Thursday 28 February 2019

Lots on offer for botanists in Wales

Mountains of Meirionnydd
Image: S. Stille
If you're a botanist based in Wales, there are some great events coming up for you this year.

If you're not based in Wales, you'll be delighted to hear that these events (training days, field meetings, residential recording weeks and the Welsh AGM) are open to all botanists from across Britain and Ireland:

The Welsh AGM takes place in Carmarthenshire from 21st to 23rd May and features talks by Pete Stroh on Atlas 2020 progress and by Richard Pryce on recent advances towards the Carmarthenshire Flora; there are excursions out to local sites of botanical interest, from limestone grasslands to brownfield sites to coastal sites in the Burry Port area; there are exhibits, ID help, botany books for sale... it should be a great few days! More info and bookings here.

For the more specialist botanist hoping to improve their ID skills with aquatic plants, there's a chance to learn from the master: Richard Lansdown, author of BSBI Handbook no.11 on Callitriche spp. (water-starworts) and acknowledged national aquatics expert, is running a workshop on 22nd June in Brecknockshire. Info and booking here.

In Carmarthenshire in July there's the Glynhir Recording Week (spaces still available - more info and bookings here) and the Caerdeon weekend in Meirionnydd which - sorry! - is now fully booked, although you can put your name on the reserve list in case of cancellations.  There's also a field meeting in Radnorshire in June so lots of opportunities for botanising in Wales.

The Radnor Lily
Image: B. Brown
Last November BSBI welcomed a new Welsh Officer, Barbara Brown. Since then she's been working hard to support botany in Wales. As well as attending outreach events such as the recent Sewbrec recorders' forum for SE Wales and the BSBI Exhibition Meeting, going to committee meetings such as BSBI's Training & Education meeting and tweeting about plants she's spotted in Wales for #wildflowerhour, she's also been helping County Recorders with webpage updates. 

County pages for Brecknockshire, Meirionnydd, Monmouthshire and Pembrokeshire have all been updated with photos and details of forthcoming events. Barbara will be at other Welsh recorders' events such as the BIS event in Brecon and the WWBIC recorders' forum so if you'll be there too, do go up and say hello to her. Meanwhile, Barbara has also started posting on the BSBI Cymru blog so if you're not already following that, we suggest you head over there now and read about Barbara's visit to see the rare and beautiful Radnor Lily Gagea bohemica.

Wednesday 27 February 2019

New BSBI Handbooks in the pipeline

Mark Lynes working on Alchemilla specimens:
 "What big teeth you have grandma..."
Image: M. Lynes
BSBI's series of Handbooks for difficult plants are among the society's most popular publications

Following a revamp of the BSBI website, they now have a page all of their own

The rumour is that insiders are now placing bets on which will be the next Handbook to go to press. 

Will it be the Alchemilla (lady's-mantles) Handbook, whose author Mark Lynes regularly tweets tantalising photos of specimens he's working on? Mark has recently submitted an Alchemilla manuscript to British & Irish Botany - exciting!

Tim Rich talking about Gentians at the
2018 Recorders' Conference
Image: S. Whild
Or will it be Mike Shaw's forthcoming Handbook on southern hawkweeds? 

At a recent meeting of BSBI's Publications Committee, Chair John Poland reported that work is going well and Mike hopes to publish very soon.

We also heard at the 2018 Recorders' Conference that ace botanist Tim Rich of Plant Crib fame is planning, with fellow top botanist Andy McVeigh, to publish a handbook on Gentians (see slide 2 of Tim's fabulous Gentian PPT here).

Irina working on willow specimens
Image courtesy of SLBI
And now here's a wild card: Roy Vickery has sent me a photo (below right) of willow expert Irina Belyaeva working on herbarium specimens of willows Salix spp. at the South London Botanical Institute with a note saying "Irina is working on SLBI's willow specimens for the BSBI's new Willow Handbook which she hopes to complete by the end of the year".

So place your bets now - which will be BSBI Handbook #19: lady's-mantles, as expected? Or Mike Shaw's southern hawkweeds? Will Tim Rich come up on the inside lane and reach the finishing line first? Or will Irina's new Willow Handbook pip all other contenders to the post? Or maybe it will be a dead heat! 

One thing's certain - you'll need to clear some space on your bookshelves to make way for all these forthcoming BSBI Handbooks!

Tuesday 26 February 2019

Oxfordshire Flora Group: conference

David Morris, County Recorder for Oxfordshire, has been in touch to tell us about a forthcoming conference in his neck of the woods. 

Over to David:

"On Saturday 9th March the Oxfordshire Flora Group (OFG) are hosting a day conference at CEH Wallingford. The conference, which the group puts on every couple of years, is a social occasion for local botanists to come together to discuss local botanical issues. This year we’ll be hearing talks on and discussing ‘The Dynamics of the Oxfordshire Flora’.

"The conference follows on from the publication last year of the county’s Rare Plant Register, called Oxfordshire’s Threatened Plants. Authored by OFG members Susan Erskine, John Killick (former recorder for VC23) and Camilla Lambrick and Thames Valley Environmental Records Centre data officer Ellen Lee, the book illustrates the ups and downs (mostly downs) of our flora. 

Marsh mallow: nationally 
scarce but recorded 
in 2018 in Oxfordshire
Image: D. Morris
"Camilla and Susan will be giving a talk about some of the dynamics illustrated by their book and which they have seen first hand over many years studying our local flora. 

"We are also fortunate to have Andy Byfield and Keith Kirby to share their extensive experience of studying and conserving plants in our area.

"I will also be giving a talk, which once I’ve found the time to write it will have the title ‘A future for the flora of Oxfordshire?’ As the hard work of the OFG has shown, the future of our plants is bound up with botanists, but are they as threatened as some of our local rarities? Given the long history of botanical recording in Oxfordshire, I will therefore be asking, are we doing enough to keep the tradition alive? How could I also resist but to allude to life after Atlas 2020.

"So, much to look forward to. If you think so too, then the OFG would be delighted if you could join us. 

"Here's the conference flyer with details of how to book".

Wednesday 20 February 2019

News from BSBI's Training Team (supported by Byron's Gin)

T&E: John Warren (Chair) behind his laptop
Image: L. Marsh
BSBI's Training & Education Committee (T&E) met earlier this month for their twice-yearly meeting and it was time to ring the changes.

First of all, we welcomed a new Chair: John Warren, interviewed on these pages just two days ago, when he talked about some of his ideas around how BSBI can help support the next generation of botanists - from plant-based activity packs for Watch Group leaders and those in the Scouting Movement, to looking at training resources linked to every level of the Skills Pyramid

John has some exciting ideas and we look forward to hearing more about them on these pages. 

Byron's Gin: labels on the
back of the bottles bear
the BSBI logo!
John is going to be building on the excellent work carried out by T&E with Sarah Whild and Sue Townsend at the helm - for example the BSBI's Field Identification Skills Certificates (FISCs) which Sarah and Sue pioneered. FISCs have now become accepted as the industry standard for determining an individual's level of botanical skills in the field and in the lab. This year, alongside the two regular FISC centres in Kent and Shropshire, FISCs are on offer in Devon, Somerset, Norfolk, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire. It's great to be rolling FISCs out across England and it's hoped they will soon be available in Scotland, Ireland and Wales. 

Identiplant, the online plant ID course, is also fully booked up for the year ahead, with students and tutors from the Channel Isles to Ireland to Shetland ready to get started with their online tuition.

Applications came flooding in throughout January for BSBI training grants, whether for Identiplant or for some of the short botanical training courses on offer across Britain and Ireland. Applications have now closed and the successful applicants will be notified soon. 

John Warren (centre) chairing T&E, flanked by
botanical trainer Mark Duffell (left)
and T&E Secretary Alex Prendergast (right)
Image: L Marsh
Following the recent revamp of the BSBI website, there are new pages for training courses, grants, and resources for trainers. They are all accessible via the old training page which has a much more streamlined look. 

One other bit of news: the Training Team has started to plan its next Training the Trainers meeting, pencilled in for this autumn - watch this space for updates!

Two things that haven't changed about BSBI's training programme: we are still committed to supporting the next generation of botanists; and we are still grateful for the continued support we enjoy from Byron's Gin - for every bottle sold, BSBI receives a contribution to help fund our training programme and support those next generation botanists. Cheers!

Sunday 17 February 2019

Botanical University Challenge: another starter for ten

John teaching at Aberystwyth University
Image courtesy of J. Warren
The second Botanical University Challenge (BUC) is taking place at the University of Reading on 20th February and I caught up with its founder, John Warren, to find out more. News & Views readers will recognise John’s name as one of the authors of this article in Times Higher Education about the decline in the teaching of field biology skills.

LM: So John, I gather BUC was originally your idea! Before you tell us the story behind it, could you just remind us what exactly it is?

JW: A nice easy starter for ten question. It’s a botanical quiz competition for university and college students, based on the long-established BBC TV University Challenge format. Except all the questions are botanical in nature.

LM: So now take us right back to the beginning – how did you come up with the BUC idea and why?

The Edge Hill team from BUC 2016
featuring ace botanist Josh Styles!
JW: The idea originated when I was Director of Education in the Biology Department of Aberystwyth University. I was lucky enough to be able to abuse my authority and enjoy the privilege of tutoring all the plant scientists. Every week the botanists met in a pub, where we could talk plants. My first experience of doing this radically changed by thinking and eventually led to BUC...

My new first year botanists were sat together in the pub for the first time. I took a back seat and let them get to know each other. One said, they had never before felt comfortable telling anyone else that they were a botanist and interested in plants. It was like being at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting (I imagine). Sadly, all of them had been ridiculed at school for being interested in plants, even by their teachers.

Lush vegetation on PNG
Image: J. Warren
BUC was then established not just to promote botanical knowledge but also to allow young botanists the opportunity to meet other like-minded individuals. 

LM: So the first BUC took place at RBG Kew in 2016; News & Views readers may remember seeing this report asking for questions to be submitted for a second BUC but that never took place. This was around the time you headed over to Papua New Guinea so I’m wondering if these two things were related? Want to tell us more?

JW: The two things were unconnected. Except working and living in PNG was another great botanical opportunity that came along, so I was quick to grab it. I have visited rainforests in Amazonia, West Africa, the Borneo and the Caribbean, but nothing had prepared me for the botanical diversity of East New Britain Province in PNG. The diversity of orchids and ferns in particular is simply staggering. It’s a small island south of the Wallace line that has never been connected to the rest of PNG or Australia. 

Botanical diversity on PNG
Image: J. Warren
LM: So then you moved back from PNG to UK in August 2018 and now we have another BUC to look forward to! Who is taking part this time?

JW: From the start my old friend Jonathan Mitchley at Reading University has been involved in organising BUC, that’s why he is hosting it this year. He has pulled together a strong local team, including BSBI member GeorgeGarnett. We also have teams from Edge Hill University, Southampton, RBG Kew, Liverpool and Manchester Metropolitan, with all of them in with a shout of lifting the trophy.

LM: So apart from BUC, what are your plans now you’re back in the UK? You’ve just become Chair of BSBI’s Training &Education Committee so I guess you’ll be picking up on some of the ideas you set out in the THE article?

John (centre) chairing the recent T&E meeting,
flanked by botanical trainer Mark Duffell (left)
and T&E Secretary Alex Prendergast (right)
Image: L. Marsh
JW: I am in the fortunate position that I don’t need to look for paid employment, so I can spend more time growing plants. More importantly I am keen on inspiring future generations of botanists. That’s why I was delighted to take on the task of chairing the BSBI’s Training & Education Committee (T&E). I have always felt immensely lucky for the education I received at Newcastle with Prof John Richards [LM: Prof Richards is another eminent BSBI member!]. Unfortunately, opportunities for young botanists are not as easily accessed as they once were, and I feel that we as a society need to be doing more to support young botanists. 
LM: So how can BSBI help support the next generation of botanists?

JW: That’s a good question, and something the T&E are actively working on. We want to be developing training resources across all levels of the skills pyramid. However, we do think there is an urgent need to focus on entry level skills for the very young, and smart phone generation. We are thinking about plant-based activity packs for Watch Group leaders and for those in the Scouting Movement.

LM: Food for thought there! Now you’re back in UK and flying the flag for botanical training, I hope you’ll be a regular contributor to these pages John. Good luck for Wednesday and do report back on the second BUC!

Monday 11 February 2019

British & Irish Botany: first issue published

Ian Denholm, B&IB Editor-in-Chief
Image: L. Marsh
We are delighted to announce that the first issue of British & Irish Botany (B&IB), our replacement for New Journal of Botany, has now been published.

We hope that with this new online journal we are keeping all the advantages of its predecessor - great papers from some of Britain and Ireland's finest botanists and a helpful team to support prospective authors - while making the new journal even more accessible and user-friendly, for authors, readers and researchers. 

We think we've achieved that and at a much lower cost than with New Journal of Botany, freeing up funds that can be re-directed towards BSBI's core activities, ie our training, research and outreach programmes. 

Check out this presentation by Editor-in-Chief Ian Denholm to see just how much of a financial saving we are making! 

Detail of rare plant found only in Cheddar Gorge
Want to know what it is?
You'll have to read British & Irish Botany!
Image: T. Rich
Ian said "Our ambition behind setting up B&IB was to produce an online journal that would be  entirely free to publish in, entirely free to anyone who wants to read or download articles, and as accessible and user-friendly as possible to all potential authors. It has been a steep learning curve to adapt proprietary software to meet our needs, but now that we are underway please do consider submitting a full research paper, a short report or a topical review article. If in doubt about its suitability, we are here to advise and help." 

So, what's in this first issue? 69 pages covering five papers on subjects ranging from mistletoe growing on oaks to Clive Stace and fellow taxonomists talking about dog-roses; from one rare arctic-alpine plant growing on Ben Lawers to another rare plant growing in Cheddar gorge; and we look at responses of moorland vegetation to 20 years of conservation management in two Cairngorm glens. 

But here's the best thing of all...

Mistletoe growing on oak
Image: J. Box
In the past, whenever I told you about the great papers in a new issue of New Journal of Botany, this was the point at which I'd have to say 'sorry, but you can only see these papers if you are a BSBI member' - no more! British & Irish Botany is open access, free to all - member or non-member, everybody can read or publish in this new journal completely free of charge. 

So please head over to the new British & Irish Botany website, read all About the journal, find out who is on the Editorial Team, and who to contact if you want to discuss a submission, find out how to register as a reader or as an author and check our Privacy Policy to be reassured that we won't be passing on your email address to any third parties... and then head over here to find out about the first issue and start downloading papers. 

Let us know here what you think about our new journal. We hope you will enjoy reading our first issue and will register to receive alerts about subsequent issues.