Friday 27 July 2018

Byron's Gin: winning awards and supporting the next generation of botanists

Image courtesy of Byron's Gin/ Speyside Distillery
Great news that both expressions of Byron's Gin, BSBI's official gin, have just won an award in the prestigious International Wine & Spirit Competition. Melancholy Thistle won a silver medal and Bird Cherry won a bronze medal. You can read all about the awards in this post on the Scottish Gin Society's website.

The reason we are so pleased is quite mercenary: more awards mean more publicity, which (hopefully) means increased sales of Byron's Gin and ultimately more money contributed to BSBI to help support our training programme.

Training session at FSC Margam, 2017.
Student Richard (far left) attended
 thanks to a BSBI grant
Image: Jenni Duffell
Every year BSBI awards small training grants (up to £250) to botanists wishing to improve their skills. Some are beginners making a start with plant ID who will go on to contribute to recording and conservation projects, or ecological consultants wanting to add plant ID to their portfolio of skills. Others are already experienced recorders who want to sharpen their skills in a particular area. Grant applications open on 1st January each year and close again after a few weeks because we have spent the entire budget - if only we had more money to give to those budding botanists... 

Every grant recipient is invited to write a short account for these pages about the course they were able to attend thanks to that BSBI grant. We featured the first of this year's accounts a few weeks ago and there are more in the pipeline. Watch this space! 

Wednesday 25 July 2018

They think the Summer Meeting's all over: it is now!

Mentha pulegium
Image courtesy of John Crellin/ Floral Images
Here's the eighth and final report by Jon Shanklin from the 2018 BSBI Summer Meeting on the Isle of Man:

"The final day of the longest Summer Meeting ever! The weather perhaps saved the worst for last. Although dry at breakfast, by the time we were packing there was light rain, and this persisted on and off for our remaining time on the Island. Those flying out later in the day were going to a limestone quarry and recording around Castletown, whilst those taking the Liverpool ferry went for a tetrad en route to Douglas.

"We started with a plantation, which although fairly diverse had nothing of particular note apart from Lophocolea bidentata growing on a spruce cone. We then thought about doing a circular walk, but decided to start with a look at the golf course pond. This did have Mentha pulegium growing on its margins so a good choice. 

Anagallis tenella
Image courtesy of John Crellin/ Floral Images
"What appeared from the space view to be a caravan park was actually a mock Tudor village, which proved to have surprisingly good set of urban weeds. Most surprising was Anagallis tenella growing in a lawn! We collected a few specimens of aliens for homework on the ferry, but as the rain was starting again decided against walking any further and drove to the ferry terminal. The crossing was pretty smooth and as we got in, the Queen Elizabeth left Liverpool to a fireworks display - a fitting end to this year's Summer Meeting!"

Huge thanks to Field Meetings Secretary Jon Shanklin for organising and leading the meeting, to Philippa Tomlinson (the County Recorder for the Isle of Man) and Peter Davey for all the local arrangements, and to Eric and Barbara Greenwood for their support. We'll let you know the total number of species recorded once Jon has finished digitising the record cards, but we hope he has a well-deserved rest first! Next year the ASM will be based at FSC Malham Tarn in Cumbria: bookings will open in November and we'll post details on the Summer Meeting webpage.

Tuesday 24 July 2018

A tale of two Chrisses: because nature reserves are not enough!

When Chris M. met Chris P...
Image: Andy Taylor
When BSBI President Chris Metherell and his wife Hazel (also a botanist) headed off to FSC Rhyd y creuau in North Wales on Friday to teach a botany course, little did they know they were about to run into one of TV's most famous wildlife ambassadors! 

The course was called 'A Botanical Odyssey' and the aim was to record 300 plant species in two days and pass on some ID tips, folklore and ecological information to the students - a mixture of ages (early 20s to 60-something) and abilities (undergrads, botanical beginners and active botanists keen to sharpen their skills, BSBI members...) As Chris says, to show that "there is something in botany for everyone!" 

They didn't realise until they arrived at the FSC centre that Chris Packham and his team had chosen the same day to visit Rhyd y creuau as part of Chris's UK Bioblitz 2018 which aims to visit 50 wildlife sites across the UK in 10 days and "highlight the extent to which the nation's wildlife is under threat" The tagline for Chris's UK Biolitz 2018 is 'Nature Reserves are not enough!'

Dorset Flora Group out plant-hunting
 yesterday at the FBA River Lab Bioblitz
Chris M and Chris P had time for a quick chat and the moment was captured on camera by centre manager Andy Taylor, and then it was back to the task at hand, recording as many species as possible in the grounds around the centre. 

Click on this link to see the the species count from the FSC Rhyd y creuau Bioblitz including the 138 plant species found in just a couple of hours by Chris and Hazel Metherell and their 10 students. 

Lots of botanists, wildlife-lovers and local recording groups are out Biolitzing across the country this summer, many using BSBI's free ID resources, all getting involved and adding to our knowledge of what's out there and how our plants and animals are faring. To all of them we'd like to say a huge THANK YOU!

Monday 23 July 2018

BSBI Summer Meeting 2018: Day Seven

Botanists avoiding the rain
Image: L. Gravestock
This year's BSBI Summer Meeting on the Isle of Man is nearing its end so here is the penultimate report from organiser Jon Shanklin:

"The final full day of the ASM and another day of tetrad recording.  Only one minor reshuffle required after breakfast this time. The forecast was for dry weather, but there was cloud sitting on the mountain tops. For my team this was critical as we were going to do some moorland recording - would it be wet cloud or dry cloud. The drive up didn't produce any spots on the windscreen, but once we'd parked it was clear that there was a heavy deposit of water droplets on all the vegetation. We were going to get wet boots and damp trousers!"

"We set off, and with nothing notable seen in a fairly 'samey' moorland in the first monad, decided we might as well record the next monad in full, rather than simply adding to the tetrad list. Our route now took us to the edge of a plantation (Pinus contorta and Picea sitkensis) and we followed the edge down to a river, where we did get a bit more variety.  Lunchtime beckoned so we found a relatively dry bank to sit on, though as the sun broke through the clouds, a few midges did arrive. After lunch we continued along the stream, spotting a spider web which had just caught a fly, and the spider started wrapping it up for its lunch. Unfortunately for the spider we also spotted a yellow sedge and in the process of getting a sample to check if it was Carex demissa (it was) tore the web off its supports. We found a couple of other spiders, one orange and one olive green, which were probably the same species.

An interesting spider: Araneus
on Juncus conglomeratus
Image: K. Tucker
"We now headed back up to the track which was frequently used by bikers and the erosion that they had caused gave us a good view of the stratigraphy of the first metre or so of surface drift. We decided we might as well continue on into the next tetrad and record its first monad, and this gave us several plants not seen yet, such as Bellis perennis and Urtica dioica. A sign proclaimed a protected road verge that was being managed for its wildlife. Unfortunately the management was of the do nothing kind, so all the nice wildflowers were now covered in thick gorse and bramble.  An odd looking Sorbus on one side of the lane was probably the hybrid of S. aucuparia and S. intermedia agg, as both parents were present in the area. Reaching the end of the monad we retraced our steps.

"An open gate tempted us into a hay field and this showed us what the protected road verge might have been like, with Campanula rotundifolia and Hypericum pulchrum along the margin. Crossing into the next field we first inspected some ground disturbed around a cattle feeding station, which gave some typical arable species such as Chenopodium album and Stellaria media, then some tractor ruts which added Galeopsis tetrahit and Spergula arvensis. After that we marched back to the car but didn't add anything else significant to the list.

Western gorse
Image: L Gravestock
"We had one final section of the tetrad to look at if we could, but that depended on whether we could park on the side of the TT track (the main A18 from Douglas to Ramsey) at the appropriate spot. We passed one shelter which didn't look very promising, but managed to stop at the next. This was some 500m too far, so we turned round and tried the first after all, which was only 30m outside. Walking along the TT track wasn't quite as pleasant as the open countryside, but traffic was fairly light and only an occasional bike roared past. We found a good number of rather mundane additions to our tetrad list, perhaps the most unlikely a few tussocks of Festuca brevipila. We found the source a little further on, where clearly amenity grass had been sown into the road bank for some reason. It was now getting on for 6pm, and dinner was at 6:30 - just time to get back to the College.

"After dinner there was time for some final ID work, amazingly rather less than the day before, and then to pack up ready for departure tomorrow. Our final day will vary for everyone, but some of those catching the afternoon ferry plan to record a tetrad on the way, and those flying home will visit an old limestone quarry and record around Castletown."

Sunday 22 July 2018

BSBI Summer Meeting 2018: Day Six

Stunning scenery on the Isle of Man
Image: L. Gravestock
Revived by a little rain yesterday, attendees at this year's BSBI Summer Meeting are entering the home stretch. Organiser Jon Shanklin tells us more: 

"I had opted for two tetrads for my "rough" group, the first a coastal sliver. We had a short walk in, then set to with the recording along a footpath. 

"An Elm didn't really match any seen previously - perhaps this was a "Guernsey Elm" (Peter Davey the Islands Elm expert later suggested Dutch Elm). 

"Then a sedge - not Carex spicata or divulsa, so it must be C. muricata (and confirmed as such during homework). 

Botanists in Laura's team head for the dunes
Image: L. Gravestock
"Finally down to the beach where a stream ran in, and this required the book again just to be certain that the small Apium really was A. nodiflorum (it was). The beach was faced by cliffs of glacial lacustrine sediment, and there had been some cliff falls overnight after the rain, so we kept an eye out for Giant Deer, though didn't find any bones. 

"We did however find some seaside plants such as Atriplex glabriuscula, Salsola kali and Crambe maritima. Having walked perhaps 500m, the cliffs ahead looked exceedingly recent and barren so we turned around and followed a different footpath back to car where we had lunch on a convenient track overlooking a field. 

"Tetrad 2 was only a short distance away and we parked at a picnic spot marked on the map. We didn't actually go into the picnic site as it looked far too manicured and brown. We walked up and down a lane, and a freshly resurfaced sod wall gave us a wonderfull selection of arable weeds, including Stachys arvensis, Spergularia arvensis, Fumaria capreolata and Fumaria bastardii

Erica cinerea and a harebell
Image: L. Gravestock
"We then tried an old railway track, now a footpath, where the map showed a pond. This was fenced off with barbed wire, but having passed it on the way to the edge of the tetrad we climbed over on the way back. This hadn't had much draw-down and on the edge we found the other Apium - A. inundatum, initially looking a bit like a terrestrial water crowfoot. 

"Back at the car we had a little time left, so we drove in search of some different habitat. Finding the road in Kirk Michael was easier said than done, but once found we drove to the end and parked. Beginning our walk up to moorland we heard the sound of bikes and a gang of scramble bikes came pouring down the track. 

Botanists in their element
Image: L. Gravestock
"Once passed, peace returned and we continued upwards, stopping at a gateway where there were tiny plants of Ornithopus perpusillus. The other side was moorland, with Western Gorse c10cm high, and we were able to add Erica cinerea and Calluna vulgaris. An inviting quarry face beckoned, but it turned out to be in the next tetrad, so back to the car and dinner.

"We managed a little homework before and after, then Philippa gave us a talk about some of the recent post glacial studies of pollen on the island and how it illustrated different plant communities over time. She also showed some pictures of the Curraghs taken before they had scrubbed over. Then more homework and planning for tomorrow..."

Saturday 21 July 2018

BSBI Summer Meeting 2018: Day Five

Interpretation board at The Curraghs
Image K. Imms
Day five of the 2018 BSBI Summer Meeting on the Isle of Man and if you are in a drought-ridden part of the country, Jon Shanklin's report will make you envious!

Over to Jon:  

"There was a change in the weather, with strange stuff called rain falling from the sky, which was heavier after breakfast. 

"By the time everyone got to The Curraghs the rain had stopped and the sun was trying to get out, although it never succeeded. 

"We were split into blue, green, red and yellow teams, assigned different quadrants of the site and given the challenge of recording as many plants as possible, with a virtual prize for the most wallabies. Everyone saw at least one wallaby, with the winning team spotting 8, including a mother and joey.

Wallaby at The Curraghs
Image K. Imms
"Each team was also assigned a local who knew the site reasonably well, and Peter Davey was our leader who was able to explain the history and geomorphology of the site as well as take us along some little used paths. It is just as well we were one of the "rough" teams. 

"Although much of the site was open 50 years ago, willow carr had encroached and Myrica gale had scrubbed over some of the meadows. 

Our main quadrant was the north west of the site and on our way we passed exotics such as Phormium tenax; a field had been turned into a flax plantation during WWII, but they hadn't managed to ret the flax, so it was abandoned; and Berberis darwinii (of uncertain origin). 

"We sheltered on an old sod wall for lunch, while a  heavier rain shower passed through, then recorded a really nice meadow full of Euphrasia (a difficult one and probably a hybrid of E. arctica and nemorosa) and Dactylorhiza (only some D. fuchsii still identifiable by our team). 

Dactylorhiza cf fuchsii
Image K. Imms
"The relict glacial pond that was our destination was completely relict, with a central peaty area crossed by wallaby trails. However the margin did have patches of Hypericum elodes and semi-tussocks of Carex diandra.  

 "By now it was time to return, although we did a short detour to see an old gateway that had once lead into five open fields, but was now surrounded by willow carr. 

"Our entry into The Curraghs had been via the Wildlife Park, and this had a conveniently located cafe which we took advantage of for tea and cake or ice-cream. 

"Heading back towards the cars Debs and I did a slight detour (we had been warned not to look at the animals) via the fire assembly point, and recorded Gnaphalium uliginosum with Lythrum portula and Rorippa palustris.

Dense vegetation for the 'rough team' of botanists!
Image: K. Imms
"There was plenty of homework when we got back, as the rain mostly precluded ID of difficult species on site. The Euphrasia was particularly difficult, but the sedges, Lousewort, Cotoneaster and others provided plenty of debate. 

"With no talk this evening there was more time after dinner for further ID, and for Philippa and I to become autocratic and assign people to cars and destinations for tomorrow. Some time later everyone was assigned to a car with a suitable destination to provide interest for the occupants. The weather should be fine, so great for botanising".

Friday 20 July 2018

BSBI Summer Meeting 2018: Day Four

Moss-covered rocks on IoM
Image: K. Imms
Here's Jon Shanklin's latest report from this year's BSBI Summer Meeting on the Isle of Man: 

"Our fourth day without any rain, but it won't last. Today was another coach tour, with first stop some mining deads (local name for spoil heaps associated with former zinc or lead mines). 

"We nearly didn't go, as they were predicted to be scorched by the sun, however almost as soon as we were out of the coach, first Ophioglossum vulgatum was spotted then Botrychium lunaria

"Entering the mining area the recorder decided to avoid crossing any tetrad boundaries, which put some of the area out of bounds although some participants just wandered around looking at plants.

"A small stream was still flowing with water and produced a verdant green channel, with some flushes, one of which had Drosera rotundifolia

Botrychium lunaria
Image: K Imms
"Walking back along the track we encountered a large green caterpillar of an emperor hawkmoth.

"Our second stop was Glen Maye, and despite a firm instruction of no lunch until 12:30, some convenient, although very dilapidated, picnic benches proved too enticing. 

"As lunch was concluding we discovered that one of the party had gone missing so search parties ran down the Glen in case he had already set off. 

"After running for several minutes there was no sign, so they had to run back up to the picnic spot. Fell running wasn't an expected sport during the ASM! 

"The missing participant did eventually turn up, but by then the group had split into the easy party who had a nice stroll down to the beach and the rough party who strolled along the coastal path to Traie ny Volain. A subset decided that descent of the cliff by an old smuggler path was a bit too rough so explored along the top. 

Chris Preston & fellow bryologists
brave the weir in Silverdale
Glen in search of bryophytes
Image: A. Haden
"The old smuggler path was blocked by brambles, so we took a more or less bramble free alternative route that wasn't a path at all. 

"Safely at the bottom we checked several maritime species such as Cochlearia officinalis, Tripleurospermum maritimum and Fumuria muralis. The last of course is not a maritime species, but was growing with them at the base of a slip. 

"The main point of the descent was however to see a cave where there wonderful outgrowths of  Adiantum capilllus-veneris.  

"We then had to ascend the cliff, which was rather more effort than the coming down, but was safely accomplished, with an uneventful return to the coach.

"The evening talk was from Laura McCoy who is curator of Natural History at the Manx Museum. She told us all about the recent discovery of a skeleton of a Giant Deer on the northern coast of the Isle of Man in a Characeous Marl. 

Eupatorium cannabinum
Image: J. Shanklin
"Most likely it had been exhausted after the rut, had wandered into a Chara-filled pond to stock up on calcium and had become mired. 

"After the talk it was time to return to our homework in the maths lab, where we checked up on some of the difficult specimens found during the day. 

"The prettiest was a pavement weed found by Ron, which nobody really recognised, though after a suggestion and a bit of internet searching came out approximately as Nemesia denticulata.

"With rain forecast for tomorrow and no indication of where might be driest we decided to stick with plan A and go to The Curragh, split into four teams and see who could record the most (and see the largest number of wallabies!)".

Thursday 19 July 2018

BSBI Summer Meeting 2018: Day Three

Isle of Man Cabbage - a
local speciality!
Image: K. Imms
Here's the latest report from Field Meetings Secretary Jonathan Shanklin on the Isle of Man, where this year's BSBI Summer Meeting - a joint meeting with our friends at the British Bryological Society - has reached the halfway mark.

Over to Jonathan:

"Today we had car trips out to sites of interest. The first task was to divide participants into "easy" and "rough" groups, brief them on where they were to go (in each case a separate monad in two tetrads) and then get them into cars. Easier said than done, but ultimately successfull. Next step was to get to the designated parking place (which involved a slight navigational detour), and then confirming that we were in our correct monad and weren't going with another group.

"As is often the case our group took a long time getting out of the parking point, finding a much larger number of species than expected. 

 Bryologists Chris Preston
and Liz Kungu
Image: A. Haden
"One particular "notable" in a disused cattle trough was the flat form of Lemna gibba, which has large central cells. We did eventually leave the area, then headed down a country lane lined with a diverse variety of mostly native species. We then came across a giant plant, with similarities to a Valerian. The Vegetative Key didn't quite take us to the right place (was the stem round or square?) but we eventually agreed on Valeriana pyrenaicum.

"Passing some houses a parking area added several species, including some uncommon on the IoM such as Urtica urens and Vulpia bromoides and a Lolium. This generated some debate - the young leaves were rolled and it had awns, however counting the florets showed the number less than 11, so the hybrid Lolium x boucheanum. Pushing onwards I decided that it was time to stop recording and head for a lunch spot, so with a bit of persuasion the others did just that.  

"After lunch we meandered through our target meadows. Several were not very exciting, but I thought one looked a bit more interesting though protected by a barbed wire fence on one side. Micheline gave it a go and this proved worthwhile as she found Carex pallescens so the hunch was correct. From here we dropped down to the river, where we finally earned our "rough" badge by dropping down to the river, in the process spotting an pretty looking moss, which proved to be the liverwort Trichocolea tomentella. A search for Hymenophyllum proved fruitless, despite Debbie wading half way into a pool and already up to her knees. In some wooded marshy areas just above the river Eric found Carex laevigata and Dryopteris cambrensis

BSBI Finance Officer Julie Etherington
 recovering from a long day's plant-hunting!
Image: I. Denholm
"By now the clock was ticking and we had no chance of getting to our monad in the second tetrad, so we just headed back towards the cars, adding several species along the way. We addded a couple more in passing from the car window (Erica cinerea can be done at a low speed). 

"Back at the College there was a bit of time to help others with their homework (we managed all IDs in the field), then dinner, some more id, then a talk from Aline Thomas about the designation of ASSIs on the Island.  Most of the botanists had finished their IDs by 10pm, but bryologists Liz and Matthew are still going as I type this at 22:45.

"Tomorrow is back to a coach, so everyone bar the bryologists will be on board.  The weather should remain good, so watch out for another round of exciting finds".

Wednesday 18 July 2018

BSBI Summer Meeting 2018: Day Two

Arriving  by coach...
Image: M. Sheehy-Skeffington
Another report by organiser Jon Shanklin from the Isle of Man where the 2018 BSBI Summer Meeting is in full swing. 

Over to Jon:

"Day 2 of the ASM dawned with the threat of rain on the weather radar, however none of it fell where we went. The party mostly travelled by coach to Ayres NNR in the far north of the island, with our coach driver pointing out sites of tourist interest as we went. 

Botanists head off
 into the undergrowth...

Image: M. Sheehy-Skeffington
"Ayres is a coastal dune site, and it was mostly dry and brown, however there were things to record, though some needed a certain amount of homework when we got back to the College. 

"The area with most identifiable species was a dune slack where there was a drying pond.  This had an exciting species for the bryologists on its margins - Riccia cavernosa. Other plants around the pond included Veronica scutellata and Gnaphalium uliginosum, new to some of the party. 

"A sedge was identified as Carex elata, but was it? Close inspection showed stomata on both leaf surfaces raising the possibility of the hybrid with C. nigra. Homework suggested that this conclusion was probably correct.  

"A couple of other odd plants that we found nearby also proved to be hybrids, with clumps of the hybrid Viola canina x riviniana and creeping trails of Potentilla anglica x erecta. An Eyebright was taken back for further inspection and appeared to key to E. ostenfeldii, however that didn't appear to grow on the Island. 

Exploring the meadows...
Image: M. Sheehy-Skeffington
"A re-reading of the BSBI Euphrasia Handbook (always a good idea before reading the key) showed that long hairs meant really long hairs, and that then eventually lead to the more likely E. arctica

"We could have spent all day in the dunes, however there was a good series of hay meadows to visit so we had to march back to the coach and onwards.

"The coach driver did a precision bit of reversing into one of the meadows, where the hay had already been cut and baled, and we saw that several other of the meadows had also been cut. However our guide for the afternoon, Aline Thomas, assured us that some had been held back for us by the farmer. We decided to head for the furthest one, then work back.  

Carum verticillatum
Image: M. Sheehy-Skeffington
"One of the first plants to look at was another Eyebright, which Eric Greenwood and I agreed was E. nemorosa. Next was a first for many - Carum verticillatum. Overall we recorded nearly 50 species in the meadow, but ran out of time to complete others that we had walked through.

"We got back in time for a bit of the homework after dinner - several specimens were checked through, both by botanists and bryologists, mostly coming to firm conclusions on the likely ID of the species in question.

"Tomorrow is a change of format where groups are going to travel by car to a couple of tetrads and then split up into "easy" and "rough" groups to record the individual monads.  The first site is Glen Roy, where the rough group will do the Glen and some meadows, whilst the easy group will do a plantation with forest roads and many aliens. 

"If there is time it is then on to a second tetrad, but at the pace we usually travel there may not be time for that".

Monday 16 July 2018

BSBI Summer Meeting 2018: Day One

Jonathan Shanklin in the field
Image: K. Edkins
This year's Summer Meeting kicked off today on the Isle of Man. Organiser Jonathan Shanklin, BSBI's Field Meetings Secretary, will be sending us daily updates. 

Today's report  is quite short as the team only had a chance to spend a couple of hours in the field, but there has already been some tweeting about the meeting and a note appeared on the local radio station's website.

Over to Jonathan: 

One of the IoM habitats waiting to be explored
Image: P. Tomlinson 
"Botanists from across the country converged on the Isle of Man using many different routes. Remarkably, five managed to meet up on the ferry from Liverpool, which also had a sixth on board. Although the ferry passed through some heavy rain showers, the Island was still dry and looked very parched. 

"By the time we got to King William's College where we are based, the scheduled walk to Langness was about to depart, however to make life easier we drove there rather than walking the three kilometres from the College. We were lead around the peninsula by Richard Selman, who introduced us to the Lesser Mottled Grasshopper, which is found on the Isle of Man and not in the UK. 

Andree's opening slide
Image: K. Imms
"Botanically, whilst the short turf was well browned, many species were identifiable, for example Scilla verna. Elsewhere we debated whether a Stonecrop had a papillose stem (it did), examined the scales on the outer ring of achenes of a Leontodon and noted the glandular hairs on a perennial Spergularia. By the time we got back to the car park we had about 100 species on the list, not too bad for a monad in a few hours.

"Returning to the College, we found our rooms and then dinner in the school hall ("like Hogwarts" was one comment). After dinner, Andree Dubbledam entertained us to an account of the varied habitats of the island and some of the flora that we might find. We promised to leave most questions until we met up with him in the field later in the week!

"Tomorrow we head to the north of the Island to see some dune flora and on the way back some ancient meadows. Watch this space!"

Saturday 14 July 2018

Five go to Colonsay

Lochan on Colonsay: spot the botanist!
Image: K. Walker
The two members of BSBI's Science Team (Head of Science Kevin Walker and Scientific Officer Pete Stroh) have been working incredibly hard writing scientific papers, preparing Species Accounts and of course seeing their book Threatened Plants in Britain and Ireland through to publication. 

They certainly deserved a break, but of course for botanists a break means... going out looking at plants! Read on to hear Kevin's account of his and Pete's latest botanical adventure: 

"Botanising on Colonsay is always an adventure and this June was no exception for the “famous five” botanists who assembled in Oban on the 16th June: myself, Pete Stroh, David Pearman, Simon Leach and Stephen Bungard standing in for Owen Mountford who has been a regular team member but went earlier this year to take part in the Colonsay Spring Festival. This was our fifth successive trip to record the flora of the island for a new Flora to update the checklists produced by McNeill (1910) and Clarke & Clarke (1991).

David Pearman on Colonsay
Image: K. Walker
"Colonsay is small by Hebridean standards; nine miles long and four miles at its widest. It actually comprises two islands: Oransay, the smaller of the two and reputedly the landing place for St Columb before he settled in Iona, is connected to the “mainland” by a wide sandy bay (The Strand) which is walkable at low tide. The geology is uniformly acid with a few bands of limestone that outcrop in a few places (e.g. Kiloran Bay). 

"It is low-lying (the highest point is 143 m) with a rugged terrain covered in deep heather and bogs contrasting with large expanses of tightly grazed machair on the dunes and where sand has been blown inland. The coastline is mainly rocky, with some impressive cliffs with large seabird colonies, and fragments of saltmarsh in less exposed locations. 

Ajuga pyramidalis
Image: K. Walker
"There are about a dozen lochans, the largest of which (East, West and Middle Loch Fada) support an internationally important aquatic flora due to its populations of Slender Naiad (Najas flexilis). It is largely unwooded although two ancient woods survive on its east coast, the largest (Coille Mhor) supporting a remarkable diversity of hyperoceanic vascular plants, lichens, bryophytes and ferns.

"Despite its small size Colonsay is a haven for wildlife. Although most famous for its breeding bird populations which include Chough, Hen Harrier, Golden Eagle, and Corncrake (Jardine et al., 2017) its flora is equally impressive. Since 2014 we have recorded nearly 700 species with an average of around 171 species per monad, despite the fact that many coastal monads only have a small area of land. 

"Although Colonsay has a number of rarities such as Irish Lady’s-tresses (Spiranthes romanzoffiana), Slender Naiad (Najas flexilis), Pyramidal Bugle (Ajuga pyramidalis) and Dune Gentian (Gentianella uliginosa), it is the abundance of the supporting cast that really grabs the attention. 

Utricularia stygia
Image: K. Walker
"For us “southerners” these include Hay Scented Buckler Fern (Dryopteris aemula) which is ubiquitous in shaded habitats, often growing with Lesser Twayblade (Neottia cordata) and Wilson’s Filmy-fern (Hymenophyllum wilsonii) whereas numerous bog-pools support a distinctive assemblage including Slender Sedge (Carex lasiocarpa), Bog Sedge (C. limosa), Great Sundew (Drosera anglica), White-beaked Sedge (Rynchospora alba) and Nordic Bladderwort (Utricularia stygia) and more locally Oblong-leaved Sundew (Drosera intermedia) and Bog Orchid (Hammarbya paludosa) (a third site in 2018). 

"Flushes abound with Dioecious Sedge (Carex dioica) and Pale Butterwort (Pinguicula lusitanica) and in 2015 we found Broad-leaved Cottongrass (Eriophorum latifolium) new to the island in a small valley mire on the east coast. 

"Around the coast Saltmarsh Flat-sedge (Blysmus rufus) is almost guaranteed in reasonably sized saltmarshes whereas Scots Lovage (Ligusticum scoticum) and Roseroot (Sedum rosea) are locally abundant on seacliffs and rocky shores. 

Euphrasia sp. - you'll need the
Eyebright Handbook to
work out which one!
Image: K. Walker
"The edges of rough tracks are “festooned” (that maybe overstating it!) with Chaffweed (Centunculus minimus) and All-seed (Radiola linoides) and less occasionally Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile). 

"Hay meadows abound with Hay-rattle (Rhinanthus minor) and Euphrasia arctica whereas E. nemorosa is widespread and E. confusa, E. tetraquetra and E. micrantha more localised in coastal habitats and heaths. “Northerners” may be surprised by the abundance of Bugloss (Anchusa arvensis), Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis), and Blunt-flowered Rush (Juncus subnodulosus) and the occurrence of Marsh Helleborine (Epipactis palustris) which still occurs in the coastal marsh where it was discovered in 1906 (Somerville, 1907).

"Colonsay also has a large non-native element, largely due to plantings in the policy wood at Colonsay House and Gardens, the centre of the main estate on the island. Notable escapes include Rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum), which is well naturalised on moorland and bogs across the island, American skunk-cabbage (Lysichiton americanus) and Pink Purslane (Claytonia sibirica). Species regenerating prolifically in the policy woods themselves include New Zealand Privet (Griselinia littoralis) and Chilean Myrtle (Luma apiculata).

Elatine hexandra
Image: K. Walker
"Although we’ve visited 79 of the 81 monads that make up the island, we continue to make new discoveries. This year’s star finds were Six-stamened Waterwort (Elatine hexandra) in East Loch Fada where it has been known since the 1980s, Drosera x obovata growing amongst its parents near to Loch Cholla, Wood Avens (Geum urbanum) in the woods near Colonsay house and Gardens and Greater Chickweed (Stellaria neglecta) in a 100 year-old plantation near to Scalasaig. 

"But possibly the most remarkable find was Meadow Thistle (Cirsium dissectum). This was originally noticed by David Jardine in 2017 and confirmed by us after a chance encounter between the botany and bird teams. This appears to be the most northerly location in Britain, and just to the north of populations in similar habitats on Islay and in Knapdale.

Kevin and David on Colonsay,
testing the new Eyebright Handbook
Image: P. Stroh
"But many species have yet to be re-discovered; most notably Potamogeton x prussicus (P. alpinus x P. perfoliatus) recorded by Heslop-Harrison (1948) in 1940 and only ever recorded from one other site in Britain and Rock Samphire (Crithmum maritimum) first recorded by Alex Somerville along with Marsh Helleborine (Epipactis palustris) in 1906 (Somerville, 1907).

"As well as recording for the Flora we also tested out the new BSBI Euphrasia handbook, which helped us to more tentatively differentiate between Euphrasia confusa, E. nemorosa and E. arctica, although boundaries between these three species appear to merge on Colonsay! 

Kevin's NPMS plot on Colonsay
Image: K. Walker
"I also spent half a day recording my National Plant Monitoring Scheme (NPMS) square in the SW of the island which was set up in 2015 with single plots in five habitats – loch margin, acid mire, dry heath, saltmarsh and rocky shore. No significant changes as yet but fascinating to see the subtle shifts in composition and structure from year to year. 

"One of our group has developed a particular interest in plant galls.  Prior to our visits the only gall recorded for the island was of a rust, Puccinia magnusiana, on Creeping Buttercup (Ranunculus repens). This year we added eleven galls to the 53 recorded in the previous three years. Highlights included galls of sawflies Euura auritae on Eared Willow (Salix aurita) and E. weiffenbachii on Creeping Willow (Salix repens). As you’d expect, midge galls also feature prominently, although some species common on the mainland seem to be rare here, e.g. Dasineura urticae on Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica), which we have so far found in only two places, despite the host plant being pretty widely distributed around the island. Another striking midge gall we were particularly pleased to find was that of Contarinia tiliarum on Lime (Tilia sp.) trees in the estate woodlands around Colonsay House. 

Drosera intermedia on Colonsay
Image: K. Walker
"Last but not least, Pittosporum species/cultivars planted in the gardens around Colonsay House have galls of Trioza vitrioradiata; this psyllid gall was first recorded in Britain in 1993, in Cornwall, and has since been spreading north and east. We were surprised to find it on Colonsay, at what must be the very northern limit of its current distribution in the UK.

"We also saw a few new birds (for us) on the island, including a pair of Whinchat and an Iceland Gull which was feeding on the carcass of a 70 ft Sei Whale that had been washed up on Kiloran beach in December.

"All in all we had another fantastic week on this Hebridean gem of an island – it is always sad to leave but this year our spirits were raised by a pod of Minke Whales breaching not far from the ferry; our first in five trips and well worth the wait! Next year we plan to see basking sharks…maybe…

Clarke & Clarke 1991. The Flowering Plants of Colonsay and Oransay. Privately published.
Heslop-Harrison, J.W. 1948. Potamogetons in the Scottish Western Isles, with some remarks on the general natural history of the species. Transactions of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh 35, 1-25.
Jardine, D.C., Peacock, M.A. & Fisher, I.A. 2017. The Birds of Colonsay and Oransay. The Argyll Bird Club, Lochgilphead.
McNeill, M. 1910. Colonsay. One of the Hebrides. David Douglas, Edinburgh.
Somerville, A. 1907. On the occurrence of the Rock Samphire (Crithmum maritimum L.) and the Marsh Helleborine (Epipactis palustris Crantz) on the west coast of Scotland.