Tuesday 30 July 2019

Melancholy Thistle: in Byron's Gin but is it a national symbol?

Melancholy thistle
Image: P Stroh
There are five thistles native to Scotland but nobody is 100% certain which one is the national symbol, found on coins, ancient and modern, and on heraldic devices. 

Four of them are in the genus Cirsium: spear thistle C. vulgare; marsh thistle C. palustre; creeping thistle C. arvense and melancholy thistle C. heterophyllum

The fifth is Carlina vulgaris, the carline thistle. 

The so-called Scotch thistle Ornopodium acanthium - which looks most like the stylised thistle seen on modern coins - is an archaeophyte. 

The Online Flora of the British Isles tells us that there is archaeological evidence for it in Britain from the Iron Age onwards but as this distribution map shows, it has a mostly southern distribution. 

Spear thistle
Image courtesy of Floral Images
That hasn't stopped it being, as Flora Celtica tells us, "widely accepted as the genuine article: Scotch thistles are planted every year in the gardens of Holyroodhouse in honour of the Queen's visit and a small patch, said to have been planted by Mary Queen of Scots, grows at the site of her execution in Fotheringay Castle".

For all that, the abundant and ubiquitous spear thistle is arguably a stronger candidate and looks more like the thistle seen on early coins. 

While there may be disagreement about which thistle deserves to be the Scottish national symbol, it's 100% certain which thistle is found in Byron's Gin! Not only is the lovely  melancholy thistle one of the ingredients, it actually gives its name to one of the two expressions of Byron's Gin. 

But whichever of the two expressions you opt for - either Melancholy Thistle or Bird Cherry - you can be sure that for every bottle sold, a contribution goes towards BSBI's Training programme which helps support the next generation of botanists as they hone their ID skills.      

Friday 26 July 2019

BSBI Summer Meeting 2019: postscript

Limestone pavement
near FSC Malham Tarn
Image: Dave Barlow
After all the excitement of the week-long BSBI Annual Summer Meeting (ASM) 2019, I asked organiser Jonathan Shanklin to give us a bit of an overview of the week. 

He said "The FSC Malham Tarn centre proved an excellent venue for the ASM. The centre is set in a scenic location overlooking the Tarn, with easy access by foot to several interesting sites. Many others were not far away and we visited a few of them as a group, with some members taking time off to pay independent visits. The classrooms at the centre provided space for talks and ID sessions, which are an essential part of the ASM – not everything can be identified in the field". 

So how many squares were visited and how many plant records were collected for Atlas 2020? "It will take a while to collate all the records, but we visited at least 25 tetrads, so there will be over 4000 records to type in – some of the recorders were entering in the evening, and some have already sent them in on arrival home. Above all we were very lucky with the weather – it only rained when most people were beginning to head home on the Friday".

So what did Jonathan himself do to wind down after a week of organising excursions and recording? You guessed it - he did a bit more recording! 

Dryopteris submontana
Image: Dave Barlow
"Friday morning was a whirl of packing and saying goodbye, then off for some recording. Unfortunately whilst the weather had been great all week, it changed with rain on and off all day. I headed for an under-recorded limestone pavement area (amazing that there still are such places), but started on the general area of the first monad. I did begin to wonder whether I would get to 100 species never mind the target of at least 120. 

"Fortunately the pavement made a difference, with Ribes spicatum being a great start. Dryopteris submontana was more or less exactly where the grid reference said. Elsewhere a cave looked as if it might provide interest, but there wasn't much more than a hole in the ground, however it marked the start of a flush which ran uphill which provided a good range of species including Isolepis setacea which was my first sighting of the week. By the time I got back to the car it was gone 5pm, so I abandoned plans for a second tetrad - just as well, as five minutes later the rain turned torrential!

Jonathan is now back on his home turf in Cambridge and is writing up a full report of the week for the September issue of BSBI News so watch out for that if you're a BSBI member. And if you're not - well, you'll just have to join BSBI so you can enjoy three copies each year of our very popular members' newsletter - it's one of the many perks of BSBI membership.

Thursday 25 July 2019

BSBI Science & Research Grants: supporting botanists in 2019

Jenn surveying in Strontian
with the help of
BSBI's Sedge Handbook
Image courtesy of J. Clayton
Following on from last month's account of how a BSBI Training Grant helped botanist Huw hone his ID skills on difficult higher plants, this month we bring you Jenn's account of how a BSBI Science & Research Grant helped her fund her research into Saltmarsh Sedge. 

Over to Jenn: 

"Four years ago, I started at Edge Hill University studying Biology. Myself and a friend, discontent with our mundane work and lack of prospects within the customer service industry, decided to take a leap and plunge ourselves back into education. Edge Hill’s Fastrack course was the apt choice and so I applied and was accepted onto Fastrack Biology, ultimately completing a BSc in Biology three years later.

"During these three years, my focus transitioned from human genetics to ecology; in my youth I’d always enjoyed engaging with nature, and sadly during my progression into adulthood I seemed to forget that. Botany ultimately dominated my study interest, with my undergraduate dissertation being a morphometric study considering hybridisation between Hyacinthoides non-scripta (English Bluebell) and H. hispanica (Spanish Bluebell) but yet I never quite lost the fascination with the developing field of genetics. This, coupled with a love of research, enticed me to pursue a MRes degree in which I could incorporate both ecology and genetics, and what better species to consider than a new UK coloniser?

Carex salina
Image: J. Clayton
"Carex salina (Saltmarsh Sedge) was first discovered upon Scotland’s west coast in 2004 by Keith Hutcheon. It is a stable hybrid of Carex sect. Phacocystis, however its parental species C. subspathacea (Hoppner’s Sedge) and C. paleacea (Chaffy Sedge), prominent in North America and Scandinavia, are absent from the UK. C. salina is also associated with low fertility, as no fertile specimens were found in the UK between 2004 and 2006 but the species has still dispersed to five other sites since its discovery in Morvich. With a lack of local parental species and a seemingly poor ability to disperse via sexual reproduction, interesting questions in relation to the species distribution and dispersal have been raised. Is the species spreading clonally? If clonal, what is the extent of clonality within and between sites? Are we looking at a single clone dispersing, or multiple colonisations? This is where my MRes project comes in.

Carex salina samples being prepared
 for lab analysis

Image: J. Clayton
I’m investigating the inter and intraspecific levels of genetic variation of all six sites (Morvich, Strontian, Loch Sunart, Loch Nevis, Loch Long, and Bettyhill) in the hopes to answer these questions. In layman’s terms, I’m looking at how genetically similar each individual sedge is both within its populations, and between each of the population sites in Scotland. DNA will be extracted and then analysed; any genetically identical individuals will be considered clonal relatives, with consideration to how somatic mutations can transform the overall picture. C. salina will also be collected in Tromsø, Norway for comparative material, as comparison with the Norwegian samples will allow the variation in Scotland to be put in a wider context against a long established population. 

Patch of Carex salina
Image: J. Clayton
Now despite the fact I am utterly delighted to be involved in such an interesting project, it is a demanding one and so I did have to make the decision to leave my job in retail and focus on this project full time. This had its perks, but the major drawback is of course the lack of income, so as a self-funded student it was vital I applied for funding firstly to help support myself during my studies, but secondly to fund the important sample collection in Scotland and Norway; I applied for three grants in the end, and was very thankful to secure all of them.

Two of these grants were graciously offered by the BSBI. Firstly the Science and Research Grant which funded my Scottish leg of the fieldwork, and the Plant Study Grant (which I will write all about in my next blog post!) which will not only contribute towards my student expenses, but in conjunction with the Botanical Research Grant will help fund that all important comparative sample collection in Norway.

Driving through Glencoe NNR
Image: J. Clayton
My Scottish fieldwork consisted of driving up to the highlands at the end of May and sampling four of the six sites. My partner and myself drove from Ormskirk, Lancashire to Strontian (which took the best part of 10 hours, but we were thankfully met with some fantastic views from our accommodation), before heading out in the morning to survey both populations (Strontian and Loch Sunart) in the area.

Surveying consisted of locating the species and collecting individuals for DNA extractions (as well as a voucher specimen). Thankfully we had some grid references, but because of its small height, C. salina can be a bit tricky to find; we found C. nigra can also look suspiciously similar! We then travelled to Mallaig where the following morning we had hired a private boat for half a day to transport us down Loch Nevis to a very rural population in Camusrory (also situated on Loch Nevis is Inverie, home of Britian’s remotest pub!). Once we’d returned, we travelled up to Morvich, nestling down in another lovely little lodge to prepare for a final day of sampling before returning to England.

Sea Thrift growing at the Loch Sunart site
 Image: J. Clayton
Amongst the C. salina populations we also identified Glaux Maritima (Sea Milkwort), Plantago maritima (Sea Plantain), Juncus gerardii (Saltmarsh Rush), and Blysmus rufus (Saltmarsh Flat-Sedge) with Armeria maritima (Sea Thrift) being the most commonly encountered species, creating mottled carpets of pink and green across the saltmarshes.

From this trip, we collected 81 individual samples from all four saltmarshes, travelled over 800 miles, and surveyed for nine hours, all completed in four days; during this time I have been immersed in the beauty and botanical diversity of an important habitat, witnessed iconic wildlife such as Golden Eagles and Porpoises, and experienced a true gem of these magnificent Isles.

Carex salina voucher specimens stored in
silica gel - they have now been
mounted as herbarium samples
Image: J. Clayton
"Without the vital funding from the BSBI, the outcomes of this trip and all of its experiences would not have been as fortunate, if even achievable. It’s very likely an entire population (Loch Nevis) would not have even been surveyed without this grant, as it provided the opportunity for us to access a considerably inaccessible site.

"These grants don’t just provide the means to fund necessities like accommodation and travel, they also provide skills and experiences that are best developed in the field, and the enhanced opportunities that come from the successful completion of this work. BSBI also offers the option for myself to publish these findings in one of their publications, which will disseminate my work out into a wider audience. These grants really do make a difference.

Saltmarsh site at Morvich
Image: J. Clayton
"With this, I’d like to take the opportunity to thank the BSBI for not just their financial support through their grants, but for helping to support the careers of budding young researchers and botanists such as myself. The memories of our sedge related adventure in the Scottish Highlands will stay with us forever, and I implore everyone to take advantage of all the opportunities offered by fantastic societies such as BSBI".

Well, if Jenn's story doesn't gladden your heart, lift your spirits, and make you glad to be a BSBI member - or make you want to join, if you haven't already - then... well let's just say I'd be astonished! If her story is ringing bells, maybe you were at last year's BSBI Exhibition Meeting at Edge Hill and saw Jenn's poster about her research? And maybe you ran into Jenn herself? She was helping with the very popular behind-the-scenes tours of Edge Hill's facilities for biologists.

Boat trip to Camusrory from Mallaig
Image: J. Clayton
Many thanks to Jenn - I can't wait to read her follow-up blogpost about how her BSBI Plant Study Grant helped her fund other aspects of her research. 

A reminder that Science & Research Grants cover travel and consumables, whereas Plant Study Grants cover tuition and/ or bench fees. Just because you get one, there's no guarantee you'll get the other - in fact it's quite rare. These two grants are awarded by completely different panels - the fact that Jenn was able to impress both panels is an indication of how strong her applications were. 

Great work Jenn! 

Saturday 20 July 2019

BSBI Summer Meeting 2019: Day Six

Botanists assemble ready for  the day's excursions
Image: D. Morris
We're in the home stretch now of the week-long BSBI Annual Summer Meeting and the last report we heard was from Chris, reporting on Day Five

We haven't heard from David Morris, BSBI County Recorder for Oxfordshire, since Day Two but he's back today to give us his final report.

Over to David:

"We don’t get hills in Oxfordshire, so for the recording outings this week I have been making the most of being up here and getting up onto the fells. The rougher terrain has not been well recorded and my efforts have been rewarded so far, e.g. a long day’s recording on Tuesday gave us re-finds of Dryas octopetala (mountain avens) and Sorbus rupicola (rock whitebeam) in historically known sites and new sites for rare plants such as Polygala amarella (dwarf milkwort).

Purple saxifrage
Image: D. Barlow
"For the last full day of the meeting, Dave Barlow and I headed up the famous local hill Pen y Ghent, well known for rarities like Saxifraga oppositifolia (purple saxifrage). The rest of the flora of this fell has not been surveyed for the Atlas, and with four tetrads covering the summit plateau it provided the opportunity to collect lots of useful data.

"Dave and I slogged up the hill in good time, finding Saxifraga oppositifolia on the band of Carboniferous limestone that runs around the middle of the fell. There were also some good hawkweeds on the limestone cliffs, like the endemic Hieracium brigantum, and we found a few plants of Minuartia verna (spring sandwort) still in flower. 

"We spent a while recording the moorland on the top and the flanks of the hill, picking up typical montane plants like Carex bigelowii (stiff sedge) and Rubus chamaemorus (cloudberry), both growing in abundance.

Image: D. Morris
"Records from the BSBI Distribution Database (DDb) directed some of our efforts, pointing us to a precarious area of fellside to look for Salix herbacea (dwarf willow). We looked but could not find it, and admired the grit of the botanist who originally found it there.

"Heading down from the fell the flora became more varied with decreasing altitude and increasing influence of the limestone. 

"A lovely gully had lots of hawkweeds, including Hieracium coniops. I’ve been enjoying learning more about Hieracium in the company of Dave and using the excellent book by Vincent Jones on the hawkweeds of Yorkshire. 

"With permission of the author, Dave has digitised the book to make it available to as many botanists as are interested in hawkweeds – if you would like a copy I’m sure Dave would be delighted to be contacted about it".

David Morris looking for hawkweeds
on Pen y Ghent
Image: D. Barlow
If you're keen to learn about northern hawkweeds, you could try Tim Rich's online key. For southern hawkweeds, you'll have to wait for Mike Shaw's BSBI Handbook to southern hawkweeds, due out next spring. 

For more news from this year's BSBI Summer Meeting, you could check out this blogpost by David Broughton, County Recorder for both mid-west Yorkshire and Huntingdonshire, and this blogpost by Colin who reported here on Day Three. Huge thanks to all the people who sent reports and photos over the past week so that everyone could follow the action from this year's Meeting!

For the final report, we'll have to wait for organiser Jonathan Shanklin to count up all the squares bashed and all the plants recorded for Atlas 2020. Watch this space for an overview of the entire week!

Thursday 18 July 2019

BSBI Summer Meeting 2019: Day Five

From left: Russell, Alison,
Hilary, Good King Henry & Kay
Image: C. Smith
After yesterday's blogpost by Kate, today we hand over to Chris who gives us his top ten tips for botanising in Litton, including a right royal tea-break, a Tunnock's tea-cake (always a good idea!) and a post-botany pint:

"Wednesday is the middle of the BSBI Annual Summer Meeting when initial energy levels may have dissipated, but enthusiasm sustains. Five of us - myself, Kay, Russell, Alison and Hilary - picked Littondale as a good midweek location for botanising in a Yorkshire Dale.  Here are our top ten tips for enjoyable botanising in Litton.

1. Many hands make light work
A BSBI meeting gives a chance to socialise and learn from other people. With five botanists to help the record card reached 100 species on the village's main street and verges, against the backdrop of some delightful gardens and the Queens Arms pub.

Marsh arrow-grass
Image: D. Morris
2. Old ways are the best
Litton has a lovely network of ancient footpaths and the byways of the village gave us more common species before arrival at the Skirfare Brook. 
The brook was completely and unexpectedly dry - a phenomenon known as a winterbourne in the south of England, where river water drains through the bed of the river during the low flow of the summer months. It also made access over the non-river very easy and safe - new species were Northern scurvy-grass (Cochlearia pyrenaica) and mossy saxifrage (Saxifraga hypnoides).

3. Make hay while the sun shines and record before the hay gets cut
There has been good weather in the Yorkshire Dales and the farmers were cutting hay meadows round Litton. A public footpath lead the group across the valley base and an upland hay meadow full of rich grass, clover, salad burnet, great burnet and the so-called "meadow-maker" the hemi-parasitic yellow rattle nearly ready for its cut. 

4. You'll always find two new species when you stop for cup of tea
Kay, Russell & the coppery monkey-flower
Image: C. Smith
A stop for a cup of tea and a Tunnock's teacake quickly proved the theory here, Bracken on the more acidic soils of the north side of the valley and Good King Henry (Chenopodium bonus-henricus) around an old mounting block in the lane. 
Good King Henry is a declining species in the UK, which seems relatively common around yards with old cattle barns in the Dales. 
It is a perennial species grown as an alternative to spinach and also known as poor-man's asparagus, but now only relatively rarely cultivated. 

5. Fresh air and companionship sustains an enjoyable day
After tea break the lanes northwards had stone walls and hedges. Wild gooseberries were ripe and small patches of calcaerous grassland had thyme (Thymus polytrichus), primrose (Primula vulgaris) and limestone bedstraw (Galium sterneri). 
The alternatives for the second half of the walk was a steep uphill walk or a walk back via the meadows. Hilary and Alison decided to enjoy their day by shortcut back to the village and a cup of afternoon coffee at the Queen's Head. Their pottering in the village gained an introduction to a proud local house owner and an offer to see her wild flower meadow.
Myself, Russell and Kay walked further up the valley, finding Good King Henry twice more and also coppery monkey-flower (Mimulus x burnetii).

Melancholy thistle
Image: C. Smith
6. You win some, you lose some
We had hoped for limestone pavement in the second visited monad above Nether Helseden, but the limestone was quite broken and few new species were found. Negative records from comprehensive surveys are good data for Atlas 2020, so knowing the diversity of the grassland in the tetrad was helpful. 
Springs were dry on the hillside, but the hollow spring heads still supported marsh arrow-grass (Triglochin palustris), yellow sedge (Carex lepidocarpa) and star sedge (Carex echinata), and made for a good lunch spot.

7. Always expect the unexpected
The lanes returning from Halton Gill had wide uncut verges filled with sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata). Melancholy thistle (Cirsium heterophyllum) was a cheery Cirsium species to see, but more unexpected were the giant blooms of giant bellflower (Campanula latifolia) as well as peach-leaved (C. persicifolia) and nettle-leaved (C. trachelium). 

8. Binoculars are good for botanists as well as birdwatchers
Giant bellflower
Image: C. Smith
Binoculars are very helpful for identifying species when walking a tetrad and time or access don't permit a close view.
Heather was added on the hilltops and Carex acuta and a second Mimulus guttata by the river. We also say large flocks of post-breeding lapwings on the shingle spits of the still flowing upper reaches of the river.

9. A quick snip saves time

Woodland was a new habitat for the day and hairy brome (Bromopsis ramosa) reached over Kay's head from Springs Wood. 

Brambles and roses are not easy to identify confidently in the field. A quick snip with pair of secateurs gathered material from two roses and a bramble.

The fieldwork was nicely rounded off by a pint of Theakstons in the Queen's Head.

Russell with essential botanist's kit:
the map, the Weatherwriter, the smartphone, the
pint of Theakston's and the satisfied smile.
The beard is optional.
Image: C. Smith

10. A botanist's work is never done
One of the other pleasures of BSBI field meets has been evening identification work in the Malham Tarn FSC classrooms, where the bag of cuttings confirmed Rosa mollis, R x mollis/vosagiaca and Rubus lindebergii.

These extra species raised totals for the tetrads to 160 and 193 - not a huge number, but all valuable records for the BSBI's Atlas 2020 project".

Many thanks to Colin for sharing these top ten tips for any botanist visiting a BSBI Summer Meeting! 

The teacake and the pint are both optional but the great plants and the equally great company are mandatory.

The botanists are in the home stretch now but there are still two more days of botanising to come, so watch this space for further reports. 

Wednesday 17 July 2019

BSBI Summer Meeting 2019: Day Four

Bellflowers and butterburs
Image: K. Tucker
Day Four of the BSBI Summer Meeting and after yesterday's hunt for rare plants in grykes today's report is by Kate. 

When I put out the call for people attending the Summer Meeting to help organiser Jon Shanklin by taking it in turns to write up the daily reports, Kate emailed me back "I'm happy to write a blogpost: I'm a novice so it would be a small way to reciprocate for all the brilliant support I get from Jon and all the other fabulous botanists!" 

What a great attitude and a tribute to how BSBI works: novices and old hands all pitching in together, sharing ID tips and having a great time! 

Rubus pruinosus
Image: K. Tucker
For the benefit of anyone just starting out with plant ID, I've inserted some links to ID resources from BSBI. 

But enough from me, over to Kate:    

"On Day Four, our first day of tetrad recording, our team of four visited Austwick, a small village on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. From there we walked through narrow paths and stone-walled lanes and across heavily grazed and improved fields to Austwick and Lawkland Mosses. The site is an SSSI and described as raised mire, birch woodland and herb-rich meadow. As a novice these are some of the things I loved about the day, in no particular order.

Sand Leek
Image: K. Tucker
"Stopping on the stone bridge across Auckland Beck and using the binoculars to identify a clump of showy, bright yellow Mimulus guttatus (Monkeyflower) one side of the bridge and Mimulus x robertsii (Hybrid Monkeyflower) on the other. The Mimulus guttatus had small red spots in the throat only, and the hybrid red spots both in the throat and on the petals.

"Having a Rubus fan, Ian, in our group and stopping in waist high rank vegetation to admire the distinctive deep red prickles on the Rubus pruinosus, found frequently in the Dales.

"Seeing my first Allium scorodoprasum (Sand Leek) in the lane from the village, with its purple bulbils, papery bracts and flat, rough-edged leaves.

"Watching the glossy Salix pentandra (Bay Willow), with its leaves like a bay tree, glisten in the sun at the entrance to the site where we had our lunch. According to the Woodland Trust they produce a yellow gum which smells like a bay leaf.

Bay Willow catkins
Image: K. Tucker
"Having a day of hybrids demonstrated excellently by David, our recorder for the day. They included: Cirsium x celakovskianum, a hybrid between Cirsium arvense (Creeping Thistle) and Cirsium palustre (Marsh Thistle), which had the appearance of Cirsium arvense plus the winged spines of Cirsium palustre on the stems; Crataegus (Hawthorn), using leaf shape and, later in the season, the sepals of the ripe fruit. I will need a refresher on this, but I have some leaves for reference! 

"Checking a Malus for hairs on the calex, pedicel and underside of the leaf. Even a few hairs rule out Malus sylvestris (Native Crab Apple). We did find a few scattered hairs.

Stinking Tutsan
Image: K. Tucker
"Bringing back a Dryopteris for a first attempt to key out a fern to find a dehisced sporangium is required, which I didn’t have. I will ask one of the fern experts here for help tomorrow. We did see other ferns identified in the field including Dryopteris filix-mas (Male Fern), Dryopteris dilatata (Broad Buckler-fern) and Dryopteris carthusiana (Narrow Buckler-fern). 

"Finding out later that Lawkland was the birthplace of seventeenth century botanist Thomas Lawson whose name has been given to a number of plants, including Hieracium lawsonii.

"Seeing a barn owl fly out of an old stone barn in the fields.

Tutsan (the non-stinky kind)
Image: K. Tucker
"Finding magnificent specimens of both Hypericum hircinum (Stinking Tutsan) and Hypericum androsaemum (Tutsan) and experiencing the pungent smell of the Stinking Tutsan.

"The tiny things - Roland spotting a delicate Veronica scutellata (Marsh Speedwell) with its fine grass-like leaves and finding a small Juncus bufonius (Toad Rush) in cattle trodden mud at a field gate.

"Although we were a bit short on sedges, they incuded Carex leporina (Oval Sedge), Carex echinata (Star Sedge), and Carex nigra (Black Sedge), all of which have names which helpfully describe their fruit.

Rosa mollis, smelling much nicer
than the Stinking Tutsan!

Image: K. Tucker
"David showing us the delicious Rosa mollis (Soft Downy Rose) which, when rubbed on the petiole and at the base of the hip, gives a sweet musky scent.

"Rounding off the day with a spectacular Yorkshire Dales assemblage of drystone wall, Campanula latifolia (Giant Bellflower) and Petasites hybridus (Butterbur).

Huge thanks to Kate for this report - but after a week in the field with her fellow botanists at the Summer Meeting, I think she's left her novice days well behind her!

You can see some more photos from Day Four of the Summer Meeting in this report by botanical trainer Judith Allinson

Tuesday 16 July 2019

BSBI Summer Meeting 2019: Day Three

The group ready to start climbing
Image: C. Conroy
After yesterday's blogpost by David Morris about Day Two of the 2019 BSBI Annual Summer Meeting (ASM), today blogger Colin Conroy offers his report on Day Three.

Over to Colin reporting from Yorkshire:

"Today was the day for mini-bus excursions to some of the best local botanical sites. There was a choice of three Yorkshire Wildlife Trust nature reserves (from a longer list which had earlier been narrowed down by an email poll). 

"The choices were: Ashes Pasture – an upland hay meadow; Grass Wood – an Ash woodland; and Southerscales, a huge expanse of limestone pavement on the side of Ingleborough (the second highest mountain in the Yorkshire Dales). 

Northern Dock
Image: C. Conroy
"This last was the one I chose as I have only ever seen limestone pavement in the autumn, and not since I started getting more enthusiastic about botany.

"We had a beautiful day for the trip and we all gathered at 9.30 at the front of the Field Study Centre and went in our respective minibuses – all except two people from our group who unfortunately got left behind and had to drive to the drop off point at the bottom of Ingleborough. 

"The drive through the beautiful scenery of the dales was a bit bumpy but the sight of the amazing RIbblehead Viaduct took our minds off the bumps.

"Once out of the minibus almost the first plant we saw was Northern Dock, growing on the side of the road and a new species for several people in the group (myself included).

Two Frog Orchids
Image: C. Conroy
"Once in the nature reserve we were walking through sheep pasture with patches of exposed limestone and quickly started ticking off interesting lime-loving species such as Thalictrum minus (Lesser Meadow-rue), Scabiosa columbaria, Galium sterneri (Limestone Bedstraw) (with its backward pointing prickles on the leaf margins) and Asplenium viride (Green Spleenwort) (along with four other Asplenium species). 

"All of these had been seen on previous days and it wasn’t until we climbed a bit higher that we started coming across a lot of new plants. 

"The first really exciting thing for me was Coeloglossum viride (Frog Orchid) which I have seen once in the Alps but have never managed to track down in the UK. The first plants we saw were tiny little specimens that took some finding by the sharper-eyed members of the group (not me) but further up the hill someone found a group of twenty or more, including some quite large (large for a Frog Orchid anyway) plants.

Hairy rock-cress in a gryke
Image: C. Conroy
"The typical slow pace of botanists meant that by the time we got to the limestone pavement it was almost time for lunch which was of course punctuated by breaks to identify or photograph plants including Carex pallescens (Pale Sedge), Gymnocarpium robertianum (Limestone Fern) and  Arabis hirsuta (Hairy Rock-cress) which was quite common in the grykes [NOTE – grykes are the fissures that separate the blocks of limestone, known as clints, in limestone pavement habitat]. 

"After lunch we split into twos and threes and spread out across the pavement looking for plants.

"For those readers who have never visited limestone pavement – you really should, at the first opportunity. It is spectacular! If it wasn’t for all the plants (and the fact that limestone is a sedimentary rock which couldn’t form on the moon), you could be forgiven for thinking that it looks a bit like what a lunar landscape might look like. 

Group leader David B.
photographing Baneberry

Image: C. Conroy
"However, unlike the surface of the moon, it is a very species rich habitat, and surprisingly diverse, with patches dominated by plants more typical of peat moorland, such as Trichophorum germanicum (Deergrass).

"The really exciting species, however, are to be found in the grykes, and included many that were new plants for me – Actaea spicata (Baneberry), Dryopteris submontana (Rigid Buckler-fern) and Melica nutans (Mountain Melick) among them.

"I am a long way off starting to tackle Hieraciums but there were plenty to keep the Hawkweed enthusiasts among us occupied. I have also generally steered clear of Eyebrights  too but with only two species expected, I felt able to dip my toe in the water and was reasonably confident by the end of the day that I was correctly identifying Euphrasia confusa and E. nemorosa.

A great lunch spot on the BSBI 2019 Summer Meeting
Image: C. Conroy
"The journey back to the centre was broken by a stop for ice-creams and pictures of the Ribblehead Viaduct which inevitably included more botanising and several species added to the day’s list, including Saxifraga hypnoides (Mossy Saxifrage) and Vaccinium oxycoccos (Cranberry)".

Many thanks to Colin for his report. You can find a link to Colin's blog in the list on the right of Blogs by BSBI members - this post will also appear there.

You can see more photos from the BSBI Summer Meeting if you click here.

Another report to come tomorrow as we approach the halfway point in the week-long Summer Meeting.