Wednesday 29 November 2017

Interview with outgoing BSBI President John Faulkner

John at home in Armagh
Image: G. Faulkner
In December 2015, soon after John Faulkner was elected BSBI President, I interviewed him about what he hoped to achieve during his presidency

Since then John has always found time in his busy schedule to keep News & Views readers updated about what he's been doing - even at Christmas 2015 and 2016

So on 25th November 2017, the final day of his presidency, I managed to catch up with John again at this year's BSBI Annual Exhibition Meeting and Annual General Meeting at the Natural History Museum. It was very busy, with lots of people wanting to talk to the outgoing President, but he very kindly agreed to be interviewed before he handed over the reins:  

John with Lodgepole Pine & Nordmann Fir
Christmas 2015, Charlemont, Co. Armagh
Image: G. Faulkner
LM: John, many thanks for talking to us again, now that you are ready to hand over the presidency to Chris Metherell. So, did you enjoy being at the helm of the leading botanical society in Britain and Ireland?

JF: Immensely! Having lived in Ireland for all but two of my 50 years as a BSBI member, I’ve been exposed to only a fraction of what goes on within our Society. There’s nothing like being at the helm to make you find out how the ship’s community operates. 

So, as well as being enjoyable and meeting many botanists for the first time, acting as President has been a great personal learning exercise. I do now feel much better informed about how BSBI works - and it does so extraordinarily well. 

John presents the 2017 Presidents'
Award to Tom Humphrey;
BSBI Summer Meeting
Image: L. Gravestock
LM: What would you say have been your main challenges as President?

JF: There is no job description for President, and only a few things that you absolutely must do. One of these is to choose, jointly with the President of the Wild Flower Society, the winner of the annual Presidents’ Award. It needs to be done with careful forethought, but it’s not too onerous, and a great pleasure. 

We’ve had really worthy winners in Clive Stace and Mick Crawley for their erudite yet highly readable New Naturalist book on Alien Plants, and now the award has gone to Tom Humphrey for his creative genius in developing the BSBI’s Distribution Database. 

Another obligation is to chair the meetings of BSBI Council. In itself this need not be a particularly burdensome role, but I chose to make it a challenge. The members of Council are a talented and dedicated bunch, but we need to do them justice by making the best possible use of them. Council had been struggling to find its proper role since BSBI became a Trustee-led charity. Developing a shared understanding of Council’s role has been an important project in itself, but it required a thorough look at BSBI’s needs and priorities as a whole.

John in the field talking to
the next generation of BSBI members
Image: G. Faulkner
LM: That sounds like a big task. How did you go about it?  

JF: It’s not something to attempt on your own. The starting point was the Review, initiated originally by the Board of Trustees, but picked up by Council as a forum for members’ interests in the Society. We initiated a consultation of the entire membership, asking for their views on a wide range of topics. 

The response was superb. As you can imagine, ask a bunch of botanists for views, and you get an incredible range of ideas in response. Some were diametrically opposed, but they did give us many pointers. 

John (centre) at a meeting of
 BSBI Publications Committee
Image: L. Marsh
Council then asked a small cross-section of willing members to act as a Review Group, and sift through the replies and convert them into a coherent set of proposals. I doubt whether they knew what they were letting themselves in for! For a start they had a massive amount of material to read. 

They then spent a weekend debating and deciding on the main points for their report, and a few more weeks refining and finalising it. Eventually the fruits of their labours emerged as a report to Council and Trustees entitled A society like no other and containing nearly 50 recommendations, which have been broadly accepted by Council and the Trustees as a basis for moving forward. 

Field meeting at Drumnaph NR, Co. Derry
John on right
Image: D. Rainey
LM:  Sometimes reports are received politely, and then quietly ignored. Is there a risk of that happening to this one?

JF: None whatsoever! We have already started to implement it and have an action plan in place covering all the recommendations.

The key point here is that so many members contributed that there is a strong will to take it forward. The Review Group itself had a deep interest in the success of BSBI, so it was determined that what went into its report would be both ambitious and broadly acceptable. The report reflected the views of members on the one hand and addressed the needs of the Society on the other. Some of its recommendations have been acted upon already. 

John (on right) with his
predecessor (Ian Denholm);
BSBI Summer Meeting 2016
Image: S. Stille
A case in point is the increased effort on fund-raising: our members will be aware of this through the Atlas 2020 Appeal leaflet we sent out with the September Issue of BSBI News. Others are underway: an obvious example is the new-style BSBI News, which members will see for the first time in January 2018. Some of the recommendations are for the future: one which will be of great interest to active recorders is the development of a post-Atlas 2020 recording strategy. All BSBI members can see the report on the members’ section of the website (password required).

LM: You implied that the role of BSBI Council is now better understood. How has this come about? 

JF: One of the recommendations was to write a succinct description of Council’s role and make it available to all. The review process itself has demonstrated how Council can draw together members’ views, and that has made defining its role that much easier. It has also helped to crystallise ideas about the relationship between the Trustees, Council, and Committees. We are working on a draft description of this relationship which of course needs to be fully compatible with BSBI's charitable status. As soon as we have a final version, we will share it with all our members via the members-only area of the BSBI website.

John (on right) with David Morris, County Recorder
for Oxfordshire; BSBI Summer Meeting 2017
Image: P. Spencer-Vellacott
LM:  And you’ve attended a lot of BSBI events!

JF: One of the privileges of being President is that you are entitled – but not necessarily expected – to attend meetings of all BSBI’s committees, and its Board. I did set myself the goal of attending each of them at least once during my two year period of office. 

Happily I did eventually fulfil that aim, as well as going to the Annual Summer Meetings in 2016 and 2017, both Annual Exhibition Meetings/ AGMs, and all of the Council meetings. That amounts to quite a lot, especially when you take into consideration that all except the Committee for Ireland entailed crossing the Irish Sea. Fortunately, some were sufficiently close together in time that one crossing covered two meetings. I would really like to have gone on more field meetings in Great Britain, but with the exception of the Summer Meetings and one trip to the Hebrides, this proved impractical.

John and Dave Riley examining willows;
Drumnaph NR, Co. Derry
Image: S. Spratt
LM: And were you still able to get out much in your local patch and do any recording for Atlas 2020? I know you were at the Drumnaph meeting in Derry and the Five Island Bioblitz last year, and in September this year you gave a talk at the BSBI Ireland Autumn Meeting.

JF: Yes and no! Thanks to the BSBI Database (DDb), I can look up this question in the “my county” section of the DDb and get an approximate figure for how many records immediately.  It is unusual for anyone else to record in my vice-county (H37 - Armagh), so the total number of records for the year closely reflects my own efforts. The 2016 total for H37 was only slightly down on the previous three years. This year’s figure, however, is under a thousand. It looks as though I hardly ventured outside the front door! 

My MapMate, however, tells a different story. What actually happened in 2017 was that I recorded in counties other than my own, as I felt they were in much greater need of recording for Atlas purposes. MapMate tells me that my total of records for the year was only slightly below my all-time best, and that 75% of them were from Co. Louth, the adjoining county to the south.

John looks in vain for open flowers on
 a Hairy Tare; St. Patrick's Church, Dundalk;
New Year Plant Hunt 2017
Image: G. Faulkner
LM: As you have been away so much, is your wife, Gillian, hoping to see more of you next year?

Certainly, I am hoping to see more of her. Although she is not a botanist, Gillian does often come with me on whole-day excursions, like those in Co. Louth. We did a New Year Plant Hunt together in Dundalk this year. That was an ideal way of involving her, as she can contribute by finding any flower without necessarily knowing what it is. (Come to think of it, I didn’t know our first flower of that day either. It was a rather forlorn Hawkweed Hieracium growing on walls around Dundalk Station, later confirmed by expert referee David McCosh as H. grandidens.)

John at home in Armagh
Image: G. Faulkner 
For slightly different reasons, we both prefer that I don’t often botanise alone. Joint overnight trips, however, have been difficult this year because we had various sick animals that needed daily attention, so she has not been on the weekend recording meetings further afield. I am very much hoping she’ll be able to come on some of the exciting meetings planned for the West of Ireland next year. They are always good fun, with plenty of good habitats and the prospect of some lovely plants and fine scenery too. Most importantly, the company is of the very best. I’d recommend them to anyone. 

LM  So now you're ready to hand over the reins to Chris Metherell – do you have any words of advice for Chris as he assumes the presidency? 

JF: No – Chris knows BSBI much better than I do and it would be superfluous for me to offer advice. One suggestion however: I had hoped to do more to project the image of BSBI on a wider stage. Much of my activity has been focused internally. I feel BSBI would benefit from being more externally orientated. We need to make ourselves better known, perhaps as ”the BTO of botany”.  

John in his garden in Armagh
Image: G. Faulkner 
LM: John, I’m sure the members will want to thank you for all the hard work you’ve put in over the last two years as President, and for which of course you’ve received no financial recompense at all – such is the lot of a BSBI President! And now – glutton for punishment that you are – you have agreed to become a BSBI trustee, subject to the membership voting you in later today at the AGM [update: they did so, unanimously!] So you’ll be giving up even more of your time in service to BSBI! 

LM: One final question before you go: will you be going out on a New Year Plant Hunt in January?

JF: Yes, it’s a great way to start a new season. Maybe there will be 6” of snow in England to give us a competitive edge! 

LM: Well, we hope you enjoy getting back out in the field next year and doing a bit more actual botany – we look forward to hearing what you find! Thanks for talking to us today John and thanks again for all your hard work as President.

And with that readers I let John carry on enjoying the Exhibition Meeting and went to catch up with Chris Metherell, our incoming President. I'll be sharing my interview with Chris on these pages in the next few days. 

Sunday 26 November 2017

BSBI Exhibition Meeting 2017

Viewing the exhibits at the AEM
Image: S. Knapp
Yesterday 237 botanists came together for BSBI's Annual Exhibition Meeting, held this year at the Natural History Museum, London (NHM).

The day opened with a warm welcome from BSBI's outgoing President John Faulkner and from Dr Sandy Knapp, Head of the Algae, Fungi and Plants Division at the NHM.

Then Jodey Peyton, ecologist at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and a key member of BSBI's Meetings & Communications Committee, took the stage to introduce the first of the day's speakers, BSBI Field Meetings Secretary Jon Shanklin. 

Jon talked about our 2017 Summer Meeting, held in Flintshire, and our 2018 Summer Meeting which takes place on the Isle of Man next July.
Kevin talks about threatened plants
Image: K. Andrews

More details here.

Next up was Dr Margaret Bradshaw MBE who has been a BSBI member since 1951 and talked about the decline of the rare flora of Upper Teesdale.

She was followed by a botanist at the other end of the age spectrum, Alex Mills, who told us about the NHM's 'Identification trainers for the future' programme.

The morning talks session closed with Dr Kevin Walker, BSBI's Head of Science, on what we learned from the Threatened Plants Project, to which hundreds of BSBI members contributed and which resulted in a recently published book, Threatened Plants in Britain and Ireland.

To find out more, check out this interview with Kevin.

Orchid Hunter Leif Bersweden talks to outgoing
BSBI President John Faulkner; you can also see
 the New Nature stand next to Leif's stand
Image: W. Arshad
Then we had 90 minutes for exhibit browsing, networking, lunch and visiting Summerfield Books' pop-up bookshop before returning to the Lecture Theatre for BSBI's AGM.

Ian Denhom was in the chair to run through BSBI's achievements in the past year, to introduce new Hon Gen Sec Delyth Williams and to invite to the stage David Pearman who talked us through BSBI's finances.

We also had the voting in of Council members and trustees.

Packed Lecture Theatre
Image: R. Clark
I'm delighted to let you all know that all five proposed trustees (details here), including the NHM's Dr Sandy Knapp, were voted in unanimously!

The AGM also features the changing of the guard, when we say thank you and goodbye to our outgoing President and welcome our new President, voted in at last year's AEM.

I was able to catch up with and interview both outgoing President John Faulkner and incoming President Chris Metherell and will be sharing both interviews in the next few days.
Botanical artist Martyn Allen shows Monica
Frisch some of the exhibits on the
Association of British Botanical Artists stand
Image: S. Morrish

After coffee we were back in the Lecture Theatre for the final session of the day chaired by Kylie Jones, Anglian Water's Operational Biodiversity Manager and another key member of BSBI's Meetings & Communications Committee.

She introduced Andrew Branson, longterm BSBI member and former editor of British Wildlife magazine, who has just taken over the editorship of BSBI News, our membership newsletter. 
Packed exhibition hall
Image: J. Mitchley

We got a sneak peek at what we can expect to see in the January issue - exciting!

Next up was BSBI Irish Officer Dr Maria Long who told us how she has been building and supporting Ireland's botanical network

Jaws dropped as she told us about all the fabulous field meetings and conferences she has arranged, the many young botanists who've been getting involved, the celebrated Rough Crew, the buzz on social media... 

George's talk proved very popular
Image: S. Barrell
You'll have gathered that I'm a huge fan of Maria and all that she has achieved in Ireland!

Somebody else about whom I've been known to gush is George Garnett who followed Maria onto the stage. 

I spotted George (then just 15 years old) on Twitter back in January 2014- he took part in our New Year Plant Hunt and was expressing a desire for a career in plant taxonomy.

With his mum's approval we invited him to exhibit at our AEM that year and the following year he became the youngest person ever to speak at a BSBI Exhibition Meeting! 

The entries in the BSBI Photographic
Competition 2017
Image: S. Medcalf
So who better than George, now 18 and reading botany under Dr M. at Univ. Reading, to address the meeting on the subject of Growing the Next Generation of Botanists.

Closing the day's talks was Mark Duffell, botanist, horticulturist, botanical tutor and key member of BSBI's Training & Education Committee, who talked us through how BSBI supports botanical training.
Peter Leonard's exhibit on Leontodon saxatilis
Image: D. Steere

Worth noting here that at the AGM earlier in the day, Mark had been unanimously voted onto BSBI Council, reflecting the fact that training/ education is now acknowledged as one of the "twin pillars" of BSBI, along with our science and research. 

We are committed to supporting that next generation of botanists as well as helping older botanists hone their skills!

And with that we packed everything away and retired to a nearby pub where a private room was reserved for us to unwind after the most amazing day and get ready for the trek home. 

Univ. Reading students in the pub,
 moments after they heard that
John Poland has a new book in the pipeline!
Image: J. Mitchley
Our 237 Exhibition Meeting visitors had come from Jersey, from the Republic of Ireland, from Edinburgh, from north and south Wales, and from across England (Devon and Kent to Yorkshire and Northumberland). 

Another dozen or so people had set off for the meeting but bad weather and cancelled trains conspired against them and they had to turn back. 

For their benefit, and so that anyone else who couldn't make it doesn't miss out, we will be sharing as many as possible of the exhibits in electronic form in the coming days.

Ellen Goddard's poster: kin recognition
and communication in Ground-ivy
Image: E. Goddard
We've already uploaded the eight talks offered at the Exhibition Meeting - you can download them right now by clicking on the relevant link on the programme here

You can also get a flavour of the day's proceedings by clicking here to see what some of those 237 visitors thought about the meeting!

We were also delighted to offer 38 exhibits in total: this includes two exhibitors (from the Institute of Analytical Plant Illustrators and from the Society of Botanical Artists) who turned up on the day and asked if we could find a spare display board for them. 

They were in luck - we always keep a 'Cinderella board' for this eventuality! 

So we'll be inviting them, along with our 36 other exhibitors, to not only send us their exhibits for uploading to our website, but also to share the stories behind those exhibits here on BSBI News & Views. Watch this space!

Dr M's poster: 24 creative
ways to teach botany
Image: J. Mitchley 
Huge thanks go to our hosts, the Natural History Museum, and especially to fabulous Fred Rumsey who led two hugely popular tours of the NHM's Sloane Herbarium and Sandy Knapp who was there at silly o'clock to help with the set-up, who welcomed us, was voted in as a BSBI trustee, tweeted about the meeting throughout the day and joined us in the pub afterwards. We love you Sandy :-)

Thanks also to my fellow members of BSBI's Meetings & Communications Committee: 
chairs Jodey and Kylie who have also put in so much time in recent months helping prepare for the Exhibition Meeting; 
Ryan Clark and Waheed Arshad who helped man the registration desk, assisted speakers and exhibitors, tweeted and took photos of the day's proceedings; 
Field Meetings Secretary Jon Shanklin who helped set up and dismantle the stands; 
and Ian Denholm, chair of both M&C committee and BSBI's Board of Trustees and is the man behind M&C's success - Ian liaised with AEM speakers and guided and supported us all the way.

Hands up for botany!
Image: J Mitchley
Finally, thanks go to Mike Waller, formerly an NHM ID trainer, who came in early to help with set-up, and to Jane Houldsworth (BSBI Head of Operations) and Julie Etherington (BSBI Finance Officer) who pitched in throughout the day wherever they were needed. 

The day's proceedings would not have gone nearly as smoothly without each and every one of you so - thank you all!

Thursday 23 November 2017

New resource for botanists

Luronium natans, a Schedule 8 plant
Image: S. Whild
You know when you're out plant hunting and find a plant you can't identify? And there's only one of them? That's when you have one of those ethical dilemmas - do I pick it, take it home and try to identify it? Or just take a photograph and try to capture all the details? Or retreat to the pub feeling like a rubbish botanist?

Well those dilemmas are a thing of the past because BSBI and the Natural History Museum have put their heads together and come up with the very thing: the BSBI Code of Conduct 2017. 

It tells you how to proceed when you encounter an unknown plant, introduces you to the rule of 1 in 20, helps you stay within the law, whether you're a botanist, a forager, an ecological consultant or just somebody who likes nice wild flowers. The Code lists all the things you should never ever pick even if you have the landowner's permission and you can see hundreds of the plants stretching as far as the horizon... 

The Code of Conduct 2017 is the brainchild of Sarah Whild of BSBI's Training & Education Committee who told me:

Working out what that plant is...
Image: M. Crittenden
"I've been working with Fred Rumsey from the Natural History Museum and colleagues from the Joint Nature Conservancy Committee and Natural England since the last major review of the schedules in 2010. Yes it has taken seven years to pull all of the information together, but it is up-to-date now for 2017. Of course, the Code of Conduct will change, whenever there is a change in the legislation, but the ethical issues should remain pretty much immutable."

So it's sounds as though you can download your free copy now in the knowledge that it won't be updated for a few years. And if you are coming to the BSBI Exhibition Meeting at the Natural History Museum this Saturday, you can take home a free print copy too. Many thanks to Sarah, Fred and colleagues for this great new resource!

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Eyes Wide Shut - a Botanical Awakening: Part Three

Scarlet Pimpernel: available in blue as well as red!
Image: D. Steere
We left David Steere walking along the road muttering plant names under his breath! Now we catch up with him for the final part of his botanical journey

Over to David:

"That same year I added Francis Rose's Wildflower Key book to my collection and attempted to use keys for the first time. The keys were simple enough, but the botanical terms used may as well have been in a foreign language. 

Tolmiea menziesii
Image: D. Steere
"Strange new words such as “cuneate, acuminate, crenate, denticular, capitula” and so on were used and I had no idea what they meant. I think it's about now that most people think it's all too much and give up. However, I did my homework and some more internet research and tried to memorise as many of those terms as I could. A pet hate of mine with keys is when you have to look up a word in the glossary which then uses other words you also need to look up in the glossary!

"Regular recording has advanced my knowledge by leaps and bounds and now in 2017, I can routinely identify and record around 100 species per monad from wildflowers to trees and the occasional fern, grass, rush or sedge. 

"I hope to double number that in a couple of years! I also found alien species in the wild, sometimes a first for that Vice County, such as the Pick a Back plant (Tolmiea menziesii) found in newly coppiced woodland, nowhere near habitation. 

Pheasant's Eye: let's hope David sees
 this plant in the wild very soon!
Image: D. Steere
"Becoming aware of the Kent Rare Plant Register gave me a new impetus to my recording: to locate, photograph and record all the species I could find on it as well as the common species. Some are still relatively common such as Wild Strawberry, Field Scabious and Harebells, but others still elude me, with Pheasant's Eye being a dream find I've yet to discover in the wild, only having seen it growing at Wakehurst (Millenium Seedbank project).

"Early in 2017 I added Stace Ed. 3 and recently Poland & Clement's Vegetative Key to my book collection. My old tatty copy of Harrap's is still used almost daily, but there are copied pages from Stace sellotaped into it to expand descriptions. The key to using keys is understanding the terminology and unfortunately, constant practice is the only way to do it, for me anyway.

"So, that is my story of how for most of my 57 years on this planet, I walked around with my eyes wide shut. I saw everything, yet really I saw nothing. I now look at nature in a new light with each wildflower being an amazing gift, each rare habitat a jewel in the otherwise desert-like arable wasteland and urbanisation of Kent. 

Ragwort - common, mundane, but with
its "own special beauty"
Image: D. Steere
"Add in all the other wildlife that I also see and photograph, my journey into botany has incredibly enriched my life. I now see that a Dandelion really is as beautiful as a Lady Orchid and it's now very easy for me to distinguish between a Tussilago and a Taraxacum and so much more.

 "As time went by I joined various other organisations such as local Wildlife Trusts and of course Plantlife to give something back and help the wildflowers that now bring me so much pleasure. I even use my knowledge of rare plants (and other wildlife) to object to planning applications in sensitive areas with reasoned argument – I do my bit!

Salsify Tragopogon porrifolius
Image: D. Steere
"The upside of this awakening is my desire to communicate this to others and hopefully inspire them to also open their eyes and appreciate the wildlife around them. This is why I routinely photograph common, often mundane species, and post them on Twitter. These are species that anyone can find just on a walk to the shops, or those they may find in their lawn if they refrain from mowing for even a short while. They all have their own special beauty but are often overlooked by all.

"The more people who care about nature the better the prospects for wildlife and for the long term protection of habitats. 

"So go on a walk, take the children or grandchildren and start an interest by showing them what things are, how they work, how their seeds disperse and so on. Youngsters are like sponges and soak up knowledge, hopefully to be inspired to be the next generation of botanists and naturalists. Spread the word!

Coralroot Cardamine bulbifera
Image: D. Steere
"Finally, can I just add that it was my partner, Elizabeth, who first got me out walking and then noticing wildflowers. She was the one who encouraged me from the start and supported me in pursuing this new hobby. She is also a member of Kent Botanical Recording Group and has found and recorded plants in her own right. 

"Thank you for taking the time to read this and to Louise Marsh for requesting my account of my own personal botanical discovery".

Thank you David (and Elizabeth!) for sharing your botanical journey with us, let's hope your story inspires others to take up botany. It's never too late to start and it won't take long until, like David, you can start sending your botanical records to your County Recorder who will check them for you, help with any queries and add your records to BSBI's botanical database

This same database is relied on by conservation agencies and policy-makers - BSBI's data and research underpin C20th nature conservation. So, if you want to influence those policy-makers and help conserve our wild flowers, please follow David's example and get involved with botany! PS it's also great fun :-) 

Friday 17 November 2017

Eyes Wide Shut - a Botanical Awakening: Part Two

Image: D. Steere
On Monday, we brought you the first part of David Steere's story of how, in just four years, he went from not knowing the difference between a Dandelion and a Cotsfoot, to becoming a highly-valued botanical recorder in his home county of Kent

At the end of part one, we left him having just bought his first wildflower ID book and realising that he "knew very little about plants". 

Now find out what David did next:

Monkey Orchid
Image: D. Steere
"I amassed lots of old wildflower books from charity shops and wildlife reserve shops and realised my first little book was rather limited and the colour drawings of wildflowers were often inaccurate or vague. 

"As these books were inspiring but rather useless at field identifications I turned my research to the internet. Here I found a wealth of information and web sites, the two most influential to me being which had a wildflower and UK orchid forum and which lists most wildflowers found in the UK. 

"I also bought a copy of Harrap's Wild Flowers which had fantastic colour photos of most species with a good description of how to identify it. I followed this up with Wild Flowers of Britain and Ireland by Blamey, Fitter and Fitter which had additional detail, but importantly, covered many alien species commonly found in the wild.

Late Spider-orchid photographed on
Folkestone Downs
Image: D. Steere
"Being fascinated by the orchids I had already found, I did lots of online research and resolved to find more Kent orchids, so in 2014 I set off to several well known sites and in a few short visits I found all the major species recorded in Kent, including Man, Lady, Greater Butterfly, Early and Late Spider, Monkey and many more. 

"It was an amazing time of discovery and wonder. I had no idea my own countryside had such stunning gems within it waiting to be found. In 2015 I set out to find orchids not in nature reserves and my star find was a population of previously unrecorded Lady Orchids, possibly never seen before by botanists.

"British and Irish orchids are amazing, yet I couldn't fail to notice other species along the way, from Eyebrights to Yellow-wort, Poppies to assorted Toadflax and so my interests considerably broadened. 

Lady Orchid, Luddesdown, Kent
Image: D. Steere
"I started photographing and logging all wildflowers I could identify. I wanted to find the wonderful flowers shown in Harrap's book for myself. 

"One big tip I learned early on was that taking some photos of a plant's flowers is often insufficient to identify the plant in front of you. 

"I quickly learned to take detailed photos of every bit of any plant I couldn't identify, including the underside of leaves and if possible even the type of hairs on the leaves. I still do that today which is invariably sufficient to gain a firm identification from Twitter botanists or my County Recorder.

"In 2015 I joined the Kent Botanical Recording Group which is free to join. I was welcomed from the start and enjoyed attending their field trips, where in a few hours with local experts I learned more than I could have done in a year of solo trips. They took time to explain the differences in species and what to look for. 

Field of Common Poppy, Eynsford, Kent
Image: D. Steere
"In addition to that, they put out a newsletter and Kent Botany each year with a wealth of information within them. I would highly recommend you join your local county group (see and click on your county from the map shown). Or use the list here.

"One thing that did baffle me on the field trips was the habit of everyone talking about plants using their scientific names and I frequently had to ask what flower they were talking about. 

"Feeling a bit embarrassed about it, I decided I would try to learn them as well and here's how I managed to remember seemingly impossible names, such as Tripleurospermum inodorum and Helminthotheca echioides: I became a BSBI member and started recording for the BSBI Atlas 2020.

July flowers at Lullingstone, Kent
Image: D. Steere
"To do this I could only record species whose identity I was 100% sure of. I then entered my finds into a spreadsheet, but you have to use the scientific names to do so. 

"As such, after repeatedly typing in common plants the names stuck in my memory. 

"Another tip is to mentally say the scientific name to yourself each time you notice it. Just walking down an urban street, I'm muttering to myself “Stellaria media, Euphorbia peplus, Conyza canadensis” etc. I now find I sometimes struggle to remember a plant's common name!" 

Sun spurge and Dense-flowered fumitory
Image: D. Steere
Let's leave David there, walking down the street muttering scientific names (yes, I do it too and so does every botanist I know!), enjoying being an active BSBI member and expanding his botanical knowledge. 

Tune in next week when we bring David's story bang up-to-date with the third and final part of his story: his recent botanical finds, his pet hates and obstacles encountered, how he overcame them and now helps beginner botanists expand their knowledge.