-of-Parnassus Parnassia palustris as a highlight. On Sunday I visited Kirkby Malham, helping to ring the bells in the church, before starting recording in a round walk. 

"I kept out of Malham itself, and judging by the number of cars in the car park this was a good idea, as continuing to the west I only met a couple of people! 

Rosette of Thlaspi caerulescens
& Saxifraga hypnoides in bloom
Image: J. Shanklin
"A highlight here was Alpine pennycress Thalspi caerulescens on old mine workings, along with much Mossy Saxifrage Saxifraga hypnoides. I also recorded Knotted Pearlwort Sagina nodosa. 

"The morning was wet, at times very wet, but starting with light drizzle. The rain was no problem thanks to waterproof recording cards, and my cape kept the water out, but my wellies didn't! I kept on regardless. 

"Coming up to a bridge over a small beck, I noticed the bed was dry, so assumed there was limestone around somewhere, but perhaps subterranean. 

"Having had a quick look at the downstream side I returned to the bridge and was amazed to see a small wave of water rushing downhill. Soon the beck was flowing merrily - downstream the River Ribble rose by nearly a metre during the day according to a local fisherman. The forecast is for drier weather tomorrow, and the target is some tetrads south of Malham".

So, not even leaking wellies and a wave of water rushing towards him can stop Jon Shanklin from going out recording for Atlas 2020! There's dedication for you ;-)

Saturday 21 October 2017

Welcome back to BSBI Welsh Officer Paul Green

Paul gets up close and personal with an Allium
Image: I. Bonner
lt's all change in Wales!

After six years as BSBI's Welsh Officer, Polly Spencer-Vellacott is moving to Scotland with her family so she's giving up her role supporting Welsh botanists.

While this is sad news and we are all sorry to wave goodbye to Polly, there is a very silver lining to this particular cloud, as we welcome back Paul Green as Welsh Officer. 

He and Polly used to job-share the post and Paul was at the helm on his own while Polly was on maternity leave, so he knows the ropes. 

Polly with the BSBI's
dual-language banner
Image courtesy of
P. Spencer-Vellacott
Paul also wears several other hats - he is editor of Irish Botanical News and joint County Recorder for Co. Wexford. You may have read his 'Wild flowers of Wexford' blog or seen his photos on Twitter - he made some great finds during last January's New Year Plant Hunt - naturalised Fatsia japonica blooming in Glengary, Co. Wexford on New Year's Day! 

Oh and did I mention that he is a superb field botanist and botanical trainer?

I asked Paul how it felt to be taking up the reins in Wales again.

He said "It is a great honour to be back as the BSBI Welsh Officer. I very much enjoyed my last stint in the post and I'm looking forward to exploring Wales and meeting all the Welsh botanists again. This time I’m based in Pembroke Dock, Pembrokeshire, the extreme south-west corner of Wales. 

"I would like to take this opportunity to thank Polly for her sterling work over the past 6 years as Welsh Officer, and wish her all the best with the move to Scotland".
Paul leads a field meeting in Co. Wexford in 2013
Image courtesy of P. Green

Hear hear! Polly tells me that once she has settled into her new home, she's looking forward to getting involved in Scottish botany (because she is, of course, going to be keeping up her BSBI membership) so Wales' loss is Scotland's gain. 

I'm sure you'll all join me in wishing Polly all the best and welcoming back Paul - we're very lucky to have two such amazing botanists in the BSBI fold. 

You can keep up with Polly's progress by following her on Twitter and you can see how Paul is getting on in his new role by following him wearing his Welsh Officer hat as well as his Wexford Recorder bonnet. 

Friday 20 October 2017

Scottish Annual Meeting 2017: a great programme

Wearing 3-D glasses to help with stonewort ID
at the 2016 Scottish Annual Meeting
Image: C. Ferguson-Smyth
BSBI Scottish Officer Jim McIntosh has been in touch to tell us about what's on offer at this year's Scottish Annual Meeting, which will be held at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh on Saturday 4th November. Over to Jim: 

"We have a great line-up of speakers at this year’s Scottish Annual Meeting, with Mike Scott giving a talk on Mountain Flowers, the title of his recent book; Dr Mario Vallejo-Marin on Monkeyflowers; Dr Aline Finger on Marsh Saxifrage and Roy Sexton on Plant monitoring & conservation with SWT Stirling.

Trees at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh -
just waiting for Matt & Max to ID them!
Image: I. Denholm
"We also have a great selection of mini-workshops – Introductions to Ferns, Pondweeds & Willows, with Heather McHaffie, Claudia Ferguson-Smyth, and Les Tucker respectively. Or if you fancy some fresh air – Conifer ID or Winter Deciduous Tree ID with Matt Parratt and Max Coleman, respectively. Or for something more cerebral, a discussion on Post-2020 BSBI projects with BSBI Scientific Officer Pete Stroh!

"The conference room will be stuffed full of interesting posters and exhibits (although there is always room for more) and we will have regular features such as the BSBI Photographic Competition, a pop-up bookshop from Summerfield Books and the ID Help Desk. 

"If you have already booked for this year's Scottish Annual Meeting – thank you very much! If you have yet to book, note the meeting is just two weeks tomorrow and the deadline for bookings is the 28th October - one week tomorrow. So if you plan to come, please book now by clicking here!"

Many thanks to Jim for telling us about what's on offer at this year's Scottish Annual Meeting. See you there?

Tuesday 17 October 2017

Second meeting of the Kerry BSBI group

Getting started
Image: Ger Scollard
You may remember that in August we featured a guest blogpost by Jessica Hamilton about the inaugural meeting of the Kerry BSBI group. Now she's back to tell us about the follow-up meeting. 

"Over to Jessica:

"The last time I was here, I was reporting on the success of BSBI Kerry’s first ever outing to Ross Castle, Killarney. 

Clouds clearing to reveal more of the
Sliabh Mish mountains
Image: J. Hamilton
"This time I’m reflecting on our second outing that took us to Blennerville and out alongside the Canal which eventually enters scenic Tralee Bay.

"Led by Therese and myself, as with our previous outings, we had botanists of all levels and it was great to be faced with so many familiar faces as well as lots of newcomers and some of my fellow classmates from the IT Tralee.

"This time our foray started opposite Blennerville windmill. 

"From there we then planned to head down across the road and alongside the canal. 

Sea Mayweed
Image: J. Hamilton
"Before we did this, as the carpark fell in our first monad, we decided to start right there.

"Many a botanist knows how interesting car parks can be in terms of what botanical surprises they can throw up. 

"Nothing too alarming came up for us, lots of typical common species and it gave a people to have a go keying out a very common Cerastium fontanum (common mouse ear).

Marsh Cudweed
Image: J. Hamilton
"As the car park backed onto a nearby salt marsh, we quickly crossed off a few salt marsh species such as Plantago maritima (Sea plantain), Aster tripolium (Sea aster) and so on.

"After leaving the car park we set along the canal when the clouds cleared to reveal hints of blue sky. 

"Quickly we came across a waste-ground type patch and in quick succession we were soon crossing off lots of species. 

Scarlet Pimpernel
Image: J. Hamilton
"Nothing too rare or overly exciting but we got lots of common stuff which in the grand scheme of things are just as important as the rare things.

"The fact that we saw lots of common things such as different species of thistle and vetch growing side by side gave people a chance to see many species of the same family growing side by side.

"They were able to note their differences and ID features that they could apply again in the future. 

"One nice plant which I for one don’t come across too often was Gnaphalium uliginosum (Marsh cudweed).

Wild Carrot seedhead
Image: J. Hamilton

"The common Anagallis arvensis (scarlet pimpernel) was a hit as always with everyone, especially as the day was brightening and the flowers were starting to open. 

"Geranium dissectum (Cut-leaved crane’s-bill), another favourite of mine, was scrambling up amongst grasses. The twisted seed heads of Daucus carota (Wild carrot) stood out on top of a grassy mound nearby.

"A nice moment to see was when people looked through their hand lenses and noticed the little points on the leaflets of Medicago lupulina (Black medick). 

Black Medick
Image: J. Hamilton
"Beside the waste ground/grassy area were swathes of Bolboschoenus maritimus (Sea Club-rush).

"As we walked further along canal we encountered lots of coastal species such as Scurvy grass, Thrift, Sea Beet & a few gone over examples of sea milkwort. 

"We also encountered the last of the species of plantains (Plantago spp.) that we expected to see on the day giving us all four:
P. lanceolata, major, maritima and coronopus.

Teasels by Tralee Bay
Image: J. Hamilton 
"Across the canal on the wall of a dwelling I could see flecks of purple, and thanks to Kilian’s binoculars we were able to add another two species to the list: Cymbalaria muralis (Ivy-Leaved toadflax) and Asplenium scolopendrium (Hart’s tongue fern).

"A break was taken to refuel and chat, this time giving grand views of Tralee Bay and the Sliabh Mish mountains with towering examples of gone over teasel adding some nice perspective to our lunchtime views. 

Keying a speedwell
Image: J. Hamilton
"In this area we ticked off more species including Coronopus didymus (Lesser Swine-cress) with its unmistakable odour when crushed.

"We then kept strolling and left the coastal habitats behind us in favour of roadside and hedgerows hoping the change in habitats would allow us to tick off a few more species, which it surely did. 

"Lots of common species popped up such as Stachys sylvatica (Hedge woundwort), Sonchus arvensis (Perennial sow-thistle) and Arctium minus (Lesser Burdock).

Perennial sow-thistle
Image: J. Hamilton
"One species however it took a while for us to find was the normally quite plentiful Geranium robertianum (Herb-Robert) but after a while we found one plant looking less than happy on top of a stone wall. 

"These stone walls also yielded three more ferns Asplenium trichomanes (Maidenhair spleenwort), Asplenium ruta-muraria (Wall rue) and Polypodium vulgare (Common Polypody). 

"Nearby at a field gate entrance I got to practice keying out a fumitory which yielded Fumaria bastardii (Tall ramping fumitory).

Investigating a vetch
Image: J. Hamilton
"All in all, we covered two monads and recorded over 100 species.

  • You can follow our antics on the official BSBI Kerry Facebook page here or if you’re a Twitter user here.
  • If you are in the Kerry locality and would like to get involved and come out with us on future outings, send an email to Jhbsbikerry@gmail.com and I’ll add you to the mailing list".
Many thanks to Jessica for this account and for providing so many great photos - it sounds as though the Kerry BSBI group is going from strength to strength! We'll keep you posted on their progress on these pages.

Friday 13 October 2017

Flora of Sussex

A new Flora of Sussex is due to be published in February 2018 but pre-publication offers are now available. BSBI members will have spotted a flyer tucked inside their copy of BSBI News no. 136 (mailed out a few weeks ago) allowing them to order the Flora direct from the publishers for the special price of £35. For non-members, why not check out Summerfield Books who are offering the book for £39.

The new Flora has been compiled by the Sussex Botanical Recording Society to update, expand and revise the Sussex Plant Atlas published in 1980. It is the first major account of the county's flora since Wolley-Dod's work of 1937. 

Around 2,750 taxa are described, many accompanied by tetrad-based maps showing their distribution within the county. The species accounts are prefaced by detailed introductory chapters on geology and soils, habitats and vegetation, management and conservation, changes in the flora and past botanical activity in the county in order to provide an ecological and historical context. The text is fully illustrated throughout with photographs of characteristic Sussex plants and habitats.