Wednesday 24 April 2019

BSBI's Irish Spring Conference 2019: Part Two

Getting ready to get to grips with Callitriche ID
Image: F. O'Neill
In the first part of Erin's report on this year's Irish Spring Conference, we left her heading off for lunch following the morning's talks, having just heard Maria's announcement about the forthcoming Aquatic Plants Project. Erin picks up the story again: 

"Following on with the aquatic theme, I opted for the workshop on Callitriche/water-starworts over the Spring Blossoms tour. Callitriche is a difficult genus, occurring in a wide variety of habitats terrestrial, aquatic and semi amphibious with variable vegetative features as a result. Here to help demystify Callitriche was Lynda Weekes from IT Tralee. In order to appeal to the beginners and intermediates in the audience, Lynda focused on a simplified list of features of leaves and fruit suitable for use in the field. 

Callitriche herbarium specimens
Image: E. Griffin
"There are seven known Callitriche species in Ireland, C. truncata, C. stagnalis, C. platycarpa, C. palustris, C. obtusangula, C. hermaphroditica and C. brutia. Lynda pointed out that although leaves are a good indicator of species, they are quite variable and can change with habitat/water level. For example, C. obtusangula has leaves rhomboidal in shape in still water and linear in flowing water. In this case, fruits (and pollen for subspecies) are needed for positive identification. For C. obtusangula the fruit would noticeably have no keel, the grooves of the fruit hardly present to almost flat and when ripe the fruit would be as long as it is wide. After Lynda’s presentation, members took a closer look at Callitriche using herbarium specimens kindly provided by the National Botanic Gardens.

David starts his quiz
Image: O. Duffy
"Next up was quiz time with David McNeill! With rounds of 'guess the plant from its distribution' or three seemingly unrelated pictures, to naming prominent BSBI members, David had the entire conference putting their heads together. A nice break-up from the talks and a good opportunity to get to know your team members.

"Flash talks was everything I hoped it would be: a diverse range of topics, cut into bite size chunks and delivered in short bursts of 5-10 minutes. Over the course of 45 mins I learned about an up and coming book, a missing plant rediscovered and an entirely novel use for Google street view.

"Up first was Roger Goodwillie (County Recorder for Kilkenny) offering a rare glimpse of the winter Burren, a landscape famed for its flowering season. Roger took the time to walk us through the winter Burren and point out the plants and rare sights we don’t see when the Burren is at full bloom. Some notable mentions are Sedum acre (biting stonecrop), Sedum album (white stonecrop), trees covered in Ivy and liverwort, and the important grazers such as horses and cattle.

Daniel starts his flash talk about black poplars
Image: C. Heardman
"Daniel Buckley (Conservation Ranger with the National Parks and Wildlife Service) maps on Ireland’s rarest tree, the black poplar. Through the use of Google street view, an unlikely tool, Daniel was able to locate these distinctly shaped trees. This method allowed him to quickly find and later identify the species onsite. Daniel was able to improve upon the existing studies on black poplar which were vague and lacked resolution and even confirmed the tree's presence in Kerry. He also propagated a representative sample of black poplar in his garden in the name of conservation.

John Conaghan (County Recorder for west Galway) detailed his rediscovery of Silene acaulis (moss campion), a rare montane species that has been missing for the past 120 years. First recorded in 1839 by Charles Moore and recorded last at Dunaff head in East  Donegal, growing in a place ‘where not many people would care to linger over’. Enlisting the help of the local County Recorders, Mairéad Crawford and Oisín Duffy, John was able to rediscover S. acaulis on the east side of Dunaff head.

Mairead captured Oisin & John hunting toothworts
 in the Botanic Gardens during the lunch-break!
Image: M. Crawford
"Up next, Fionnuala O’Neill (BEC Consultants) gave an update on the conservation status of six rare vascular plants as part of a rare plant monitoring survey. The six plants mentioned were Trichomanes speciosum (Killarney fern), Diphasiastrum alpinum (Alpine clubmoss), Saxifraga hirculus (marsh saxifrage), Lycopodium clavatum (Staghorn clubmoss), Lycopodium inundatum (marsh clubmoss) and Huperzia selago (Fir clubmoss). The clubmoss group have suffered loss of habitat with agricultural improvement and drainage, the most threatened clubmoss being the marsh clubmoss due to its lowland habitat. The Killarney fern is of least concern because all its attributes are in good condition and the marsh saxifrage is near threatened because of habitat loss.

"Joe Caffrey (Inland Fisheries Ireland) talked about his up and coming book ‘Photographic guide to aquatic and riparian plants in Ireland’. The book, aimed at the general botanist, has documented over 250 species. A sneak peek at the pages which are mainly photos, and we could see a concise profile of habitat, useful diagnostic features, distribution, flowering period, ecology and even the species name in Irish. A useful aid for any botanists wishing to become more familiar with aquatic species.

Paul's dead-nettle workshop was very popular!
Image: O. Duggan
"‘20 sites, 20 species’ by Mark O’Callaghan (OPW and NPWS Guide at multiple sites) discussed the conservation work in nature reserves across Ireland. Unfortunately, I can’t list the full 20 but some notable mentions were Salvelinus alpinus (arctic char) in Glenveagh to the Cygnus cygnus (whooper swan) at Coolepark, Filipendula ulmaria (meadowsweet) in the Burren and the Lagopus scotica (red grouse) in the Wicklow mountains. Mark emphasised the importance of the reserves to these species, while playing audio of the bird calls. A first at a BSBI conference!

"Finally, Noeleen Smyth (Botanist at the National Botanic Gardens) told the story of frankincense, a fascinating desert plant that has been heavily traded on the Arabian Peninsula for more than 6000 years, now a threatened species with poor regeneration. Typically used in embalming and religious ceremonies, frankincense became widespread through the silk trade and was once worth as much as gold in Rome. The trade has become largely uncontrolled and exploitative but thankfully the plant is soon to be listed within CITES. Noeleen passed some of the aromatic resin around the auditorium.

The master in action: Paul de-mystifying dead-nettles
Image: C. Heardman
"This was followed by a hands-on workshop with Paul Green (Country Recorder for Co. Wexford) on dead-nettles or a free slot to explore the gardens. Paul provided a key to dead-nettles and yellow archangels. The main dead-nettles in Ireland are Lamium album (White dead-nettle), Lamium maculatum (spotted dead-nettle), Lamium amplexicaule (Henbit dead-nettle), Lamium confertum (Northern Dead-nettle), Lamium purpureum (red dead-nettle) and Lamium hybridum (cut-leaved dead-nettle). The most difficult of these to differentiate are the cut-leaved, red and northern dead-nettle for their similar reddish-purple flower. Training your eye to the finer details is essential as the length of the calyx tube or slight differences between leaf veins can be all that separates you from proper identification. I really appreciated having an expert on-site to talk through the key and gained a greater appreciation for these workshops.

Happy botanists after a great conference!
Oonagh Duggan (Assistant Head of Advocacy
& Policy for BirdWatch Ireland)
takes a selfie with Ralph Sheppard,
County Recorder for West Donegal:
they are both birders as well as botanists! 
"To round off the day Maria Long announced the quiz results which crowned the team ‘The starworts’ (but with a star!) as the winners (not to be confused with the starworts without a star, which was my group!). Maria gave a special thanks to all the guest speakers and all who attended. The conference concluded with networking, food and drinks in the nearby pub.

"I really enjoyed attending my first BSBI conference. There was an aquatic theme throughout the event. It was really great to see the BSBI address this problem of under-recording and move forward with solutions. This is an excellent event for all levels of botanist, and as a newcomer I found the BSBI community very welcoming. The event allows plenty of time for networking and attracts a really great crowd. I am already looking forward to next year’s line-up. If you missed the conference, you can find many of the presentations on the conference webpage."

Many thanks to Erin for this report - we're delighted that she enjoyed her first BSBI Irish Conference!

1 comment:

  1. Such interesting things going on in the world of botany; particularly the clever use of Google Maps! I hope the next conference will be equally enlightening :)


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