Sunday 30 September 2018

BSBI News: latest issue is published

Andrew Branson, editor of BSBI News, has emailed to say that the latest issue of our newsletter is being mailed out to members this week, and he's dropped a few hints about what we can look forward to in this issue.

The lead article is by Kevin Walker & Pete Stroh (aka the BSBI Science Team) and Robert Northridge - it's about life after Atlas 2020 - what do members want to do next? A reminder here that if you haven't yet filled in Robert's questionnaire on this very subject, please do so asap by heading over to the password-protected members' area where you can download a copy.

Then there's an article by Clive Stace called 'Changing names: can we or the books keep up?' It includes news about the forthcoming 4th edition of Clive's New Flora of the British Isles and how to pre-order your copy. There's a flyer tucked inside your copy of BSBI News which you can use to benefit from the special pre-publication offer. There are also flyers with details of how to book for forthcoming BSBI meetings such as the Annual Exhibition Meeting and the Scottish Botanists' Conference.  

There's a piece by Rod Corner on Saxifraga aizoides in Ayrshire and articles by Josh Styles, Falgunee Sarker and Michael Braithwaite.

Ophrys insectifera
Image: P. Stroh
Appears in BSBI News #139
Andrew has introduced several new features since he took over the editorship of BSBI News: there's a Beginner's Corner and a 4-page spread on 'Introducing my vice-county' where the spotlight this time around is on South Northumberland

There are notes about first sightings of alien plants and a report by Judith Conroy and Katharina Dehnen-Schmutz on the recent survey, to which BSBI members contributed, about which ornamental plants might become the 'next Japanese knotweed'. 

There are 84 pages altogether full of delights and colour images throughout - and I haven't even mentioned the two competitions or the book reviews! - so if you are a BSBI member, watch out for your copy dropping through your letterbox this week.

If you're not yet a BSBI member and you're thinking of joining so that you too can enjoy three issues of BSBI News every year, along with many other benefits of BSBI membership... check this space tomorrow and we will have news for you of our special money-saving offer on BSBI membership! 

Saturday 29 September 2018

A magical afternoon and some historic water-lilies!

Back in springtime, I received an enquiry from a couple who had just moved into a historic house in the Scottish Borders and had been told by the previous owners that the grounds housed a rare orchid. 

They didn't know what kind of orchid, or whereabouts in the grounds it might be, but they were keen to find out more and "preserve it if we can".  

I was aware that eminent botanist Rod Corner, a BSBI member since 1967, knew the area well, so I passed the enquiry on to him. 

Rod emailed back that the plant in question would be Bird's-nest orchid Neottia nidus-avis, recorded at the site in 1996 but not since, although it occurs still in nearby woodlands. 

He also mentioned a record of Yellow Water-lily Nuphar lutea at the site, reputedly planted there by Sir Walter Scott and last recorded in 1876. Rod mentioned how exciting it would be to visit the site and try to refind the orchid.

The new owners were delighted with this response - they admitted that although they didn't know much about botany, they would love to find out more and were enjoying the wildlife that visited their new home (including badgers, goosanders, little grebes and a resident pair of moorhens) and yes, they did have water-lilies on the lochan and would forward photos as soon as they flowered. 

A few weeks later, Rod received the photos, confirmed the presence of the yellow water-lilies and was cordially invited to visit the house when next he was in the Borders and to see what else he could find.

The new owners of the historic house emailed me in late summer with this message:

"We had a magical afternoon when Rod visited us. It was so lovely to spend time with someone so enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the flora here and in the Borders. The afternoon was warm and sunny which meant we could have tea and cake in the garden after a walk around the lochan. 

"I have attached some photos I took during the visit. [Ed.: The photos show Rod examining and photographing a mystery Primula, the famous yellow water-lillies and a mystery willow.]

The new owners continued: "Rod is going to put us in touch with Luke Gaskell [Ed.: Luke is the BSBI County Recorder for the area] which means we will be able to continue our relationship with the BSBI which I am very excited about. Thanks again for all your help. We didn't find the bird's-nest orchid but we will continue to search..."

Refinding rare orchids is, of course, a great pleasure but magical summer afternoons with knowledgeable botanists are, I would argue, just as delightful. 

Many thanks to the new owners for sharing their charming story and to Rod for his expert advice and for giving them such a wonderful introduction to BSBI! 

Thursday 27 September 2018

Andy and Sandy: the masterminds behind Byron's Gin

There was a nice article in The Scots Magazine this summer about how Byron's Gin came about. As John Harvey McDonough, CEO of Speyside distillery (creators of Byron's Gin) explains in the article "We are in the Cairngorms National Park, so we are acutely aware of the abundant nature on our doorstep. We're also members of the Cairngorms Business Partnership. On learning of our plans for gin distillation, they put us in contact with the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland..."

The article goes on to explain how Andy Amphlett, the BSBI County Recorder for the area, visited the distillery and "using his deep-seated knowledge of botanicals, he hand-selected plants and berries from the distillery's gardens".

BSBI members may be nodding and smiling at this point because Andy's botanical knowledge is legendary! He has produced some excellent resources to help his fellow botanical recorders, such as the guidance notes on identifying the rather tricky subspecies of Reflexed Saltmarsh-grass Puccinellia distans which he sent us only last month for uploading to the Identification page (you can download a copy from there free of charge). He has also produced distribution maps and helpful species accounts of rare plants in Banffshire, such as this one for Heath Dog-violet, and in 2013 he produced a Rare Plant Register of the flora of the Cairngorms National Park.

Heath dog-violet Viola canina
Image: F. Rumsey
So it must have been quite a moment when Andy presented those "hand-selected plants and berries" to Sandy Jamieson, distillery manager at Speyside and by all accounts as legendary in his own sphere as Andy is in his! As the article in The Scots Magazine tells us , Sandy "created and crafted a whole new spirit from those raw materials. It's all quite something". 

So, Andy met Sandy and the result was Byron's Gin - and for every bottle sold, a donation is made to BSBI's training programme so we can offer grants that help more botanists follow in Andy's footsteps and deepen their botanical knowledge. Click here and here for a couple of examples of botanical training courses that botanists were able to attend this year thanks to BSBI's training grants. 

Saturday 22 September 2018

BSBI Training Grants Helping Botanists in 2018: Sharon & Julie

Botanists at Scar Close
Image: S. Yardy
In July, we heard from botanist Falgunee about the course in 'Identifying Higher Plants' which she was able to attend thanks to a BSBI Training Grant. Now we hear from Julie and Sharon about the Limestone Flora course they attended at FSC Malham Tarn under tutor Dr Ian Powell, again thanks to a BSBI Training Grant.

Over to Julie and Sharon:

"We attended the Limestone Flora course at Malham Tarn FSC in June/July 2018, being lucky enough to have received part funding from the BSBI. Julie undertook it as part of the MMU Certificate in Biological Recording, and Sharon partly as preparation for taking the Field Identification Skills Certificate (FISC).

"The weekend was spent in perfect summer weather and we explored a range of habitats around Malham including grasslands, rivers, quarries, woodlands, bogs, fens and limestone pavements. Although the bogs and fens around Malham were looking quite dry, the group managed a couple of pub stops to keep hydrated! 

Scar Close
Image: S. Yardy
"Saturday involved a 10+ km walk in the blazing sunshine around Grassington at 'botanist’s pace', taking in the variety of limestone grasslands in Lea Green where we found brittle bladder fern Cystopteris fragilis, spring sandwort Minuartia verna and limestone bedstraw Galium sterneri among remnants of blue moor grass Sesleria caerulea.

"The shade of Bastow Wood and Grass Wood SSSI sites provided some relief as we encountered ancient woodland indicators along with limestone specialists such as stone bramble Rubus saxatilis, deliciously scented chalk fragrant orchid Gymnadenia conopsea, buckthorn Rhamnus cathartica and wild privet Ligustrum vulgare. Bird’s-nest orchid Neottia nidus-avis camouflaged itself well, but we located it eventually.

"Finally, we headed back along the course of the River Wharfe to Grassington, where thankfully the ice cream shop was still open and doing a roaring trade!

Limestone pavement, Southerscales
Image: S. Yardy
"On the Sunday we visited limestone pavements at Ingleborough NNR, with sites showing varying levels of grazing. The variety of flora was interesting with species seen including saw-wort Serratula tinctoria and lesser meadow-rue Thalictrum minus. Ferns such limestone fern Gymnocarpium robertianum and rigid buckler fern Dryopteris submontana were found in the grikes. Frog orchids Coeloglossum viride were found in nearby grassland and just coming into flower.

"Many other species were enjoyed during the weekend including bird’s eye primrose Primula farinosa still in flower, bloody cranesbill Geranium sanguineum and rare sedges. I had not visited Malham or the dales before and felt I really benefited from this course, I saw many new species that I hadn’t seen before and some calcareous habitats and species that I am not that familiar with.

"Thanks to the BSBI for part funding it!"

And thanks to Sharon and Julie for telling us about the course! If you are hoping to attend a botany course next year to sharpen your ID skills - maybe one of the short courses listed on our Training page? - don't forget that you too can apply for a grant towards the cost of the course.

Grant applications open on 1st January every year and all grants have always been snapped up by the end of the month. So try to do your research in advance, find a course that's right for you and then be ready to apply for a grant on 1st January. Details of how to apply will be on our Training page.

Thursday 20 September 2018

Promoting wild flowers in Ireland

Three cheers for BSBI's Scientific Officer Pete Stroh and Irish Officer Maria Long who have written an excellent article about BSBI for the summer issue of the Irish Wildlife magazine.

Their 1500 word article titled 'Recording our wildflowers in the 21st century' sets out everything an Irish naturalist might want to know about the subject and kicks off with a beautifully-written section about Atlas 2020. Here's an extract:

"Perhaps you’ve seen folk out and about, hand lens at the ready, writing feverishly on clipboards whilst walking at a snail’s pace, often kneeling in what appears to be worship, but is in fact the examination of tiny bits of a plant that help to reveal its identity. In Ireland, such recording takes place across 40 ‘vice-counties’, with at least one expert botanical recorder for each county..."

I think that's a great description of what botanical recorders look like in the field and hopefully will pique the interest of any Irish wildlife-lover who hasn't heard about BSBI before!

Pete and Maria go on to talk about field meetings and local botany groups which are thriving in Ireland - just take a look at recent blogposts on these pages about local groups in Dublin and in Kerry.

They tell people about the incredibly popular Irish Botanical Newsletter, expertly edited by Paul Green, and they encourage people to download recent issues from the Ireland webpage.

Then they talk about changes in Ireland's landscape and flora, with examples which will really get the message across to Irish readers, like this one:

"Many people in the midlands of Ireland might be astonished to realise that the Cowslip, a flower which was familiar to us all as children, and which is still visible along many roadsides, is now so rare in Northern Ireland that it is listed for legal protection. And even in the parts of Ireland where it appears to thrive on roadsides, you’ll struggle to find it within meadows or fields – agriculture has simply become too intensive. This story is repeated for hundreds of other species..."

The article ends with a note about the Irish Species Project and Pete and Maria make clear that the message isn't all doom and gloom - that botanical recorders can make a real difference and BSBI can help them do that.

If you're based in Ireland and would like to read the whole article, you'll need to join the Irish Wildlife Trust

If you'd like to find out more about BSBI and botanical recording in Ireland, check out the Ireland webpage, follow @BSBI_Ireland on Twitter or try and get along to this weekend's BSBI Irish Autumn Meeting in Dublin

It's free, everyone is welcome and it will be a great chance for you to meet fellow wildlife-lovers from across Ireland. They can tell you more about how to get involved and all the help and support that's available to you. If you can't get along in person, keep an eye on this hashtag to get a taste of the day's proceedings. 

Tuesday 18 September 2018

The People's Walk for Wildlife

BSBI is honoured to be named on
Chris Packham's 'People's Walk for Wildlife'
poster - can you see us
near the base of the heart?
This Saturday 22nd September, the People's Walk for Wildlife takes place in London. Wildlife champion and natural history TV presenter Chris Packham is the driving force behind this event which is aimed at "all the people who care about wildlife".

BSBI President Chris Metherell says: “I had the pleasure of meeting Chris Packham in July when he was touring the country with his UK Bioblitz 2018 to highlight the extent to which the nation’s wildlife is under threat. I applaud his sterling work supporting nature conservation and getting the next generation involved. As Chris says, “nature reserves are not enough!” Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend this Saturday’s People’s Walk for Wildlife myself as I have a prior engagement in Northumberland but I would encourage BSBI members to consider taking part. Find out more about the Walk here”.

One person who will be on the Walk with his family is Dr Kevin Walker, BSBI’s Head of Science. Kevin said “Whether you are into plants, bugs, birds, butterflies or you just enjoy walking in the countryside then the People's Walk for Wildlife is an event you can't afford to miss. This is our chance to make a stand for our nation's wildlife and a clarion call to government, industry and wider society that we need to do more to protect it. I'm planning to be there with my kids as it is the countryside that they will inherit and the current generation are not doing enough to protect it. So let’s all get together on the 22nd September and start to do something about it”. 

The Wild Flower Hour poster
Courtesy of Rebecca Wheeler
Chris Packham said "This is an exciting opportunity motivated by a desperate concern in troubling times to make a real difference. I think we need unity, to stand together and demonstrate that if we can collectively see the bigger picture then we will find the strength to tackle the bigger problems. Because at the moment, for all our abilities, energies, passions and practices we are not stopping the rot in our countryside. And we can. We have a superb toolkit for effective conservation, it’s been trialled, tested and proven to work but it’s not been put into play rapidly or broadly enough. So now, before it’s too late, we have to be bold and brave, we must shout without raising our voice, we have to get up and get on with it, and we can start by turning up in London on the 22nd of September".

If you can't attend the walk in person you can still take part via social media. On Twitter, keep an eye on #ThePeoplesWalkForWildlife hashtag to follow the action from 1pm. You can also use the hashtag yourself on the day to show your support. 

If you want to double the impact and show that you are supporting the People's Walk for Wildlife because you care about the plight of our wild flowers, you can also use the #wildflowerhour hashtag and/ or download and share the image above left on your feed.

Between 1 and 2pm, both the BSBI Twitter account and the @wildflower_hour account will be retweeting any tweets that feature both hashtags. So even if you can't make it down to London you can still show your support for Chris Packham's initiative and stand up for our wild flowers!  

Thursday 13 September 2018

Dublin BSBI excursions

About to set off botanising in Castletown Estate
Image: C. Clarke
Today's guest blogpost is from Irish botanist Cliona. She was a bit apprehensive about leading a local botany group meeting for the first time. So, how did she get on? Read on to find out:

"Those of you from outside the Dublin area might not know this, but Dublin has its very own botanical group. And what a group it is! This year I had the pleasure of leading two botanical outings: one at Castletown Estate in Celbridge and the other at Ballynafagh Lake outside Prosperous. Both are glorious locations with lovely plants and very different habitats. Both outings are over now so I can look back fondly and reminisce about some of the things I’ve learned and enjoyed. This is just a little write-up about those trips and why my worries about leading a group for the first time were unfounded.

Hypericum hirsutum
Image courtesy of John Crellin/ Floral Images
"It’s totally fine not to know everything even if you’re leading a group, I must admit I felt I wouldn’t be up for the task at hand and would encounter too many plants that were beyond my identification skills. This wasn’t the case at all, and even when we did come across some strange unidentified green life-form, this only meant it was time to break out the plant keys! I’m surprised to say that one of the nicest parts of leading a group is finding something that everyone is uncertain about. It’s a chance to slow down, talk, reorganise your thoughts and of course share a refreshing sense of botanical camaraderie.

"I’m sorry to say one of the biggest mistakes I made was being far too over prepared. That might sound silly; I mean how can you be too over prepared? Well you can check out every inch of a site before bringing a group there or key out everything within a three mile radius (Kidding). Recording everything in advance also defeats the purpose of leading a recording group in the same area. Overall it was a pleasant experience and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in leading a group. Botanists are lovely people so be confident and lead on!

A bit of mud and rain
never stopped a botanist!
Image: C. Byrne
"The Castletown Estate event was held on a lovely bright sunny day in late June, people came along to enjoy not only the plants but also the sun and scenery of this beautiful area. Castletown is made up of parklands and a large Palladian style house built in the 1720’s. On site there are a number of habitats; arable land, woodland, a wildflower meadow and the River Liffey flowing along its boundary. Although the parklands are managed as a public amenity and often brimming with people, they are still home to a few rarities.

"We were delighted to find Hairy St. John's-wort Hypericum hirsutum enjoying the sweltering heat; maybe a week later and these hairy plants would have been in flower for us to enjoy. We were content to see a faint glimmer of yellow petals emerging between the sepals. Each area of the park had its own merits; the meadow was brimming with grasses, yellow-rattle and many other flowering herbs, the woodland in the park provided a much needed reprieve from the never-ending sunshine and the ha-has (a strange landscape design) were brimming with biodiversity. One of the highlights of the day was sitting down to a pleasant lunch with lovely people overlooking the beautiful River Liffey; it doesn’t get much better that that!

Pyrola rotundifolia
Image courtesy of John
Crellin/ Floral Images
"The second outing to Ballynafagh Lake was a walk in the park (pun intended) due to my now extensive experience of leading one whole previous excursion; well truthfully it was due to the appearance of the one and only Rory Hodd. Thanks Rory. No plant went unidentified (with the exception of one awkward willow but I think that is very forgivable!). What this outing lacked in sunshine, it made up for in interesting plants. We admired all sorts of boggy wonders on the day and even saw Round-leaved Wintergreen Pyrola rotundifolia and two very impressive patches of Variegated Horsetail Equisetum variegatum. We practised our berry foraging skills along the way, munching on bilberries, raspberries and blackberries.

"Most importantly I want to thank all those who have taken the time to come along to any of the Dublin BSBI outings; I hope you had a fabulous time! Anyone interested in coming to one of our future events, please email to be added to our list".

Thanks Cliona - now that you have two botany meetings under your belt as leader, there will be no stopping you!

Friday 7 September 2018

Hunting urban plants in Strathpeffer

Recording urban wall plants
Image: M. Dean
You'll be well aware that BSBI botanists have been out recording this year in the run-up to Atlas 2020 but did you know that our members also contribute plant records to other projects? There's the National Plant Monitoring Scheme of course, in which BSBI is a partner. You can find out more about what NPMS surveyors have been recording this year in the latest NPMS newsletter which has just been published. 

But maybe you weren't aware that BSBI members in Scotland have also been contributing to projects run by the Botanical Society of Scotland (BSS), such as the Urban Flora of Scotland project.

Lancashire-based botanist Mary Dean has been in touch to tell me about the field meeting  in late June which she co-led with Brian Ballinger, County Recorder for Easter Ross. The meeting was a joint BSBI/ BSS meeting and it was held in Strathpeffer, an attractive and popular small spa town. As well as recording for Atlas 2020, the plan was to record for the Urban Flora Project. 

Recording in a dried-up lochan
Image: M. Dean
So they ventured into the lochs and woodland outside the town to try and update records for Corallorhiza trifida (Coralroot Orchid) and Pyrola and Orthilia species (Wintergreens). They also hunted in the town itself for urban species that had been recorded in the past, such as Thalictrum minus (Lesser Meadow-rue), Dactylorhiza maculata (Heath Spotted-orchid) and various neophytes.

The final species list hasn't been published yet but highlights will appear in the next BSBI Yearbook (which is sent out to all BSBI members) and in Brian's annual report on the Easter Ross webpage, alongside useful local resources such as a Rare Plant Register, a list of plants on walls in Easter Ross, a list of local epiphytes, a Graveyard Flora of the county and a Flora of Far North Railway Stations.