Tuesday 31 December 2019

2019: a great year for BSBI members

New Year Plant Hunters in January 2019
Image: L. Marsh
As 2019 draws to a close, this is a good time to reflect on all BSBI's many achievements over the past year and to say a huge THANK YOU to our wonderful members who made it all possible.

We kicked off in January with record participation in the New Year Plant Hunt - 1,473 people took part - and we reached millions of listeners via an interview about the Hunt on BBC Radio 4's Today programme. 

In February we launched British & Irish Botany (B&IB), our new online, Open Access scientific journal. BSBI Head of Ops Jane Houldsworth (aka Superwoman) managed to find a software/ platform package which allowed us to do everything B&IB's predecessor, New Journal of Botany, had done but for a fraction of the cost. As the year ends we have just published our fourth bumper issue and readers seem very pleased with the content.

A rare photo of our limelight-shunning Head of
Ops, Jane Houldsworth (on right) with
Christine and Caroline from CASS
Image: L. Marsh 
Our website underwent a springtime freshen up, making BSBI resources such as Species Accounts and plant distribution maps more easily accessible than ever to members and the wider botanical community as they entered their final season of recording for Atlas 2020. BSBI Database Officer Tom Humphrey ran a quick end of year total earlier today and we can confirm a staggering 46,314,329 records submitted so far and more still pouring in to our Database - one of the world's largest - as we approach the Atlas 2020 deadline. That's an astonishing achievement by BSBI's volunteer recorders! 

When Chris Miles, Chair of the BSBI Board, told us at the 2019 Exhibition Meeting that the collective effort of BSBI volunteers is worth an estimated £10 million per year, he wasn't exaggerating. Our Annual Reviews tell you more about all the successes our members achieve each year. Read the latest Annual Review here

Happy botanists at the 2019
BSBI Exhibition Meeting
Image: R. Blackhall-Miles
The Exhibition Meeting itself was also a huge success - highest ever attendance figures and more younger participants than ever before. 

The 2019 Scottish Botanists' Conference was equally successful - the largest ever turn-out, as far as we know, for a botanical event in Scotland.

2019 saw some exceptional BSBI publications. Angus Hannah's Isle of Bute Flora went on to win the BSBI/ WFS Presidents' Award; the BSBI Handbook on Gentians - by Tim Rich and Andy McVeigh - is a fine addition to the series; Grassland plants of the British & Irish lowlands by Pete Stroh, Kevin Walker et al. is selling like hot cakes; and the 2nd edition of John Poland and Eric Clement's Vegetative Key to the British Flora is at the printers and should be with us in around a fortnight.

Trevor James
Image courtesy of
Herts. Natural History Society
The achievements of two notable BSBI botanists were acknowledged: in November, Clive Stace (author of the New Flora of the British Isles aka the Botanists' Bible) received the 2019 Marsh Botany award and Trevor James (BSBI County Recorder for Herts. and former editor of BSBI News) was awarded the British Empire Medal in the 2020 New Year's Honours List for services to nature conservation. 

BSBI data fed into the 2019 State of Nature reports - they made sobering reading about declines in our wild flower populations, which need the support of a dedicated botanical community, and the data we collect, more than ever if we are to document, monitor and hopefully, finally, begin to address those declines. 

Fortunately our botanical community is continuing to grow. BSBI membership saw a 3% increase in 2019 and we passed the 3,000 mark for the first time in our history, ending the year with more than 3,100 members and extending further our social media reach. The more members we have and the more records in our Database, the louder our voice as we speak to policy-makers, landowners and agencies.

BSBI staff, trustees and officers at the start
of the first workshop in the
CASS-led Resilience project
Image: L. Marsh 
But the Society doesn't plan to rest on its laurels: thanks to funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, we've been able to work with the acclaimed CASS Business School, Centre for Charity Effectiveness to ensure that we are ready to meet the challenges of the future. 

This note by Chairman of the Board Chris Miles explains what the Resilience project is all about, and how it's helping BSBI define what we stand for and ensure that we can achieve what we want to achieve in the next five years. Exciting times ahead so watch this space!

But first we have a New Year Plant Hunt starting in the morning and applications for our 2020 our grants programme also open  tomorrow, so we can support even more botanists as they sharpen their ID skills and help us understand more about the British and Irish flora. Here's to a great year ahead for BSBI's botanical community and a huge thank you to all our members who made 2019 a year to remember. 

Sunday 29 December 2019

BSBI Training Grants Helping Botanists in 2019: Part Six

Earlier this month we heard from Claire about the training course she attended at FSC Slapton Ley, having been awarded a BSBI Training Grant.

Now we hear from aspiring botanist Julie was able to attend four one-day plant ID courses during 2019, thanks also to a BSBI Training Grant.

The courses Julie attended were focused on British and Irish plant families, were taught by Mark Spencer and were run by the Field Studies Council.

Over to Julie to tell us more about the course and what she learned: 

"The courses were a combination of classroom study with observations in Regent’s Park, including the allotment next to the classroom building.

"It was a fantastic four days, delving into plants: how they work and reproduce, how to identify them with a rigorous scientific approach (using a key), learning the appropriate terminology to do so, e.g. hispid – bristly, pustulate – bumps, terete - round, stipulate / ex-stipulate, pinnate / palmate, etc. and many more. 

"I gained knowledge of plant anatomy, for example the gynaecium, all the carpels (ovary and ovules inc stigma and style) and the androecium, all the stamens (filament and anther).

"I gained an understanding of flower reproduction, for example, protandry (boys before girls) and its role in preventing self-fertilization and protogyny (girls before boys).

"We learned something of the history of botany and, of course, Carl Linneaus was mentioned (more than once!). A type specimen embodies a species. Plants are ordered in Order, Family (-aceae suffix), Genus and Species. The Family names have changed and some genus / species moved from one family to another, therefore some plant names have synonyms.

"We learned about the history of plants in the UK, an archaeophyte is a non-native that has been in Britain for a long time, e.g. from the Romans. A native brought through natural processes before 1500 and a non-native brought by human activity since 1500.

"Examples of Asteraceae (formerly Compositae) we saw in Regent’s Park were hoary ragwort Jacobaea erucifolia, welted thistle Carduus crispus, hemp-agrimony Eupatorium cannabinum and common fleabane Pulicaria dysenterica (image above right).

"It’s great to contrast the modern Post Office Tower (I’m showing my age, that’s how I know it) with viewing wild plants in Regent’s Park.

"I think Mark Spencer, our tutor, found some Japanese knotweed in that hedge on the left (image above left). You never know what you’re going to find where, so it's essential to be observant.

"An example of an Apiaceae (formerly Umbelliferae) we saw was wild carrot Daucus carota (image on left) both on the first day and last day, showing its earlier and later stages. An example of a plant we saw in the Lamiaceae family was wall germander Teucrium chamaedrys (above right) which was a new one to me.

"One of the plant families, for example, the cabbage family (Brassicaceae formerly Cruciferae), is quite consistent with 4 sepals, 4 petals, 6 stamens, 2 carpels with ovaries fused but fruits vary from siliqua, longer and thinner and silicula, shorter and fatter. The suture line is visible in the fruit where 2 carpels have fused.

"I find it challenging identifying brassicas I see self-seeding in the urban environment but on the fourth day of the plant family courses I stumbled off the bus right into a very small plant I’d never seen before but on closer examination I saw it had those distinctive long fruits of a brassica we learned about on the first day. I was delighted to find thale cress Arabidopsis thaliana for the first time. 

"And later that day Mark was delighted to find a mushroom (on right) he could take home for dinner".

Many thanks to Julie for telling us about the course she attended and what she learned.

Don't forget that applications for Training Grants on 2020 will open here on 1st January, so choose your course (list of providers here) and be ready to apply! 

Saturday 28 December 2019

All set for the 2020 New Year Plant Hunt

Have you planned your route yet for the 2020 New Year Plant Hunt? It starts this Wednesday, New Year's Day, and runs until Saturday 4th January.

If you haven't yet decided on a route - and especially if this is your first time taking part in the Hunt (now in its ninth year) - why not check out the list of group Hunts and see what's happening in your area? 

Or just go out in your neighbourhood and see which wild or naturalised plants you can find in bloom. Many people take friends, family and pets along with them! 

The map on the right shows all the locations where Plant Hunters were out last New Year. If you live in one of the areas without a red pin, denoting no records submitted, then we'd be especially grateful if you could go out recording this year! For more detail, go to the map on the Results 2019 page and zoom in. 

Ciara checking hazel catkins to see
 if they count as "in flower"
Image: E. Goddard
As long as you follow these simple rules about how to take part, we'll be able to add your finds to the New Year Plant Hunt database. BSBI Head of Science, Kevin Walker, will once again be analysing this year's results to see what they tell us about how plants are responding to changes in autumn and winter weather patterns across Britain and Ireland. We're hoping to also run an analysis of the past five years of data to see if we can tease out any other patterns. 

And don't forget, nil records are important too. If you go out hunting and don't find anything in flower - maybe because you are in a northern or upland location - we'd still like to hear from you and your observations will feed into the analysis. Just email us at nyplanthunt@bsbi.org with a grid ref  of where you hunted.  

Three-cornered leek in flower in Co.
Wexford during the 2018 New Year Plant Hunt
Image: P. Green
Tom Humphrey, BSBI Database Officer, has been testing the New Year Plant Hunt recording app (this year's version available only via our website and not via any app stores) and members of the Support Team are all posed to help. We have a rota so if you contact us at any time over the four days, there will be somebody on hand to help you. 

This year's New Year Plant Hunt Support Team are all members of the BSBI Meetings & Communications Committee: Cathy, Ciara, Ellen, George, Jodey, Kylie, me (Louise) and Ryan. Top botanists Brian Laney and Ian Denholm have also kindly agreed to be on hand to deal with any tricky identifications which fox the rest of us.

So we'll look forward to receiving your records submitted via the recording app and seeing them appear on the interactive Results map. You can click on the #NewYearPlantHunt hashtag to see what people are talking about on social media and there will be daily blogposts like this one summarising what you are finding across Britain and Ireland. 

Here's to another fabulous Hunt!    

Tuesday 24 December 2019

Christmas Message 2019 from BSBI President Lynne Farrell

Lynne at home in Arnside with a
copy of Grassland Plants of the
British & Irish lowlands

Image: L. Marsh
We’ve all had a busy year of botanical recording for Atlas 2020 so the festive season offers a chance to unwind and recharge our batteries. I’m going to enjoy browsing through my copy of BSBI’s latest publication, Grassland plants of the British & Irish lowlands – highly recommended. 

I’ll also be entering the final batch of records from VC103 Mid Ebudes (Mull, Coll and Tiree), where I’m County Recorder, before the deadline of end of December. If you have any plant records that you haven’t yet sent through to your County Recorder, you’ll have to get your skates on! And I’d like to say a big thank you to all of you for all your hard work notching up those plant records – thanks to all of you, there are now 43.6 million records in the BSBI Database.

Other plans for the coming days? I’m now based in Arnside, in the Lake District, so I’m involved with Back On Our Map (BOOM), a wildlife project for the Morecambe Bay area. They have plans to reinstate various species to the area, including seven rare plants. Read more about the project here.

Mistletoe on a tree near
Kimbolton, Hunts.
(Lynne's former hunting ground)
Image: L. Farrell
I’ll also be thinking about the wildlife in my garden: holly berries from the Christmas decorations, and some cooking apples that are past their best, will end up on my lawn so I can watch the blackbirds fighting over them! And I won’t be throwing the mistletoe away either - I’ll be trying to get it established on my apple tree by smearing the berries along a branch. If you want to have a go at this as well, do let me know how you get on. 

There’s an interesting paper in British & Irish Botany by John Box about mistletoe on oak and there are also papers in back copies of Watsonia, BSBI’s former scientific journal. All the papers are available online in the BSBI Publications Archive and there’s a handy index here prepared for us by Gwynn Ellis.

I’m looking forward to doing my New Year Plant Hunt probably in the Arnside allotments, as that is likely to be a good hunting ground, and I’ll be keeping an eye on the Results map to see which plants everyone else finds in bloom across Britain and Ireland. My predecessor as President, Chris Metherell, will be taking part in a challenge with one of our younger members to see which of them can notch up the most species on their patch in the north-west.

Ro Scott helping Lynne with her NPMS plot
on Coll in base-rich, tall herb fen
Image: L. Farrell
Next year’s plans include more visits to the Mid Ebudes where – as well as being County Recorder - I also record four monitoring plots on Mull, Coll and Tiree as part of the National Plant Monitoring Scheme (NPMS). I’m looking forward to telling you more about the Scheme next year – following on from last month’s interview for this News & Views blog, I’ve agreed to do another one about the NPMS. 

I’ll also be getting to grips with Twitter - my new account is here. And as BSBI President there will be many committee meetings to attend and emails to answer - I hope to hear from lots of you! But first let’s all enjoy a well-earned rest.

Wishing you all a peaceful Christmas, a very Happy New Year Plant Hunt and all the best for 2020.   

Tuesday 17 December 2019

BSBI Training Grants Helping Botanists in 2019: Part Five

The visit to Prawle Point as part of
the FSC 'Simply Wild Flowers' course
Image: C. Install
Last month we heard how a BSBI Training Grant made it possible for Meg to attend a course in Common British and Irish Plant Families. Now Claire tells us about the course that she was able to attend, thanks to another BSBI Training Grant.

Over to Claire:

"I work for Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust and am fortunate to work with local recorders, authorities, NGOs, volunteers, and land managers to try to ensure the best outcome for wildlife. My background is more general and also in invertebrates and aquatic environments, so I felt that if I developed my plant identification skills, this would enable me to understand sites better and also provide more targeted advice to land owners and managers. I saw the Field Studies Council (FSC) ‘Simply Wild Flowers’ course, led by Ros Bennett, as the next progression in my plant identification knowledge. I applied for a BSBI training grant to help towards the costs of attending the course and was lucky to be offered the grant. As well as the benefits mentioned earlier, I also hope to be able to work closely with my local BSBI group and encourage others to learn plant identification and get involved in conservation.

FSC Slapton Ley:
coastal wildflowers and the
Study Centre in the distance
Image courtesy of the Field Studies Council
"The course was held at the Slapton Ley FSC centre which is within the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and very close to the Slapton Ley National Nature Reserve. There are plenty of great sites for wildlife to visit which are near to the centre, making it a great base for natural history courses. The course was run over three full days and three evenings with both classroom and field work. The other course attendees were a mix of people working in conservation or consultancy as well as people with an interest in plants wanting to further their knowledge.

"There are approximately 120 families of plants in the UK, however 75-80% of our species belong to about 20 families, conversely over half of the plant families have fewer than three species. This course would help us to identify if a plant was in one of these 20 families, we would then be able to key it out to species level, or draw links between species that we could already identify. We began by looking at the structure of the flowers and names of the different parts of flowers. This is essential for using keys and floral formulae. This then led to looking at the arrangement of flowers on a stem (inflorescence) and subsequently leaf arrangement.

A Geranium species was used
to learn about floral formulae.
Image: C. Install
"Once everyone had become familiar with the terminology, we were introduced to floral formulae – something that I had not come across before. A floral formula describes the structure of a flower, specifically the symmetry; number of sepals (K), petals (C), androecium (male parts) (A) and gynaecium (female parts) (G). It also specifies whether any of the parts are fused and whether the ovary is above (superior) or below (inferior) the point of attachment of the other flower parts. 

"We started learning about floral formulae in the classroom using a Geranium species as an example, we then looked at Digitalis purpurea (Foxglove) which needed a bit more thought as some of the features were fused. We learnt that all the species within a family (with a few exceptions) shared the same or very similar formulae. For example, flowers in the Brassicaceae (Cabbage) family are radially symmetrical, have four sepals, four petals, six stamens (male parts) and a gynaecium (female parts) made up of two fused carpels which are superior, with the ovary above the point of attachment of the sepals and petals. Brassicaceae also have leaves arranged spirally and the combination of four petals and six stamens is unique to this family.

Looking at flowers in the
Slapton Ley FSC garden.
Image: R. Bennett
"Once we all understood the concept of floral formulae, we headed outside into the garden and onto Slapton Ley National Nature Reserve to look at different flowers and discover their similarities and differences and how this might help us to identify which family a plant belongs to. Along our walk, we looked at Circaea lutetiana (Enchanter’s-nightshade), an Oenothera species (Evening-primrose) and Epilobium hirsutum (Great Willowherb). 

"They all had a hypanthium – a tube made up of the basal parts of the sepals, petals and stamens – between the flower and inferior ovary and this is a common feature of plants like these that belong to the Onagraceae family. The flower parts of Onagraceae species also come in fours (or twos) – the Epilobiums and the Oenotheras have four sepals, four petals, eight stamens and four carpels; Circaea lutetiana has two sepals, two petals and two stamens, two carpels. 

"Looking at the flowers of the Cyperaceae (Sedge) family, we saw that they had separate male and female flowers on the same plant. These did not have petals or sepals, but had either three stamens (androecium) or two or three fused carpels (gynaecium). Despite this the female flowers formed single seeded fruit – nutlets. In general, the stems were solid and triangular.

Caryophyllaceae (Campion) species
dichasial cyme structure.
Image: Claire Install
"A clue that a plant was in the Caryophyllaceae (Campion) family was the dichasial cyme structure of its inflorescence. This meant that the flowers came in threes, a branched pair with a stalk in the middle leading to an older flower.

"Once we got to grips with which family a plant was in, we then went to the relevant section of Clive Stace’s New Flora of the British Isles (4th Edition, 2019) to key it out to species level.

"The following day we headed out to Prawle Point with a slow walk along the coastal path looking at plants as we went. A lot of the plants we looked at along our walk belonged to the Asteraceae (Daisy) and Fabaceae (Pea) families. We had spent some time in the classroom prior to the walk looking at the structure of Asteraceae flower heads – each of these is made up of many individual flowers – and the differences between thistles, dandelion-like plants and daisies. We also used lateral keys that Ros had compiled to help us identify some of these to species level.

The visit to Prawle Point.
Image: C. Install
"Our final day’s field trip was to Andrew’s Wood where I was pleased to see Stellaria graminea (Lesser Stitchwort) with a dichasial cyme structure – remembering a plant from Slapton Ley NNR I could quickly see that this too belonged to the Caryophyllaceae family. 

"This site also gave us a chance to look at the Juncaceae (Rush) family. There are two genera: Juncus (Rushes) and Luzula (Wood-rushes). Unlike Poaceae (Grasses) and Cyperaceae, Juncaceae have a brown papery perianth (indistinguishable petals and sepals) and hermaphrodite flowers with one style and three stigmas. Individual fruits are triangular and, like the flowers that precede them, they occur in clusters. 

"The floral formula is typically *P6A6G(3) or *P(3+3)A6G(3). Juncus species have round stems (and often cylindrical leaves) which have pith inside and a capsule with lots of seeds whereas Luzula have grass-like (long and flat) leaves and a capsule with only three seeds.

The visit to Prawle Point.
Image: R. Bennett
"There was a great deal packed into the course and I came away feeling that I had learnt a lot about grouping plants into families with the floral formulae helping to demystify this. I was able to make connections between different plants and remember clues that helped me identify their families. The course handouts were excellent and it was great to learn from Ros. I would recommend this course and also applying for a training grant from the BSBI to further your botanical knowledge".

Many thanks to Claire for telling us about the course she was able to attend thanks to her BSBI Training Grant, and for sharing an introduction to floral formulae. This is probably a good time to remind you that the next round of applications for BSBI Training Grants opens on 1st January here, the full programme of next year's FSC botany courses can be seen here and you can find links to other short plant ID courses here. The Grants get snapped up really quickly so it's a good idea to work out which course you'd like to apply for and then be ready to get your application in as early as possible! 

Saturday 14 December 2019

British & Irish Botany: issue 4 published

Hybrid comfrey
Symphytum caucasicum x orientale
spotted by Bob Leaney and discussed in
 his paper for British & Irish Botany 1.4
Image: R. Leaney
The fourth issue of British & Irish Botany, BSBI's online, Open Access, scientific journal, has just been published and it's our biggest issue yet, with six papers and a short note!

There's an important paper on 'Temporal changes in distributions and the species atlas: how can British and Irish plant data shoulder the inferential burden?' - very pertinent for anyone who's been out recording wild and naturalised plants for BSBI's Atlas 2020 project. The authors are Oli Pescott from CEH (also a member of BSBI Records & Research Committee) and three BSBI staff members - our Head of Science Kevin Walker, Database Officer Tom Humphrey and England Officer Pete Stroh.

Kevin and Tom also joined forces with fellow BSBI luminaries such as Chris Preston, David Pearman, Simon Leach, Paul Smith and Trevor James to co-author 'Recording plant status and regeneration during single visits'. Alternative categories are proposed that focus on origin rather than persistence. 

A new species of lady's-mantle:
Alchemilla sciura photographed in The Cairnwell
Image: M. Lynes
As always, the British & Irish Botany editorial team will be keen to hear from readers with their comments, either in favour of, or against, the proposals outlined in the paper. by Kevin et al. - or about anything else you read in the journal. Just email bib@bsbi.org and tell us what you think and why.

Other papers in this issue consider birdseed aliens; a hybrid comfrey; and a spatial and vegetation  analysis of one site over 20 years. We publish a description of a new species of lady's-mantle Alchemilla by Mark Lynes, author of the forthcoming BSBI Handbook on Alchemilla; and there's a short note about a pink bindweed.  

Apple-of-Peru Nicandra physalodes: 
one of the birdseed aliens
discussed in B&IB 1.4
Image: G. Hanson
Editor-in-Chief Ian Denholm said: "The first volume of British & Irish Botany is now complete. It has been a steep learning curve for the editorial team but I believe we have achieved all the aspirations expressed in my talk to the 2018 Recorders' Conference: those of producing an online journal free of charge to authors and readers that is readily accessible to both professional and amateur authors, and which encompasses broad-ranging aspects of the composition, dynamics, ecology and taxonomy of the British and Irish flora. 

"I thank editors, reviewers and authors for their contributions to reaching this milestone and encourage everyone to consider sharing their data, results and observations in subsequent issues. We can help with all stages of the publication process and are pleased to advise on the suitability of material for inclusion. So please do help us with building on the success to date, and if you are a new reader do check out the contents of the previous three issues: the first issue published in February; the second issue in May; and the third issue in August". 

We hope you enjoy reading this latest issue of British & Irish Botany and look forward to bringing you more fabulous issues in 2020. Happy Christmas from the B&IB editorial team!

Friday 13 December 2019

Flora of Cambridgeshire published

Another milestone county Flora has just been published: copies of Alan Leslie's Flora of Cambridgeshire have just been posted to everyone who pre-booked. 

The book is 912 pages long, covers 2,330 species and is published by the Royal Horticultural Society: Alan worked as a cultivar registrar at RHS Wisley for more than 40 years. 

He undertook a PhD in Cambridge (on goldilocks buttercup Ranunculus auricomus) in the 1970s, has been recording the county's wild flowers since 1972 and was BSBI County Recorder for Cambridgeshire from 2005 until earlier this year, so he was ideally placed to take an overview of the county's plants and habitats.

The Flora features detailed species accounts and chapters discussing climate, topography, notable sites of botanical interest such as Chippenham Fen, Wicken Fen, the Devil's Ditch and the Ouse Washes. 

The urban flora of Cambridge is also discussed and there is a section on species' gains and losses. There is also a chapter on notable plant recorders which includes some names well-known to BSBI members, such as Mark Hill, James Cadbury, and two longstanding and much-loved members of BSBI's Publications Committee, Philip Oswald and Chris Preston. Philip stood down last year and Chris has become BSBI's Obituaries Editor.   

This is the first Flora of Cambridgeshire since Perring et al. (1964) although it's worth mentioning that the 1964 Flora covers 1,258 species compared to Alan's 2,330 species. This new Flora is certainly the most comprehensive ever produced for the county. 

Alan is also following in other very illustrious footsteps, starting with those of John Ray, as Cambridgeshire botanist Roger Horton tweeted below:
Quiz: What comes next? John Ray 1660 Thomas Martyn 1763 Richard Relhan 1785 Charles Babington 1860 Arthur Humble Evans 1939 Perring/Sell/Walters/Whitehouse 1964

[Ed.: Roger contacted me after this blogpost went live to point out that "the Flora itself adds the work of Gigi Crompton - her on-line database is now hosted by Nature in Cambridgeshire". Thanks to Roger for letting us know!]

The Flora of Cambridgeshire is available from Summerfield Books who are offering a discount on the RRP of £70. Many thanks to Mike Grant, Contributing Editor (Specialist Publications) at the RHS for letting me know that the Flora had been published and for sending over the images shown here.