Monday 26 February 2018

Botany keeps you young!

Eric on the summit of Clougha Pike
Image: Emma Greenwood
I've been reminded a couple of times in the past few weeks that even when botanists get a little older, they don't seem to slow down very much in pursuit of an interesting plant or a decent view. Could it be that botany keeps us all young? Take a look at the evidence below and see what you think...

First of all, to celebrate his 80th birthday, Emeritus Recorder for West Lancashire (VC60) Eric Greenwood, who has been a BSBI member since 1963, climbed one of England's finest hills: Clougha Pike in Lancashire. On a cold February day the mist cleared just in time to give extensive views over the Lancashire plain and Morecambe Bay.

The photograph (above right), taken by his daughter, shows Eric, author of the Flora of North Lancashire (2012) surveying his domain from the summit of Clougha Pike. This follows his illustrious predecessor, Albert Wilson, co-author of the Flora of West Lancashire (1907) who was photographed on the summit of nearby Ingleborough on his 80th birthday in 1942.

Margaret and Queenie on Cronkley Fell
Image: Tricia Snaith
Secondly, we have the redoutable Margaret Bradshaw MBE who has been a BSBI member since 1951. I was chatting to her friend Tricia Snaith about botany in Teesdale and of course Margaret's name came up - she was awarded MBE in recognition of her work to help conserve the flora of Teesdale. Margaret gave a talk on this subject at the BSBI Exhibition Meeting last November - click on this link to view the slides from Margaret's talk.

Tricia told me that Margaret now uses Queenie, one of Tricia's Dales ponies, to help her get up Cronkley Fell. Queenie was bred to cross this kind of terrain - she previously carried lead over the Pennines, and now she is carrying one of our most precious botanists. Tricia very kindly sent me the photograph on the left of Margaret and Queenie on the way up Cronkley Fell.

We talk a lot in BSBI about the importance of reaching out to the next generation of botanists - but what better role models could we offer them than Eric and Margaret? Let's hope they both enjoy many more years scaling the botanical heights! 

Friday 23 February 2018

Byron's Gin supporting BSBI's Training programme

Sarah Whild with copies of the
BSBI Code of Conduct and two
bottles of Byron's Gin
Image: L. Marsh
To Shrewsbury earlier this month for the spring meeting of BSBI's Training & Education Committee and one of the items on the agenda was Byron's Gin.

Now before you get the wrong idea, I should point out that this was not an excuse for committee members to get scandalously drunk and neglect their responsibilities. 

The committee (T&E to its friends) takes the job of supporting the training of our next generation of botanists very seriously. 

That's why everyone was delighted when BSBI entered into an agreement with Speyside Distillery, whereby a contribution from the sale of every bottle of Byron's Gin would come to T&E to help support and train our botanists.

So it seemed only fitting that committee members should get a good look at bottles of Byron's Gin, which features the BSBI logo on every bottle, before we got to grips with the agenda.

Luronium natans: a Schedule 8 plant
listed in the BSBI Code of Conduct
Image: S. Whild
First up was a quick review of the most popular downloads from the BSBI website and T&E members were delighted to hear about the success of two leaflets for which they were responsible.

'So You Want to Know Your Plants' is still the most popular BSBI leaflet by far, with over 5,000 downloads in the past 18 months and hard copies available for people to take away from outreach events such as the BSBI Exhibition Meeting, but the new BSBI Code of Conduct, published last November, has already been downloaded 1,443 times. 

On to training courses and we heard a report from Brenda Harold who runs Identiplant, the incredibly successful distance learning course for budding botanists. 

Applications for Identiplant had opened as usual on 1st December 2017 and Brenda reported that the course was fully booked by 3rd January, with students signing up across Britain and Ireland. 

Grass ID Workshop led by Nick Law (FCPR) for
the National Plant Monitoring Scheme
Image courtesy of FCPR
A brief discussion followed with committee members suggesting potential new tutors for the course, or commenting on how many students have come to Identiplant via the National Plant Monitoring Scheme in which BSBI is a partner, and Brenda was congratulated on her ongoing success. 

We moved on to talk about FISCs, the industry standard qualification in botany which is the brainchild of two longstanding T&E members, Sarah Whild and Sue Townsend

Paul Ashton, Head of Biology at
Univ. Edge Hill and Chair of T&E,
samples Byron's Gin. Mark Duffell, botany
tutor and member of BSBI Council, is
on hand with tonic and a lemon!
Image: L. Marsh 
The ensuing discussion covered many 'behind the scenes' issues, from collection of specimens to be identified during the lab test, to draft protocols, to pricing structures, to logos of sponsors such as CIEEM. 

Next up we had reports on the various training grants and plant study grants administered by T&E and on the FSC's Young Darwin Scholarships; we discussed a Big Idea which has to remain under wraps for now (sorry!); and we closed with plans for the next Recorders' Conference - keep an eye on this page for updates.

By this stage we were ready for a wee taste of Byron's Gin before we headed home, all tasked with various action points to be completed before the committee meets again in the autumn. 

Check out the BSBI Training page to find out more about T&E and head over here to find out about Byron's Gin!

Thursday 22 February 2018

Botanical Snippets for February

Plant ID session with Faith Anstey in 2017
Image courtesy of F. Anstey
Bookings have opened for the BSBI Identifying Wildflower Families session in Aberdeen, run by botanical tutor Faith Anstey. More info here and you can book here.

If you are a fan of herbaria, I think you'll enjoy this interview with Donna Young, herbarium curator at National Museums Liverpool. And if you are a herbarium curator yourself, did you know that you can now self-register for Index Herbariorum, or edit your own entry. More here.

An interesting new paper by Ruth Mitchell et al. called 'Decline in atmospheric sulphur deposition and changes in climate are the major drivers of long-term change in grassland plant communities in Scotland'. You can view the paper here.

Wednesday 21 February 2018

Promoting BSBI across Britain and Ireland

Three cheers for all the BSBI botanists, whether staff, officers or 'ordinary members', who go out promoting the society's work across Britain and Ireland

Earlier this month, Liz Lavery (one of the Perthshire County Recorders) had a stand at the Inner Forth Landscape Initiative's 'From Source to Resource: Making biological records count' event. She was promoting the amazing work of BSBI volunteers recording for Atlas 2020, and also displayed posters about Wild Flower Hour and the recent BSBI publication 'Threatened Plants in Britain and Ireland' alongside copies of the BSBI bookmark and membership leaflet, the BSBI Code of Conduct, the So You Want to Know your Plants leaflet, the Atlas 2020 appeal leaflet, the BSBI Annual Review, copies of BSBI News...

This Saturday, BSBI Irish Officer Maria Long will be attending BallyNature Day in Ballynure Village, Co. Antrim, with a similar display. The event is one of Northern Ireland's biggest nature events with more than 40 stands from wildlife/ conservation/ environmental organisations. Check out the flyer here and on the left. 

And on Sunday, Maria, several BSBI County Recorders and members of the Ulster BSBI Botany Group will be heading to Antrim Loughshore Park for a session called 'Everything you wanted to know about BSBI botanical recording but were afraid to ask!' Email Maria if you'd like to know more.

If you know of any similar outreach events happening your area, and you'd like to attend and promote BSBI, we have a range of posters and leaflets we can send you for your stand, some to give away and some just for display. Just drop us a line at to discuss your requirements. Let's spread the word about how much fun it is being part of the BSBI botanical community!

Tuesday 20 February 2018

BSBI training and research grants can help change lives!

Meadow vegetation
Image: E. Sullivan
We've featured quite a few accounts on these pages of budding botanists who've benefited from BSBI Training Grants and  one or two who were able to carry out further work thanks to a Plant Study Grant but we don't often hear from people who also received a Science & Research Grant from BSBI

So I hope you enjoy reading this account from Elizabeth Sullivan:

"A less than fulfilling job in local government prompted me to register on some of the modules of the MSc in Conservation Management at Edge Hill University in an attempt to bring about a career change. One of those modules was Field Botany and it didn’t take long for the magic to work. A few days of looking at the fantastic flora of Roudsea Wood, Gaitbarrows and Jack Scout in the Arnside-Silverdale area and I was well and truly hooked. 

Bowland Meadow
Image: E. Sullivan
"A couple of years later and I was starting out on a part-time PhD at Edge Hill looking at long term change in hay meadow vegetation. My field sites were in the Forest of Bowland, tucked away in north-east Lancashire and escaping the attention of visitors to the Dales and the Lakes. 

"Botanists in the north of England may remember the summer of 2012 – it was the one where you realised why you’d invested in that expensive waterproof notebook. The meadows were flooded and a frog found its way into my rucksack, but I continued to squelch my way through botanical surveys because I needed that all important data. My plan was to leave my job behind and work on my PhD full-time but for that I needed funding. 

Field Head Meadow
Image: E. Sullivan
"Thankfully I was able to secure the necessary funding from various sources including a much appreciated training grant and a research grant from the BSBI. My research involved an analysis of how the Bowland meadows and other neutral grasslands in the area had changed since the Nature Conservancy Council did grassland surveys in the 1980s and 1990s. You can read about the first part of my research in the New Journal of Botany

"Whilst neutral grasslands as a whole in this area don’t appear to have changed that much since the NCC surveys I did find some differences. Further analysis showed that the sites managed as hay meadows had seen an increase in annuals, especially Euphrasia species, a reduction in some ‘negative’ meadow species such as Lolium perenne but a marked increase in Ranunculus repens – which lurked in almost every quadrat! 

Hardwick Green
Image: E. Sullivan
"Generally speaking there was still a diverse hay meadow community which is good news for conservation but there did seem to be more grassland generalists such as Trifolium pratense and a reduction in the abundance of key species for this habitat such as Alchemilla glabra. 

"Next I wanted to find out whether the scattered distribution of the few remaining hay meadow sites was affecting their plant populations, and to do this I studied the population genetics of Rhinanthus minor. Having obtained the necessary permissions from farmers and landowners I set out to collect leaf samples in preparation for DNA analysis and a mightily steep learning curve in the lab. 

Eades Meadow
Image: E. Sullivan
"Fortunately the weather was fieldwork friendly and my memories of sampling in species rich meadows in Bowland and in my second study area, Worcestershire, are very happy ones. Bell Sykes and Myttons meadows in Bowland and Eades Meadow in Worcestershire can be accessed (carefully!) by public footpaths and are special places to visit especially in early-mid summer.

"After collecting, drying, extracting and analysing DNA and crunching the numbers on 651 leaves from Rhinanthus minor plants I learned that there are moderate levels of genetic diversity in the meadow populations and there is evidence of genetic connectivity between the sites despite their fragmented distribution. Again this is good news for conservation - and justifies the continued low input agricultural management of these sites. Interestingly, gene flow in the lowland Worcestershire sites was lower than in the upland area of Bowland, and I wonder if this is because of the more intensively managed land use in Worcestershire which may be affecting pollinators.

Rhinanthus minor in meadow vegetation
Image: E. Sullivan
"I will be sharing my results with conservation organisations including Natural England and hope to continue with further botanical research now that my PhD project is complete. I’m very grateful to the BSBI for the grants, the BSBI Handbooks which helped with grass and sedge ID, the maps and information on the website and the opportunity to publish my research in the New Journal of Botany. Now I must remember to renew my subs…."

Many thanks to Elizabeth for sharing her story of how BSBI grants helped her leave her "less than fulfilling" job behind and move into botany. Applications are still open for this year's round of Training Grants, Plant Study Grants, and Science & Research Grants so whatever your skill level, if you want to get more involved in botany check out our Training page for details of grants available and courses you might apply for. Good luck!

Monday 19 February 2018

Two new papers co-authored by Kevin Walker

Kevin recording in the field
Image courtesy of K. Walker 
A couple of interesting papers for you to look at, both co-authored by Kevin Walker, BSBI's Head of Science.

Firstly, a paper on emerging alien species, co-authored by Kevin and David Pearman. It's titled 'Global rise in emerging alien species results from increased accessibility of new source pools' and was published on the 8th February in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. The paper uses BSBI data which also appear in David's recent 'first dates' book; you can access the paper here (subscription required) and there is a note about it on the IUCN News website here.

Secondly, a paper on 'Seed bank dynamics in restored grassland following the sowing of high- and low-diversity seed mixtures' by Markus WagnerKevin Walker and Richard Pywell. More here.

You can keep up to date with interesting papers via the BSBI's News page and follow what the BSBI Science Team (Kevin and Pete Stroh) have been up to by keeping an eye on the Science page.

Wednesday 14 February 2018

Jessica's New Year Plant Hunt & 3 botanical wishes for 2018

In the first of our New Year Plant Hunt prizes, we offer Jessica Hamilton, the leading light behind the BSBI Kerry group and the recorder of the first flower in the New Year Plant Hunt (on right), a chance to tell us about her Hunt and her three botanical wishes for 2018.

Over to Jessica:

"Two years ago, I had very limited botanical knowledge and wouldn’t have even been able to point out any wildflowers or plants bar the more common species such as a buttercup or the humble daisy. So what got me into botany?

"Two years ago was also when as part of my course (Wildlife Biology ITTralee), we had botany as a module. These included fieldtrips to places like the Burren, National Botanic Gardens and the local Ballyseedy Woods where had a go at keying out spring flowers like Wood Anemone and Wild Garlic. 

"As it was one of my first times using any botanical key, I remember flicking back and forth multiple times to the glossary at the back to de-jargonify the key steps so I would have some hope of getting the plant out! From then on my love of botany has continued to grow and to now be co-leader of county Kerry’s local group (BSBI Kerry, photo above) is such a great experience.         

"I want to give a mention to Therese Higgins who was my botany lecturer and is my 4th year project supervisor. She without a doubt helped ignite the botanical flame in me and her never ending passion for the subject is inspiring! 

"My appreciation is extended indeed to all staff involved in the course as to see people so passionate about their chosen disciplines, in combination with the small staff to student ratio within the college, further enhances the overall college experience.

"First off I kicked off my New Year Plant Hunt of 2018 on the 30th December in my home range of Ballyheigue with a quick saunter into the garden at midnight to see what my front garden had for me and I was quickly rewarded with the two old reliables, Daisy Bellis perennis and Groundsel Senecio vulgaris.

"Later that day [Day One] after a few hours kip, it was time for BSBI Kerry to head to Killarney to see what we could find in flower on the Muckross Peninsula in the National Park, led by the botanical force that is Rory Hodd
"We covered an area of ground upwards of 7km and recorded a very respectable list of 43 plants in flower including species that we were expecting (e.g. Ficaria verna), and others, (Lonicera periclymenum) which might not have necessarily been on our radars. Our hunt started around in the grounds of Muckross Carpark followed by a quick dash around the arboretum and then off into the woods taking in the views of Muckross Lake.

"We steadily ticked off species such as Lathyrus linifolius (on right), one of my favourite wildflowers. That said, as Rory pointed out, many species were a lot harder to find in comparison to previous years.

"Two notable examples of this were Rubus fruticose agg. and Arbutus unedo (on left), the latter a particularly a well-known species associated with the Muckross Peninsula and, in previous years, a reliable species to be found with more ease. 

"With some searching, both were found in flower, although I think the Bramble flower required a bit of scrambling over the thorny plant by Rory- persistence always pays off!
We sauntered on for another bit and added more species to our list slowly but steadily including species such as Juncus tenuis, an introduced species of rush.

"The clock was paused while we had a quick break for lunch at Muckross Abbey (on right) and added another ten or so species to the list including Alliaria petiolata, and Fragaria vesca.

"As our time for hunting down plants came to close, a few last minute additions such as Cerastium fontanum were ticked off. This was one species we were looking out for intently as until then, the specimens found were about to open, but not enough to be counted.

"On Day Two, I stayed in Ballyheigue covered the same areas as I did last year and got a slightly lower number of species this year (19) compared to last year which was around 24 species. As usual I had my two trusty canine companions Lilly and Benny by my side, they’ve now perfected the “Mum has stopped to look at another plant” stance (on left).

"At first, the weather looked promising and the brief period of sunshine gave rise to me ticking the dainty Anagallis arvensis off the list. Into the nearby graveyard and I crossed off species such as Sticky mouse ear, F.verna, and a barely there fumitory along with more common species such as Dandelions, prickly sow thistles and Chickweed.

"Then we headed to the Beach (on right) and had a quick walk around the dunes hoping to find Kidney Vetch like I did last year but no joy. I did however find the Rayless Ragwort which dominates areas of the dunes come late summer.

"To conclude our walk and as daylight faded, myself and the pups took in the views of Ballyheigue Beach, a view I never get tired of.

My Three Botanical Wishes for 2018:

1. As others have previously expressed for their first wish, I would like to express my uttermost gratitude for the general nature and community spirit within the BSBI. Every person I have met has welcomed me with open arms and has happily answered any questions for me. 

Only a little over a year ago I went on my first ever BSBI outing to search for the rare and protected Lycopodiella inundata (Marsh Clubmoss) at Lough Mask Co.Mayo (on left) and I first became acquainted with Maria Long (BSBI Irish Officer) and Rory, both of whom I would like to give an extra nod of thanks to as they have both been a wealth of knowledge, from both a botanical point of view and getting BSBI Kerry up and running, so thank you! J

2. With the evolution of the BSBI Kerry group, I am really looking forward to seeing the group grow from strength to strength. When you first dip your hand into botany all the Latin names and terminology can be quite overwhelming but the best way to start off is, getting out into the field and sitting on the side of the ditch or wherever said plant is and practice keying and making mistakes. Once you’ve gone to the effort getting the correct ID, it’s very unlikely you’ll forget it. 

So if as a group, BSBI Kerry can ignite a few flames and people come away with a few more plant names to their repertoire then I’d call that a success. Last year we visited Killarney National Park, Blennerville and Glanageenty for our first three outings. 

"There are some nice outings in the pipeline for this year so I cannot wait for the 2018 season and I hope the group continues to grow.

3. The third wish was an interesting one for me to ponder over. I live in the coastal village of Ballyheigue (on left) and it is here where I really got to improve my botanical skills while rambling with my canine companions. I would love it if I could spark a love of wildflowers within my own local community. 

"Our most well-known feature is our fantastic beach so if people took a few moments to notice the flowers and plants that they walk by or over, it would be great. 

"Another one of my passions is photography, particular nature/plants and invertebrates and I’m currently working on my new website where I can display the hundreds of images of the various species over the past few years. [LM: all the images on this page are by Jessica so you can see how good a photographer she is!]

"It’s going to be more of a collection and online “recording notebook” in a sense for myself but if a few people see it and want to then go out and search for biodiversity, it will be worth all the finicky editing that’s currently underway. So I look forward to completing that over the coming months and adding new species to it as I see them. Thanks, Jessica".

LM: It's typical of Jessica that she's interpreted 'what are your three wishes?' not as 'here's what I want for myself' but as thanking people who've helped her and wishing that other people could enjoy botany as much as she does herself!

We'll be keeping you posted on Jessica's botanical adventures this year and will share the link to her new website as soon as it goes live. Many thanks to Jessica for all she is doing to promote botany in Ireland, and to Maria, Therese and Rory for supporting and encouraging her! 

Monday 12 February 2018

New on the BSBI Ireland webpage...

If you haven't taken a look at the BSBI Ireland page on our website recently, you may have missed:
  • The latest issue of the Irish BSBI Newsletter - 16 pages of botanical news from across Ireland, including much that's also of interest to British botanists. 
  • A link to an article about the New Year Plant Hunt in Ireland from The Irish Mirror, courtesy  of freelance journalist Lynne Kelleher.
  • Another article about the Hunt by Lynne, this time from the Irish Mail on Sunday - see image on right.   
  • Some stats about the New Year Plant Hunt in Ireland, including the most floriferous place, how many species were recorded there and how many species were in bloom across Ireland at New Year. 
Coming soon to the BSBI Ireland page - more info about this year's programme of field meetings across Ireland.

Sunday 11 February 2018

Win a copy of The Book of Seeds

The Book of Seeds has just been published, a beautifully illustrated guide to 600 species from around the world, and we've teamed up with publishers Ivy Press to offer News & Views readers the chance to take part in a mini-quiz and win one of three copies of the book.

First, an extract from The Book of Seeds: 

"Seeds are travellers in space and time—small packages of DNA, protein, and starch that can move over long distances and remain viable for hundreds of years. These packages have everything they need not only to survive, but also to grow into a plant when they encounter the right conditions.

"Seeds have developed a wide range of shapes and sizes in order to maximize their chances of survival, in particular through adaptation for the two most important stages of their development—dispersal and germination. 

"Wind-dispersed seeds, for example, may be very small and light (such as those of orchids), or they may develop wings or other appendages that enable them to fly or float on air currents for long distances (such as those of birches and sycamore. Waterborne seeds, such as the coconut, have a thick, impermeable seed coat enabling them to float on water. 

Animal- or bird-dispersed seeds - have a variety of adaptations that enable them to hitch a ride with their dispersers. These include hooks or grapples on their seed coats that stick to fur or feathers (for instance, those of Wood Avens Geum urbanum; tasty, often brightly coloured seed arils that are attached to the seed and picked up, carried away and eaten, leaving the fertile part of the seed to germinate (as, for example, in the Bird of Paradise); and a hard, resistant seed coat enclosed in a sweet, juicy fruit that enables the seed to pass through the gut of an animal or bird and emerge intact and ready to germinate (for example, the seeds of the Grape).

"A seed’s size, shape, and composition are also critical to a plant’s particular germination strategy. As a rule, large seeds (those the size of an acorn or larger) are programmed to germinate rapidly. Their seeds are not designed to last for very long or become dormant. In seed banks, such seeds are referred to as “recalcitrant” because they don’t store well. They are generally sensitive to drying and, due to their comparatively high water content, they can’t be frozen. 

"Around 20–25 percent of seed-bearing species produce recalcitrant seeds, but the proportion is much higher (more than 50 percent) in wetter habitats such as rainforests, because in those conditions it makes sense for seeds to germinate rapidly and send out a root and shoot as quickly as possible to gain the water, minerals, and light the plant needs to outcompete others around it. To do this, a seed needs to have a comparatively large reservoir of food to draw on before it starts to photosynthesize. For this reason, recalcitrant seeds are larger than their “orthodox” counterparts. 

"Plants that grow in water-limited habitats will die if they germinate immediately and the rain fails to arrive. For these species, it makes more sense to persist in a dormant state until the conditions are right. Here, being small and desiccation-tolerant is an advantage. It is also unnecessary for a seed to have a large food store if light is not a limitation in its habitat, because the shoots it puts up won’t be fighting for light with its competitors. 

"For many plants, there are trade-offs between their dispersal and germination strategies. For example, if a species’ dispersal strategy is being carried on the wind, then the plant can’t produce heavy seeds with large food stores. A particularly extreme example of such a trade-off that has led to the demise of the species is the Coco de Mer, which produces the largest seed in the world. This double coconut, with its enormous food-storage organs, can survive on its seed reserves for months, enabling it to establish in difficult conditions. 

"However, due to its size and weight, this island-bound species doesn’t float, severely restricting its ability to disperse, unlike its cousin, the Coconut."

Paul Smith, author of The Book of Seeds (published by Ivy Press, RRP £30) has set the five quiz questions below. 

If you'd like to win one of the three free copies, all you have to do to enter is email the correct answers to the following questions to  
Entries close on the 28th February and winners will be contacted for address details the following day.

Good luck! Here are the five questions:
  • What family do Daffodils belong to?
  • Meadow Crane’s-Bill is a herbaceous perennial plant with striking blue and violet flowers. What colour are its veins?
  • Canola is thought to be a hybrid between Wild Cabbage and which other species?
  • How many seeds are there in each segment of a Wild Cabbage silique?
  • Wolf’s Bane is an extremely toxic plant. What is the name of the poison it contains?