Wednesday 30 May 2018

BSBI Eyebright Handbook: interview with author Chris Metherell

Chris leading an eyebright workshop
 at BSBI Recorders' Conference 2016
Image: S. Townsend
They say that good things come to those who wait: after six years the publication of BSBI Handbook #18 Eyebrights of Britain and Ireland is only a few weeks away. I caught up with lead author Chris Metherell - no easy feat as Chris is also BSBI President and an incredibly busy man! I'm very grateful to Chris for agreeing to answer a few questions about the new  Handbook so we can all get a glimpse into some of the work that went on behind the scenes to bring this latest BSBI publication to press.

LM: So Chris, the Eyebright Handbook is finally almost here – can you remind us when you started working on it?

CM: "I think I first put this forward to BSBI Publications Committee in early 2012. At that stage I was intending to merely be the facilitator! But it didn't quite work out like that and I ended up writing the words (and becoming BSBI's Eyebright expert referee en passant) and Fred Rumsey (Natural History Museum) did the illustrations".

Euphrasia salisburgensis
Image courtesy of John Crellin/ Floral Images
LM: You’ve visited a lot of locations during the research phase – including many herbaria across Britain and Ireland. Are there any that stand out in your memory? 

CM: "Fred and I visited many corners of the UK and Ireland while working on this handbook, although I was the only one lucky enough to get to Shetland! Four days spent on Foula was pretty exceptional, dodging the bonxies being the main hazard, apart from a force eight gale. 

"Sunny days with Fred and our guide Helena Crouch [County Recorder for Somerset] on the north coast of Cornwall were pretty good too. In fact almost everywhere we went the sun came out, even on Lewis looking at Euphrasia campbelliae. Much of the fieldwork was funded by grants from BSBI Science and Research Committee. We wouldn't have managed it otherwise".

Chris and Helena looking at
eyebrights in the West Country
Image: F Rumsey
LM: You’ve also led a lot of workshops at conferences and training events in herbaria – I guess the feedback you got from fellow botanists proved really valuable here?

CM: "Yes, early on we decided to run workshops in order to drum up support and also to test the keys and descriptions. We'd taken the unusual step of asking County Recorders what they wanted from the Handbook and the feedback was very useful. So we just expanded on that theme. 

"The late Eric Meek was particularly helpful but perhaps it's invidious to pick out any one person. All the attendees contributed to the process. I think I must have rewritten the keys scores of times. It was the suggestion of having regional keys which really made a difference. But I can't now remember whose suggestion it was!"

LM: Did you find visits to herbaria very helpful while researching the Handbook?

Chris working in the herbarium at Univ. Reading
Image: A. Culham
CM: "Without herbaria to consult, the process would have been impossible. Of course there's no substitute for field work but we couldn't go everywhere and herbaria are so useful for capturing the degree of variation in the species because one can look at hundreds of specimens for a particular plant. And I did! 

"And having written the species descriptions, these were tested in herbaria to check that they allowed for that variation appropriately. My main base was E [the herbarium at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh] whose staff  were extremely helpful in obtaining specimens from other herbaria for me to work on and I must single out RNG [the herbarium at University of Reading] for their encouragement. The fact that I'm a Reading graduate has nothing to do with it! One of the highlights was finding a lost type specimen at SLBI [the herbarium at the South London Botanical Institute] on my first trip there". 

LM: Illustrations are an important part of any BSBI Handbook – who provided the line drawings and the photographs?

Euphrasia tetraquetra
Image courtesy of John Crellin/ Floral Images
CM: "Fred Rumsey did the drawings and was the main photographer on our field trips but Helena Crouch, John Crossley, Alex Twyford, Nick Sturt, Jenny Seawright, John O'Reilly and Jeremy Roberts all provided images".

LM: I hear that there will be a launch event for the Handbook – can you give us details please? Where is it being held and when, who can attend and how do we book for the event?

CM: "We are having a launch at the Natural History Museum on Monday 18th June. I'll be able to give News & Views readers full details in the next day or two".

LM: Ooh thanks for the scoop Mr. President! In the meantime, I guess the priority is to let people know how they will be able to get hold of a copy:

Chris with a herbarium sheet of
pressed, mounted specimens of -
you guessed it - eyebrights!
Image: L. Marsh
  • BSBI members can take advantage of the members-only special offer and pre-order their copy now at a discounted price (saving themselves £5.50). If you're a BSBI member, just head over to the members-only area of the BSI website and have your password ready. If you've forgotten your password, email and we'll be able to help you.
  • Non-members will be able to buy a copy later in June from Summerfield Books and other natural history book-sellers, although they won't benefit from the full discount. 
So, huge thanks to Chris and Fred for putting this new BSBI Handbook together. Watch this space for details of the launch, which will be covered on these pages for anyone who can't attend in person. We’ll also keep you all posted on initial sales, how the Handbook is received and whether it outsells the previous BSBI Handbook on Violas

You can find a list of all the BSBI Handbooks on the BSBI Publications page, where there are links to information about each title on the Summerfield Books website.

Tuesday 29 May 2018

Killiney Hill Park - Sunshine and Some Irish Botanical Rarities

View of Killiney Bay from Killiney Hill
Image: Kate-Marie O’Connor
The Dublin/East Coast BSBI Local Group had their first botanical “outdoors” outing of the year to Killiney Hill Park in Co. Dublin on Sunday the 6th May. 

Kate-Marie O'Connor sent us this report: 

"It proved to be a very enjoyable day with sunny skies, pleasant company and of course lots of interesting plants. 

"Killiney Hill is a lovely park located between the coastal suburbs of Killiney and Dalkey in South Co. Dublin, with spectacular view of both Dublin and Killiney Bay, Dalkey Island and the Wicklow and Dublin Mountains. 

Primula veris in bloom on a path
towards the old Dalkey Quarry
Image: Kate-Marie O’Connor
"Killiney Hill Park is a designated nature reserve, with notable flora and fauna, and is protected under Irish legislation. 

"During the summer months, the striking yellow flowers of gorse Ulex europeaus against the deep blue of the Irish sea is a well-known and cherished sight to visitors of the park and on Sunday’s visit, this was no exception.

"The seven attendees were eager to get started and began their recording journey along the path towards the old Dalkey quarry, noting typical grassy verge species along the way, such as Stellaria holostea, Sisymbrium officinale and Galium verum as well as Allium vineale, which was tasted to confirm identification! 

"En route, a Sorbus hibernica species was spotted with its leaves just about to fully open. This species is endemic to Ireland and, according to Webb et al. (the trusty Irish flora that no botanist is without!), is typically found in the centre of the country. Sorbus aria was also recorded in the Park.
Examining a Sorbus species
Image: Colm Clarke
"We encountered lots of other lovely plants in full bloom, including Primula veris, which never fails to impress with its dainty yellow flowers, and the striking Pentaglottis sempervirens with its vibrant blue flowers and somewhat bristly leaves.

"From the quarry path, we climbed numerous steps up towards the old aerial building, dipping in and out of areas of scrub and scattered trees, which included Corylus avellana, Sorbus aucuparia and  Taxus baccata, and then down through a coniferous wooded area with some scattered Ilex aquifolium.

"From there, we made our way through a beech woodland where we came across a Ficaria verna subsp. bulbilifer plant with a pair of very impressive tubers present on its leaf axils. 

"Other typical woodland species recorded on the day included Oxalis acetosella, Sanicula europaea, Glechoma hederacea and Hyacinthoides non-scripta with its creamy yellow-coloured anthers and pleasant smell and the hybrid Hyacinthoides x massartiana with its blue-coloured anthers.

Examining Ceratocapnos claviculata
Image: Clíona Byrne
"En route to the Obelisk, the location of which marks the highest point in the park of 153m, we veered off the path and up on to some rocky outcrops surrounded by Ulex europeaus where we spotted our first record of Ceratocapnos claviculata of the day, while in the midst of keying out Sedum anglicum

"This delicate, scrambling plant with its pale yellow, tubular flowers was a delight to see. 

"According to Webb et al., this species is considered rare in Ireland, generally found along the the south-east and south centre coast of the country. 

Ceratocapnos claviculata up close
Image: Clíona Byrne
"It was previously recorded in the Park over eight years ago, so it was with particular satisfaction that it was noted again. We were lucky enough to spot this plant at another location, just west of the Obelisk.

"Nearing the end of the day, the eagle eyes of BSBI's Irish Officer Maria Long spotted another Irish rarity - the very tiny Trifolium ornithopodioides, on a patch of well-trampled ground on a slope, growing alongside common species Lolium perenne, Poa annua, Plantago major, Bellis perennis and Trifolium repens

"This plant species has also a very restricted distribution in Ireland, known only in the south and east coasts of the country (Webb et al.). 

"Trifolium ornithopodioides has a very small white flower, no greater than 1cm in length, which could be easily missed.

Trifolium ornithopodioides
Image: Maria Long
"After a successful day of recording, we treated ourselves to some well deserved coffee and cake at the local café in the park and enjoyed the remaining afternoon sunshine.

If you’d like to join us on our upcoming outings, which include visits to Castletown Estate and Parklands in Celbridge, Co. Kildare, Ballynafagh Lake in Co. Kildare and Phoenix Park in Dublin to name but a few, please drop us an email at

Hope to see you at one of our outings sometime soon!"

Many thanks to Kate-Marie for sending us this report.

Tuesday 22 May 2018

Plant ID workshops in Scotland

On Saturday a very successful workshop on identifying wild flower families was held in Dumfries. Find out what goes on at one of these workshops here and here. Organiser Chris Miles and tutor Faith Anstey tell me the Dumfries event went very smoothly. 

Participants at the ID workshop in Dumfries
keying out plants in the field
Image: C. Miles
They also handed out leaflets about the National Plant Monitoring Scheme, so students could put their new found ID skills to good use after the workshop was over by joining in this nationwide scheme to monitor our wild flowers. And of course all students also received a copy of 'So You Want to Know Your Plants', the helpful leaflet produced by BSBI's Training Team. It points botanists at all skill levels towards the opportunities available to them at their current skill level, and also the steps to take if they wish to build up those skills and progress to the next level. It's a very popular leaflet - 7,317 of you have already downloaded a copy from the Training page on the BSBI website!

If you are kicking yourself for missing out on the workshop in Dumfries, there are still a few places left on the next workshop, which will be held in Aberdeen this Saturday 26th May. Head over here to book your space.  

Friday 18 May 2018

Distillery behind Byron's Gin wins international trade award

In recent posts we've told you about some of the botanicals - such as Juniper and Bird Cherry -  used in Byron's Gin, the official gin of the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland (BSBI). 

We've also explained that for every bottle sold of Byron's Gin, a donation is made to BSBI's training programme, helping us train and support the next generation of botanists

This month we'd like to tell you a bit about the distillery which produces Byron's Gin, its history and some of the people who work there. 

We'd also like to congratulate Speyside Distillery on becoming one of only six companies in 2018 to win a Board of Trade award, presented to them last night by Dr Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade.

Speyside Distillery (image above) can trace their history back even further than the BSBI! We've been around (under several different names) since 1836 but unlike the Harveys, founders of Speyside Distillery, BSBI has never had to face Prohibition

We both have royal connections - BSBI's former patron was Her Majesty the Queen Mother and you can read about Speyside's links with both King George III and Lord Byron here

Speyside Distillery is nestled within the Cairngorm Mountains and many of the botanicals used in Byron's Gin come from the distillery grounds and surrounding area. Sandy Jamieson (image above), Manager at Speyside Distillery, worked closely with Andy Amphlett, BSBI's County Recorder for Banffshire, to create Byron's Gin which comes in two 'expressions': Melancholy Thistle and Bird Cherry.

A few 'firsts': 
  • Byron's Gin is Speyside Distillery's first venture into spirits other than the single malt whisky for which they are famous.
  • BSBI's sponsorship agreement and adoption of Byron's Gin is also a first for the society - we've never had an 'official gin' before!
  • When Speyside Distillery's CEO John McDonough and Managing Director Patricia Dillon picked up their award from the Secretary of State last night, they became the first distillery to receive a Board of Trade award.
So, congratulations to the team at Speyside Distillery - let's raise a glass of Byron's Gin to them and support the next generation of botanists in the process! 

Thursday 17 May 2018

Wild flowers on road verges

Image courtesy of Plantlife
Our colleagues at Plantlife have been doing a great job in recent days drawing attention to roadside verges which can act as refuges for wild flowers. Dr Trevor Dines (Plantlife's botanical specialist and a longtime BSBI member) has been on television and radio, and several articles have appeared in the newspapers. 

BSBI's Head of Science, Dr Kevin Walker, has been quoted in some of these articles, such as this one in The Telegraph and another in BBC Science News

Plantlife have also put together some guidance for local councils about mowing regimes for road verges - there's a pdf you can download -  and they are running a campaign which you may wish to take a look at. 

Monday 14 May 2018

Éireannach: Celebrating Native Plants of Ireland

Front cover of the new book
Image courtesy of ISBA
As part of the exciting Botanical Art Worldwide Project, members of the Irish Society of Botanical Artists (ISBA) have mounted an exhibition of paintings depicting Irish indigenous plants at the National Botanic Gardens titled Éireannach: Celebrating Native Plants of Ireland, Glasnevin. 

Artists from a total of 25 countries are taking part in the worldwide project, which has been spearheaded by the American Society of Botanical Artists (ASBA), assisted by steering committees in each participating country.

Ireland has taken the project a step further by producing a book that features the 43 paintings in the ISBA exhibition, along with the story of each plant, researched and written by the artists themselves and edited by well-known author and wild plant enthusiast, Zoë Devlin, who was a mentor for the project. 

Marsh saxifrage Saxifraga hirculus in Ireland
Image: M. Long
Also included in the book is information and a sample illustration from each of the other countries, along with contributions from four of the organisations that work tirelessly to conserve Ireland’s native plant heritage - BSBI is, of course, one of those organisations. The book is available online at for the pre-publication price of €20 until 27 May, after which it will revert to the full retail price of €25. 

The exhibition will run until the 27 May, and on the 18 May – the official Worldwide Day of Botanical Art – the ISBA will hold an open day at the exhibition, where artists will provide demonstrations of how they work; Zoe Devlin will provide a tour of the exhibition, and there’ll be a chance to see a digital presentation of paintings from all the other exhibitions around the world. 

For more details, check

Thursday 10 May 2018

Threatened Plants in Britain & Ireland: book reprinted

Copy of Threatened plants in
Britain and Ireland
sitting on Pete's desk
Image: P. Stroh
When Threatened Plants in Britain and Ireland was published by BSBI late last year and the book sold out in a matter of weeks, nobody was really very surprised! 

This long awaited title summarised the results of five years of survey work for BSBI's Threatened Plants Project by 800+ BSBI volunteer members. They monitored 50 wildflower species which BSBI's Science Team believed might be in decline. 

The book also included analysis and comment by the Science Team, who found that many species had, as suspected, declined dramatically since the 1970s.  

Today we are delighted to announce that Threatened Plants in Britain and Ireland has been reprinted and is once again available to buy from Summerfield Books and other natural history book-sellers. 

Pale dog-violet Viola lactea
Image: John Crellin
Pete Stroh, BSBI Scientific Officer and one of the book's three co-authors, said "The results from the Threatened Plants Project survey have shown how and why some of our most threatened wildflowers have declined since the 1970s, and sets out how such trends can be reversed. 

"It was very encouraging that the initial print run sold out within a matter of weeks and illustrates how our flora, and the work that BSBI volunteers do, is so valued."

Threatened Plants in Britain and Ireland will be of use to conservationists, ecological consultants, land managers and plant-lovers across both countries. It tempers a gloomy picture of declines in some of our wild flower populations with helpful practical suggestions as to how such trends might be reversed.

You can read more about the book in this interview by Kevin Walker, BSBI's Head of Science and another of the book's co-authors. 

Spreading Bell-flower Campanula patula
Image: Bob Gibbons
The third co-author was Bob Ellis, recently retired as BSBI's Projects Officer. Bob played a crucial role in liaising with the BSBI volunteer members who went out surveying for the Threatened Plants Project and whose results fed into the book. Huge thanks to Bob, Kevin, Pete and all the 800+ volunteers for their amazing achievement producing Threatened Plants in Britain and Ireland.

So if you didn't manage to get hold of a copy last time, can I suggest that you do so now, because we expect this second print run of this excellent book to sell out as quickly as the first!

Tuesday 8 May 2018

Interesting opportunity for a botanist

I had an interesting email last week from a colleague at the Oxford English Dictionary. They are looking for a person to join their team of science editors. They are especially keen to find a naturalist to work on plant and animal entries.

Does this sound like your sort of job? Would you (or do you know somebody who would) love to be a lexicographer? This is a dream job for somebody whose knowledge of and passion for plants/ wildlife is equalled by their love of words! 

Take a look at the job advert and see if this one is for you - or consider forwarding it to any friends or colleagues who might be interested: