Saturday 30 November 2019

Interview with incoming BSBI President Lynne Farrell

Lynne on Mull
A few days ago, we brought you an interview with Chris Metherell, outgoing BSBI President, as he prepared to hand over the Presidency to Lynne Farrell. Now we catch up with Lynne herself to find out about her plans as she prepares to take over as President of the leading botanical society in Britain and Ireland.

LM: Before you tell us about your plans, could you tell us how you first got interested in botany – has it been a lifelong passion? How did you get started?

LF: When I was three years old, I remember collecting a few wild plants which grew near my home in Sale and bringing them back. A neighbour gave me the Observer’s Book of Wild Flowers when I was nine and then I could name them all.

Recording on the Mull coast
LM: Where did you study and what did you read?

LF: New University of Ulster, Coleraine, N. Ireland. Biology specialising in ecology and conservation.

LM: You have an impressive CV, having worked at Monks Wood under Terry Wells, at the Nature Conservancy, at the Biological Records Centre, at both English Nature and Scottish Natural Heritage… In fact it’s hard to think of a major nature conservation organisation that you haven’t worked for!

LF: I’ve also done a few other things, including a Fellowship at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, a Churchill Travelling Fellowship, working for An Foras Forbartha in Dublin, and helping set up the Working for Peace group in Ireland and running an inter-denominational youth group.
Chris (2nd from left), Lynne & colleagues
celebrating the launch of the Red Data List
at NBG Glasnevin, Dublin

LM: And of course in 2005, you and Chris Cheffings were joint editors of the first Vascular Plant Red Data List for Great Britain. You can read more about the Red List, and purchase a copy, here. So when did you first join BSBI and how did that come about?

LF: I joined in 1967, after hearing a discussion about the threat to Cow green reservoir and Teesdale. BSBI were supporting the campaign to protect the area.

LM: So you became active in BSBI and then you became County Recorder for the Isle of Mull - when was that? And is that where you do most of your botanising?

Lynne on Maisgeir recording her final tetrad
towards her Flora of Mull
LF: In 1996 I became County Recorder for Mull, Coll and Tiree, Mid Ebudes. There are rather more islands than you might expect in that patch! I botanise wherever I am, as I always notice the plants. Since I moved to Arnside, Cumbria two years ago, I’ve been helping with the Flora of Cumbria group also.

LM: Will you still be able to fit in your County Recorder’s duties alongside being President?

LF: Hopefully, as I have become addicted to visiting the islands.

LM: And how are you getting on with recording for Atlas 2020 in your vice-county?

Lynne with Ulve and Ro after a successful
 Hebridean recording trip
LF: I think I now have records from every tetrad on the 3 main islands, and have been boating out to some of the smaller ones, which often sit in their own tetrad.

LM: You’ve served BSBI in many capacities over the years – as Hon Field Meetings Secretary, Hon. General Secretary and Council member. You were also Chair of BSBI’s Meetings & Communications Committee and have been involved in organising national events such as the Annual Exhibition Meeting

So presumably spreading the word about BSBI, and getting more people involved in botany, will be a theme of your Presidency?

Lynne, Ro and NTS Ranger Emily Wilkins
on the islet of Soa off the south coast of Iona
LF: Yes. I try to encourage people I meet both inside and outside the BSBI, who might have a little knowledge and some interest of plants. I try to recruit at least three new members each year.

LM: Your diary for next year is probably looking quite busy! Are we likely to see you at many BSBI field meetings or indoor events? 

LF: I’m just trying to organise myself for 2020, and I am hoping to attend some field meetings, and during the next two years get to England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and of course, each of the various committees. 

LM: Thanks for giving us a taste of what we have to look forward to! Can we invite you to come back once you’ve been in post for a while and give us an update? And how can people follow what you are doing during your first few months as President?

Lynne in 2019 visiting  Rydal Hall,
a Thomas Mawson garden in Cumbria
LF: With the help of the BSBI Comms Team, I’m going to have a go at Twitter! I’ll also be writing a regular note for BSBI News, our membership newsletter, and I can be contacted on

LM: One final question – will you be taking part in the New Year Plant Hunt in January?

LF: Yes, I will. I’ve done it for the past five years and have already noticed the difference between inland Cambridgeshire and coastal Cumbria!

LM: Thanks for talking to us Lynne and congratulations on becoming our new President!

Thursday 28 November 2019

Interview with outgoing BSBI President Chris Metherell

Chris in the herbarium at Univ Reading
Image: A. Culham
Two years ago, Chris Metherell became BSBI President, taking over from John Faulkner. At the 2019 Exhibition Meeting, when Chris handed over the presidency to Lynne Farrell, it seemed a good time to catch up with Chris again and find out a bit more about what he feels he managed to achieve while President.

LM: Chris, many thanks for talking to us again, now that you’ve handed over the presidency to Lynne. So, did you enjoy being at the helm of the leading botanical society in Britain and Ireland?

CM: It was a great privilege. One looks back at the names of illustrious previous incumbents and then wonder, how on earth did I get here?

LM: What would you say have been your main challenges as President?

Chris & Helena looking at eyebrights in Devon
Image: F. Rumsey
CM: Keeping everything moving forward. Every society is weighed down by its history and there is a natural desire to keep things "as they've always been". But we are coming up to the end of an important phase with the conclusion of Atlas 2020 monitoring and have had to decide what to do next.  A serious challenge!

LM: And what did you most enjoy?

CM: Getting out around the country, meeting the members and talking botany. One weekend I traveled from Shetland to Devon! Of course finishing the BSBI Handbook on Eyebrights Euphrasia with Fred Rumsey was a real milestone. Biggest achievement was probably getting the herbarium listing published. It's been such a long gestation period that it was good to have finally achieved publication on my watch. And of course herbaria are a particular passion of mine.

Chris and Fred at the Natural History Museum
for the launch of the BSBI Eyebright Handbook
Image: J. Mitchley 
LM: Yes so we've noticed! You also awarded the Presidents’ Award twice; for the New Flora of the Isles of Scilly in 2018 and for the Flora of Bute earlier this month. But is there anything that you were really hoping to do as President but just didn’t manage because you ran out of time?

CM: Not really, there were some things like the new County Recorder guidelines which it would have been good to get finished but it would have been silly to do that until Atlas 2020 was finished. The book to accompany Atlas 2020 is still rather up in the air. I feel I've left my successor a problem there!

LM: You certainly got around during your Presidency! Can you just remind us of some of the BSBI events you attended (at your own expense) and people you met? Are there any that particularly stand out and if so, why?

Chrisses Metherell & Packham
talking about nature conservation
Image: Andy Taylor
CM: It would be invidious to pick one or two out. But happening upon Chris Packham when I was teaching a ferns course gave me the opportunity of selling the BSBI message. I've always tried to mix meeting with some hardcore botany (usually looking at Euphrasia specimens in herbaria!) so visiting Dublin has always been a great pleasure: a great herbarium and a fantastic botanic garden. Not to mention the Guinness…

LM: And were you still able to get out and do much recording for Atlas 2020 in your local patch in Northumberland, where you are County Recorder?

CM: Yes indeed, although I had some fantastic local recorders to help. We were on an over 85% refind rate at the beginning of the year. It should be even better now.

LM: What plans do you have to fill that post-Presidency gap?

Chris and Martin examine one of the oldest
eyebright specimens in the NHM herbarium
Image: A. Twyford
CM: Writing a monograph on Euphrasia. Visiting more herbaria - a visit to Uppsala planned in January next year. And spending more time on historical records for my vice-county.

LM: Are there any words of advice that you’d like to pass on to your successor?

CM: I found Twitter a great way of getting the message out. I'm handing over my #BSBIPresident hashtag and hope people will follow her on Twitter. So my advice to her would be - get a good mobile phone.

LM: I’m sure the members will want to thank you for all the hard work you’ve put in over the last two years as President, and for which of course you’ve received no financial recompense at all – such is the lot of a BSBI President… I noticed that you were the recipient of many handshakes and slaps on the back at the weekend’s Exhibition Meeting! Your short talk also seemed to go down very well – we’ll be uploading that to the website soon for the benefit of anyone who wasn’t able to get along to the Meeting.

Chris looking at eyebright specimen
in the herbarium at Univ Leicester
Image: L. Marsh 
So one final question before we let you go: will you be taking part in the 2020 New Year Plant Hunt (NYPH) which will run from 1st to 4th January?

CM: I surely will. I'm also a trustee of the Northumbria Natural History Society and have challenged one of their staff, BSBI member James Common, to see who can come out top in the NYPH. I'm leading the troops out on Lindisfarne and he's doing Newcastle.  He'll get more aliens but Holy island is a much nicer place. Bad luck James.

LM: Ooh that competition will be one to watch on the NYPH interactive map – and we’ll be following it on social media! Many thanks to Chris for talking to us. Coming in a few days: an interview with incoming President Lynne Farrell.

Wednesday 27 November 2019

First ever Flora of Bute wins prestigious national award

Every year the Presidents of two of Britain’s leading scientific societies, the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland and the Wild Flower Society, come together to award a prize to the book or discovery they feel has made the year's most useful contribution to the understanding of the flowering plants or ferns of Britain and Ireland.

In 2019 the Presidents’ Award has gone to Angus Hannah for his Flora of Bute. It isn’t just the first Flora (book documenting all the plants of a particular place) for the island, it’s the first for any part of the Clyde Islands which include the Isle of Arran (a popular tourist destination which is often considered to be “Scotland in miniature”).

Angus is the BSBI County Recorder for the Clyde Islands, so he co-ordinates all the botanical survey work across the islands and organises local events. Angus said “I have lived 40 years on Bute and recorded the plants of the island systematically for two decades, paying particular attention to their landscape context and the communities in which they grow. I tried to distil the results into my book, and am delighted that it has attracted this prestigious award from the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland and the Wild Flower Society”.

Angus (on left) receives his award
from BSBI President Chris Metherell
The Flora of Bute is 360 pages long, catalogues more than 1000 plant species found on the island, with English as well as scientific names, and uses maps, historic records and location details to provide an essential companion for any botanist or plant-lover visiting the island.

BSBI President Chris Metherell presented Angus with the Presidents’ Award at the 2019 Scottish Botanists’ Conference, held on 2nd November at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh. The Conference attracted an audience of over 200 botanists from across Britain and is thought to be the largest ever gathering of botanists in Scotland.

Juniper-covered rocks, north of
Clachanard, Isle of Bute
Image: A. Hannah
Chris said “"It was a pleasure to present the 2019 Presidents' Award to Angus. Ghillean  Prance and I thought long and hard about which publication, discovery or exhibit best deserved the award. Last year we presented the award to Rosemary Parslow and Ian Bennallick for their New Flora of the Isles of Scilly and this year we are celebrating the first ever Flora to cover an island hundreds of miles away!"  
On 10th May 2020, Angus will be leading a 4-5 mile circular walk on the Isle of Bute, starting and finishing at Rothesay Pier. Botanists will be travelling to the island to find out more about the plants which grow there, including Royal Fern and also the New Zealand Pig-fern: Bute is the only place in Europe where this rare fern can be found growing in the wild. The visiting botanists will be relying on Angus’s in-depth botanical knowledge, and on their copies of the Flora of Bute, to help them understand more about the wild plants found on this beautiful island. 

Thursday 14 November 2019

BSBI Training Grants Helping Botanists in 2019: Part Four

Getting into the detail: Rumex achenes
Image: M. Cathcart-James
In August, we brought you Emily's account of how a BSBI Training Grant made it possible for her to attend a course in Advanced Botanical Identification. Now Meg tells us how she was able, thanks to another BSBI Training Grant, to undertake a course in Common British & Irish Plant Families. Over to Meg to tell us more about herself and the course, and you'll be able to find out more at the BSBI Annual Exhibition Meeting on 23rd November where Meg will be exhibiting a poster:

"Who am I?
My name is Meg Cathcart-James and I’m a doctoral researcher at the University of Reading. I am in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Division of the School of Biological Sciences, where I graduated from in 2017 with a BSc (Hons) in Ecology and Wildlife Conservation (I did warn them they wouldn’t be rid of me…).

I am Wiltshire born and bred, with a deep affection for ancient stones and the countryside instilled in me from my early years. My path to becoming an ecologist has been a convoluted one though; before my Bachelor’s I lived in Australia for 3 years doing what 20-something year olds in Australia do, and also worked as a hotel manager in the UK. I realised the corporate 9-5 was not for me and ditched my suits for wellies and a hand lens in search of another life. I found it in Reading of all places!

Meg's poster on burial grounds
as green spaces
Image: M. Cathcart-James
After a module in my first year of undergraduate studies on plants, I was hooked. A whole new (mostly) green world was opened up to me, and I’ve never looked back.

What do I do?
Does anybody NOT stumble and stutter when asked this question? Oftentimes I don’t know what it is I’m doing!

I am doing my PhD part-time in order to work, as I’m self-funding. I have a range of part-time roles within the University, all student-centric as I love to spend time with students and support their learning.

My PhD is an exploration of burial grounds as urban green spaces. There is very little ecological research on them, and my studies form one of the largest-scale projects on burial grounds conducted in the UK.

I’m asking questions such as, how can biodiversity in burial grounds be quantified? What influences that biodiversity? How should burial grounds in towns and cities be managed to benefit people and wildlife? Does the soil and vegetation in these spaces, due to their longevity, help to mitigate urban pollution? Are the flora and fauna of burial grounds truly as abundant and diverse as people assume they are?

My work so far is showing that there are profound differences in the nature of urban burial grounds, and I hope to understand better how and why this is.

Why did I apply for a BSBI Training Grant?
Much to my sorrow, and that of botanists across the land, teaching about plants in schools and universities is sparse to say the least. I have attended every undergraduate module and free conference or course I could find, followed wonderful Twitter accounts, read wonderful books and joined wonderful organisations.

"Please Dr Spencer, could you
help me with this pesky cabbage?"
Image: M. Cathcart-James
My plant knowledge has come on leaps and bounds, but I need to continue on an upward trajectory if I’m to conduct accurate, comprehensive research into the plant species of urban burial grounds. My passion for plant knowledge has become an absolute necessity for my research. At the start of this year, I began looking at paid plant ID courses.

As a self-funded PhD researcher, I knew I would need help to attend courses. The BSBI, which I’ve been a member of since I started my undergraduate degree, was my first port of call and ultimately the only place I needed to request funding assistance, through their Training Grants programme.

My chosen courses? The Common British and Irish Plant Families course series run by the Field Studies Council (FSC) at their centre in London’s Regent’s Park. As a whole, this series of training courses covered many of the most encountered and most tricky of British plant families. They are unique in their accessibility being affordable, a realistic time commitment of one Saturday a month for 4 months and well administered by the wonderful FSC.

What were the courses like?
I had no expectations of the courses, only an excited and open mind as a middling botanical beginner; unlike other courses or even university modules I've attended, I wasn't instilled with that dread-filled sense of there being far too much to learn and that I will be a novice for all of time. Rather, the level at which the courses were pitched and the focused scope of each of them, coupled with the inimitable Mark Spencer's teaching skills left me sat on the train home feeling enthused, optimistic and that I was a far better botanist than when I arrived in Regent's Park that same morning.

A bumble I met while examining
 this well-known member
of the Asteraceae (daisy family) -
note the phased flower opening
Image: M. Cathcart-James
Each course looked at 3 or 4 common wild plant families; from cabbage to carrot, pea to daisy, dock to rush and more.

After a classroom session looking generally at plant/flower anatomy and then going into more detail on the families’ key characteristics, most of the day was spent out in the surprisingly lovely Regent’s Park (I say surprisingly, I am much afeared of London as a country mouse and didn’t know it would be so beautiful!).

ID skills and key use were practiced, and hugely informative walks to examine plants in the field made for a botany-filled day where we were able to speak to (read: ask a ridiculous amount of questions of) a botanical expert to get as much out of the course as possible. I have to thank Dr Mark Spencer here; his enthusiasm and obviously very extensive botanical knowledge made for a series of plant-filled days you knew you were going to get a huge amount out of. Thank you very much Mark.

What did I get from the courses?
I now have a fantastically useful set of notes, annotated handouts from Mark and a better working knowledge of my own botanical guidebook. I can now identify the majority of my pesky allotment weeds, the forbs in my lawn, and of most importance to my career; many of the plants I continuously come across in my PhD burial ground sites. I will be doing detailed botanical surveys in my sites over the coming year, and this knowledge is crucial.

I now have my own notes and a
greater familiarity with my "Streeter"
after the classroom sessions
Image: M. Cathcart-James 
The courses have gone beyond just being 'a start' in being able to ID the plants in my sites; they have provided a very solid working knowledge that I am now building on all the time. The other people on the courses, and Mark, were interested to hear about my research which is always lovely and being around like-minded plant lovers has been a balm to a person surrounded by animal-obsessed ecologists/zoologists!

Should you absolutely join the BSBI this very minute to become part of an inclusive and passionate botanical community that welcomes and supports everyone no matter your level of expertise?

Many thanks to Meg for telling us her story. Do I agree with her that you should absolutely join the BSBI this very minute?
... oh yes!

Am I going to tell you how to get your hands on a BSBI Training Grant?
I am: make a resolution to go to our Grants page on 1st January, download and fill in your application form. Grants get snapped up very quickly so select your training course in advance and be all ready to apply on the first day of 2020. Good luck!

Monday 4 November 2019

Happy 25th Birthday to CJS: enter their photo competition

Any botanist or ecologist who has looked for a job in the sector in the past quarter of a century will know the initials CJS: Countryside Jobs Service has become the first stop for anyone wanting to know what vacancies are available. 

BSBI has also used the excellent (free) CJS service in recent years to advertise voluntary positions and surveys, such as Atlas 2020, the New Year Plant Hunt... projects we run with partners, such as the National Plant Monitoring Scheme, have also been advertised in CJS online. 

So when the CJS team got in touch recently to tell us about their plans to celebrate their 25th birthday, we were keen to get involved! Read on to find out more, not just about the excellent service CJS has built up over the years, but also to discover what BSBI and CJS are doing to celebrate this achievement. There's an opportunity for all of you to get involved and there's a prize on offer!

The verge at Westleigh in Devon in full flower;
this illustrates a feature article written for us
 by Tom Whitlock, ecologist, about
their pilot project Life on the Verge
Image: Tom Hynes 
Over to Kerryn from CJS:      

"In 1994 a little newsletter for countryside rangers was first posted out. In the 25 years since, Countryside Jobs Service or CJS has grown to become the countryside, conservation, ecology and wildlife sectors' leading source of information, news and job adverts for both paid and voluntary roles, reaching around 100,000 readers across the country in all sectors every month.

"One thing that has remained unchanged across all the years is that CJS is unique in offering free advertising for just about everything relating to our sector. What has changed is that Countryside Jobs Service now advertises much more than countryside jobs. Our range has expanded to include ecology, wildlife, animal care, community involvement, rural and urban sites, fundraising, admin support, visitor management, arboriculture, environmental and outdoor education and today we publish a lot more than 'just' jobs, advertising voluntary roles and recruitment days, apprenticeships and intern placements, citizen science projects, training courses, professional events, a full news round up service and a vast array of in depth information and articles providing insights and help to establish professional and new starters alike. 

The winner of our Photography Competition
 in August is this lovely image of
the Bothy at Harris on Isle of Rum
taken by Isabelle Miles whilst volunteering.
The grassland at Harris glens kept grazed
by highland cattle, rum ponies and feral goats,
encouraging a variety flowers and plants,
such as marsh orchid and pillwort
"CJS is an ethical small business publishing free & low cost information to promote countryside careers in the UK & environmental conservation worldwide, aiming to support as many conservation organisations in as many ways as we can.

"As part of our 25th Birthday Celebrations CJS is running a Photography Competition. We're not necessarily looking for the most perfect, most technically accurate image (although nice clear pictures are usually better than fuzzy ones!) but those that reflect our glorious countryside and all that goes with working in the management of landscapes, with wildlife, in education, everything that is part and parcel of daily life. 

"We want to encourage people to go out, take time to look for the unexpected, the hidden and the lovely and in so doing reconnect with the natural world all around us. In keeping with the CJS ethos of "promoting UK countryside careers and environmental conservation worldwide" we see the competition as an opportunity to share your photographs with a wider audience, introducing you to new audiences, bringing new visitors to your site, increasing interest in your project.

"Find out more about our photography competition, see some of the entries, read about the amazing prizes we have on offer - including a year's free membership of BSBI! - and how to enter your photos here".

BSBI is delighted to help our friends at CJS celebrate their 25th birthday! We really appreciate the service they offer to us and to other organisations and societies in the sector, so we are happy to offer a year's free membership of BSBI (currently £30pa) to the winner of this month's photo competition, the theme of which is 'Plants and Botany'. Already a BSBI member? There are other prizes on offer, although obviously nothing is quite as good as BSBI membership ;-) But we hope our members will take part anyway just for the fun of it.

A very happy 25th birthday to Kerryn, Amy and all our friends at CJS!

Friday 1 November 2019

Second best time to join BSBI?

Radnor lily Gagea bohemica
Image: B. Brown
Last month we told you about our amazing October special offer on BSBI membership

If you joined in October for 2020: welcome to BSBI! Your membership will have started at once so you're now a BSBI member and you're all set to enjoy 15 months of membership for the price of 12. 

Missed the boat and kicking yourself now? Don't worry, you don't need to wait another year until the October offer comes round again. Our November special offer is almost as good as our October special offer. 

Ok, you'll only get 14 months for the cost of 12 but you'll still be able to benefit from the members-only special offers on the new Grassland plants of the British & Irish lowlands book (£10 off) and the BSBI Handbook on Gentians of Britain & Ireland (£5 off): those offers run until the end of November. 

Kevin & David on Colonsay,
road-testing the BSBI Handbook on Eyebrights
Image: P. Stroh
You'll still be able to enjoy three issues each year of BSBI News; you'll still have access for 14 months to our network of 100+ expert plant referees to help you identify tricky plants... In fact you'll enjoy all the benefits we listed here but for 14 months instead of 15!

But last month I was so busy telling you about all those practical benefits (the "what" if you like) that perhaps I overlooked the "why" - the real reason why people join, and contribute to, societies like BSBI: it's so you can make a difference.

Thyme broomrape growing on
 a carpet of wild thyme
Image: P. Stroh
As a BSBI member, you'll become part of the amazing achievements of our volunteer members:

You'll also be making a contribution to our grants programme, helping to train more botanists and supporting important botanical research which simply would not happen without BSBI's help.

To find out more about what our fabulous BSBI members achieved in the past year, take a look at our latest Annual Review.

If you're already one of our 3,031 members - a huge thank you to each and every one of you. 

All the amazing achievements described in the Annual Review are only possible thanks to you.

If you haven't joined us yet - why not head over here and become member number 3,032? 

Together, we can make even more of a difference.