Sunday, 23 February 2020

Wild Flower Hour: interview with Rebecca Wheeler

From left: Isabel, Janette & Rebecca
Image: I. Hardman
Wild Flower Hour has become something of a social media phenomenon in recent years! Every Sunday evening between 8-9pm, people share photos of any wild or naturalised plants they've spotted in bloom during the previous week across Britain and Ireland. From small beginnings in 2015 when founder Isabel Hardman invited BSBI to promote and support the initiative, Wild Flower Hour now regularly "trends" on Twitter and has proved a great way for plant-lovers to come together, compare notes and get ID help from friendly botanists. 

There's a bit more about the history of Wild Flower Hour here and we introduce you to some of the people involved. But most of us would agree that these days, the main person behind the success of Wild Flower Hour is BSBI member Rebecca Wheeler aka @botany_beck

I caught up with Rebecca to find out how she got involved in Wild Flower Hour. But first I asked her to tell us a bit more about herself and her botanical life:

Rebecca (on left) with members of Liverpool
Botanical Society at Altcar,
admiring the green-winged orchids
RW: For as long as I can remember I have always loved plants. In fact my mum likes to tell the story that after saying mum & dad as a baby my first proper word was ‘flower’. Both my parents and grandparents were keen gardeners and growing up I had my own little patch and I used to spend much of my pocket money buying plants and seeds. It was mum though that introduced me to wild flowers giving me her fathers copy of Keble Martin and teaching me the scientific names which I loved. I used to spend many hours poring over the beautiful illustrations and the orchid pages held a particular fascination to me. I went on to study horticulture and for a time worked as a garden designer before diversifying into teaching and then becoming a forest school practitioner.

Rebecca out with the Warrington Plant
Group and the "biggest patch of common
cow-wheat in the world!" 
LM: So that was your background, but how did you first get involved in Wild Flower Hour?

RW: I had enrolled on the online Identiplant course when I first discovered Wild Flower Hour. I can still recall the moment when I stumbled across it, it seemed quite magical to me, a charming colourful tumble of wildflower tweets which really brightened up my Sunday evening and the realisation that there was this wonderful community of friendly and knowledgeable people that were also mad about plants!!! I participated for the next few months, #wildflowerhour becoming a key focus of my walks and driving my family mad as I dived into hedgerows and it was responsible for me always lagging behind! 


Red helleborine
Image: R. Wheeler
Then in 2017 Isabel advertised on Twitter for volunteers, I jumped at the chance and that is when I became involved in helping to run the @wildflower_hour account.

LM: And now you run the WFH social media accounts…

RW: Yes, we're on Twitter under the @wildflower_hour account and when people tweet, they add the #wildflowerhour hashtag; we're also on Facebook and on Instagram.

LM: And of course you are the woman behind the Wild Flower Hour challenges! What was your thinking behind the creation of the challenges?

RW: The thinking behind Wild Flower Hour and the challenges is to get people looking and noticing all these wonderful wildflowers some of which are of course small and easily overlooked, but when you take the time to really study and observe them are just fascinating!! For me looking and noticing is the first step to naming and then caring and becoming passionate about plants. You can’t care and fight for things that you don’t know about or notice and that for me is the driving force behind what I do for Wild Flower Hour. 


Rebecca photographing
bird's-nest orchid
The challenges are planned to be fun and engaging, focusing people’s attention on different habitats and particular plant families. Wild Flower Hour founder Isabel Hardman once said that ‘#wildflowerhour is the gateway to serious botany’ and I think she is absolutely right! Learning is memorable when it is fun and people’s interest is piqued and they want to learn more!

LM: I know that #thewinter10 challenge, which has been running over the last few months, finishes at the end of February so what is the next challenge coming up? And I think we go to weekly challenges now?

RW: Yes #thewinter10 finishes at the end of February with the weekly challenge programme beginning at the start of March. This season we will be teaming up with the Nature’s Calendar team for some challenges and the first will be the Colt’s-foot challenge! An exciting development which means that throughout the year #wildflowerhour finds will directly contribute to research into the effects of climate change. 

Close-up of the
bird's-nest orchid
Image: R. Wheeler
LM: Ooh yes! On Friday, we featured a guest blogpost by Judith from the Nature’s Calendar team, so that’s another way that people can share info about which wild or naturalised flowers they are seeing in bloom, and when. I love the way that New Year Plant Hunt, Wild Flower Hour and Nature's Calendar all give people a way to get involved in the botanical community! I think that if people have tried and enjoyed any of these three activities, they will probably like all three.

RW: Absolutely! I think it’s fantastic that we have these strong links and support each other and would encourage people to try recording for Nature’s Calendar or to participate in the fantastic New Year Plant Hunt if they have not already as they will hugely enjoy it!

LM: So to close, what are the plans for Wild Flower Hour going forward?

RW: At Wild Flower Hour we are passionate about making plant identification fun and accessible for beginners, we have just launched a new series of top tips by Moira O’ Donnell (@nervousbotanist) which has been a great success.

Some of the Wild Flower Hour gang on an outing!
From left: Linden, Barry, Martin, Rebecca,
Moira & Josh
LM: Yes! Hope it's ok if I butt in here to say that we've shared links to two of Moira's ID sheets for Wild Flower Hour on our new Plant ID: getting started page and Moira (also a BSBI member) has very kindly agreed to do a blogpost for us next week about how to find wild flower ID info and resources on social media. I'm really looking forward to that!

RW: Moira really is amazing - every Sunday, and all throughout the week, she answers queries under the #wildflowerID hashtag and very generously gives her time to help with identifications.

LM: Yes and she is always so patient and helpful with people - as well as being a really good botanist!


From left: Moira, Rebecca & Louise (BSBI
Comms Officer) at BSBI 2018 Exhibition Meeting

Image: R. Horton 
RW: Going forward I would like to see guest features by experienced botanists to deepen people’s knowledge.
A subject close to my own heart is to keep on spreading the word about how vital wildflowers are for wildlife – they are the foundation upon which so many other species depend. With this in mind @Wildflower_hour started a new hashtag #WildWebsWednesday where folks can share pictures of the species they have found dependent on wild plants.
Above all to keep on celebrating our beautiful and fascinating wild flora with as many people as possible!!!

Well said Rebecca and many thanks for talking to us. Don't forget that Wild Flower Hour happens this evening and every Sunday 8-9pm but before that, there's an extra treat: author Brigit Strawbridge will be on BBC Countryfile this evening looking at snowdrops in Dorset and then she'll be trying to find #thewinter10 for Wild Flower Hour. So from social media to primetime TV, our wonderful wild flowers are having their moment in the spotlight! Rebecca, Moira, Isabel, Brigit and I are all - as you would expect - absolutely delighted about this and we hope you will be too :-)

Friday, 21 February 2020

Nature’s Calendar, New Year Plant Hunt and #WildFlowerHour – how to get your phenology fix!

Hazel: first flowering
Image courtesy of Nature's Calendar
Judging by the increasing numbers of people taking part in the BSBI's New Year Plant Hunt each year (1,714 people in 2020) and talking about which plants they find in bloom in the depths of winter, and the growing number of people who take part in #wildflowerhour every Sunday evening, sharing images of wild or naturalised plants they've spotted in bloom during the previous week, it's clear that lots of us are fascinated by which plants are in flower and when. 

We also regularly find people asking BSBI on social media, "this seems early compared to last year" and "is anyone else spotting this plant in bloom in their local area?".

This whole subject area is called phenology and I asked somebody who knows a lot about it to tell us more. Over to Judith, Citizen Science Officer at Nature's Calendar: 

Some of the plants Judith spotted in bloom
during  New Year Plant Hunt 2020
Image: Judith Garforth 
"I took part in the New Year Plant Hunt this year because phenology, the study of seasonal changes in plants and animals from year to year, is something I find absolutely fascinating. 

"Whilst out on a family walk on New Year’s day, I made a note of the wildflowers I saw and submitted my records to the BSBI to help scientists investigate how wildflowers are responding to changes in autumn and winter weather patterns.

"I think most people have an awareness of the annual timings of natural events, especially in the UK where we have such marked seasons and love to talk about the weather. Have you ever thought ‘the daffodils are early this year’ or are you aware of what’s in flower around the time of your birthday? 

Beech: leaf unfurling
Image courtesy of Nature's Calendar
"As a child I always used to go blackberry picking in the last week of the summer holiday because I knew the bramble fruits would be ripe by then. I could be sure there would be heaps of fallen leaves to kick through on bonfire night. So we’re all natural phenologists really (even if you’ve never heard of the word).

"Some people take that natural awareness one step further and keep detailed records from year to year. A lady called Jean Combes, for example, started recording the date of oak budburst every year when she was a child and continued to do so all through her adult life (she is now in her 90s). Her records have become famous and used by scientists interested in the impact of a changing climate on trees and wildlife. Her records show that budburst has got earlier during her life time although there is huge variation from year to year due to the weather. She has been awarded an OBE for her work!

Beech: full autumn tinting
Image courtesy of Nature's Calendar
"Records like these kept by individuals are hugely important but only give scientists a snapshot of information from a single location in the UK. In 1998 a UK wide recorder network was established by Tim Sparks. It’s called Nature’s Calendar and is run by the Woodland Trust. It’s a citizen science project so anyone can take part but you don’t need to be a scientist!

"So if you enjoyed the New Year Plant Hunt and look forward to seeing snowdrops flowering in the spring, collecting ripe blackberries in summer, watching leaves change colour in autumn and spotting birds migrating for winter, Nature’s Calendar is the project for you. There are 69 different trees, shrubs, flowers, birds, grasses and fungi to look out for and record throughout the year.

"Records submitted to the Nature’s Calendar project, via the website, go into a phenology database and are used by scientists to investigate what effect recent weather has had on wildlife and - over the longer term - how wildlife is responding to climate change across the UK. The database contains nearly 3 million records dating back to 1736 but new recorders are always needed to continue the project into the next decade and beyond.

Lesser celandine first flowering
Image courtesy of Nature's Calendar
"I personally enjoy recording trees, shrubs and flowers for Nature’s Calendar. I share my Nature’s Calendar flower sightings during #wildflowerhour on twitter (8-9pm every Sunday). This is another phenology fix for me! It’s so interesting to see which wildflowers are flowering each week. If you also take part, look out for the upcoming Nature’s Calendar challenges!"

Many thanks to Judith and her colleagues at Nature's Calendar for telling us about this excellent project. There's more to come about the series of Nature's Calendar challenges currently being planned by the Wild Flower Hour team in the next few days, when we feature an exclusive interview with Rebecca Wheeler, BSBI member and the woman behind much of the recent success of Wild Flower Hour: watch this space! 

Saturday, 8 February 2020

Botanical University Challenge 2020

We brought you an interview last February with Prof John Warren, founder of Botanical University Challenge (BUC), when the event was being held at University of Reading. That was the second BUC; the first was held in 2016 at RBG Kew and we are now looking forward to the third BUC on Wednesday 19th February - it's shaping up to be an annual event.

Organiser Meriel Jones said "This one day event is happening this year at Ness Botanic Gardens in Liverpool. BUC is when teams of university students compete about all things botanical. UK wild plants and ecology, terminology, plant identification and diversity, food plants, plants in UK and world culture – indeed all the interests of the enthusiastic botanist! This is a great early Spring event to inspire you to look again at the plants around you.

"Teams will come from universities including Liverpool, Edge Hill, Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan, Lancaster, York and Reading Universities.

"It will be held in the Lecture Theatre at the Visitors Centre, Ness Botanic Gardens, CH64 4AY, starting 2 pm. The event is free but you'll need to book a ticket in advance  please via Eventbrite:  https://botanicaluniversitychallenge.eventbrite.co.uk. This does not include entry to Ness Botanic Gardens - that is charged at normal winter rates".

There is a Twitter account for the event if you'd like to find out more, and you'll be able to follow the action on social media on the day via the hashtag #BUC2020   

John Warren said "As Chair of BSBI's Training & Education Committee, I am delighted to see Botanical University Challenge happening again in 2020.

"Despite the apparent decline in plant biology at university level, BUC reveals that many students are still fired up by botany and have an impressive depth and range of knowledge of all things green. It is also pleasing to see it being organised in the north for the first time this year and attracting several new teams. It is being organised by Liverpool University at Ness Gardens. Last year's winners, Reading, are returning to defend their title and competition is sure to be intense". 

If you can't make it along to the event in person, don't forget to keep an eye on the BUC hashtag from 2pm on 19th February and see how many BSBI botanists you can spot in the eight teams. Past participants include well-known next generation botanists such as Josh Styles and George Garnett. Cheering your favourite team or player on from the safety of your own computer is definitely allowed!

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Pollinators in Winter: Go native or not?

Buff-tailed bumblebee Bombus terrestris on Gorse
Image: Kevin Thomas, Falmouth Nature
One of the big questions raised in the analysis of New Year Plant Hunt (NYPH) results by Kevin Walker, BSBI Head of Science, is around what the impacts of changes in flowering times of wild and naturalised plants might have on pollinators and other insects. 

As Kevin says, "NYPH has shown that in milder winters, more plants flower because of warmer temperatures and fewer frosts. We don't yet know what the implications of this are for plants and associated insects - but what we do know is that weather patterns are changing and that plants are responding".

Bombus terrestris on a range of plants
Photographed on 30th January 2019
Image: Charlotte Rankin
Of course, before we can get to grips with the possible impacts of changing weather patterns on our plants and insects, we need to know what is "usual" at this time of year. So, to help those of us (like me!) whose botany is much stronger than our entomology, I asked conservationist and insect ecologist Charlotte Rankin to talk us through which pollinators are usually on the wing at this time of year and which plants they are most likely to visit - native species? Naturalised garden plants? Or perhaps the winter-flowering shrubs we see in parks and gardens which rarely naturalise? 

Charlotte has a first class degree in Conservation Biology and Ecology, and a strong track record in community engagement and public outreach. She is also a botanist and took part in this year's North-East New Year Plant Hunt-Off in Northumbria, so she is ideally placed to bridge the gap between flowers and pollinators! 

Bombus terrestris heads for a Rosemary plant
Image: Charlotte Rankin
Over to Charlotte:
    
"For most flowering plants and their visiting insects, Winter is a time for rest and preparation for the warmer seasons ahead in the UK. However, there are some quiet buzzes in the urban air and, as shown by this year’s New Year Plant Hunt results, over 600 species of wild or naturalised flowering plants can be found in bloom. Honeybees and various species of fly can be active on particularly mild winter days and most notably, brave and bold Bombus terrestris (Buff-tailed Bumblebee) queens can establish winter-active colonies.

"What forage can urban areas offer for such pollinators in Winter? At a glance, results from the New Year Plant Hunt provides insight into what wild or naturalised plant species may well be available for urban pollinators out in Winter. The top 20 plants found in flower during this year’s Hunt shows that there are species particularly attractive to pollinators, such as the trusty Taraxacum spp. (Dandelion), Achillea millefolium (Yarrow), Sonchus oleraceus (Smooth Sow-thistle), Hedera helix (Ivy) and Jacobaea vulgaris (Common Ragwort), that can hang onto Winter. 

Bombus terrestris on Winter Heliotrope
Image: Charlotte Rankin
"Urban areas also tend to have more naturalised non-natives that could be exploited, including Centranthus ruber (Red Valerian) and Petasites pyrenaicus (Winter Heliotrope). However, private gardens, parks and other amenity areas also introduce a variety of exotic winter-flowering plants, that by flowering at their peak during these months, can offer a rich resource of nectar and pollen throughout the Winter.

"Winter-active nests of Bombus terrestris are associated with Southern, urban areas of England and were first noted in the 1990’s. Rather than hibernating, some queens produced in late Summer/Autumn may establish a nest and maintain it throughout the Winter months. 

"In order to do this, nests need a continuity of nectar and pollen and it seems that colonies deal with the depths of Winter by utilising exotic winter-flowering plants, particularly mass-flowering shrubs.

Bombus terrestris on Winter Honeysuckle,
Mahonia and Winter Heather
Image: Mike Robinson  
"There has been some published research on the winter foraging activity of Bombus terrestris: A study by Stelzer et al. (2010) showed that commercial Bombus terrestris colonies in London relied upon mass-flowering garden shrubs such as Mahonia and could achieve foraging rates like that in Summer. An ask on Twitter also showcased the exotic tastes of Bombus terrestris, with the large majority of sightings on a great range of garden plants including Mahonia spp., Lonicera fragrantissima (Winter Honeysuckle), Hebe spp., Camellia spp. such as ‘Cornish Snow’, Winter-flowering Erica spp., Jasminum nudiflorum (Winter Jasmine) and Helleborus spp. (Garden Hellebores).

"These plants all share something in common: they flower at their peak during Winter, providing these bumblebees with an abundance of nectar and pollen to develop their colonies. As a generalist species active during these tricky months, it makes sense for these bumblebees to focus their foraging on these mass-flowering plants. While wildflower species attractive to bumblebees could well be present, their flowers are few and far between compared to their prime months of flowering to be relied upon.

Episyrphus balteatus on Gorse
Image: Kevin Thomas, Falmouth Nature 
"Winter workers can be seen using the native Ulex europaeus (Gorse), appearing to collect its pollen. Some workers may even venture into allotments and make use of broccoli that has been left to flower and have been spotted using the invasive and naturalised Winter Heliotrope.

"On mild Winter days, there are three species of hoverfly likely to be seen: Meliscaeva auricollis, Eristalis tenax and Episyrphus balteatus. Winter hoverfly sightings from Twitter and the UK Hoverflies Facebook Group provide insight into what plants they visit, including visits to wildflowers such as Taraxacum agg. (Dandelion), Ulex europaeus (Gorse) and early-flowering Ficaria verna (Lesser Celandine). 

Meliscaeva auricollis on Viburnum
Image: Will George
"Again, exotic plants appear to be a valuable forage resource, with sightings on species such as Mahonia, Viburnum tinus (Viburnum), Lonicera fragrantissima (Winter Honeysuckle), Erysimum spp. (Perennial Wallflower) and Jasminum nudiflorum (Winter Jasmine).

"In the depths of winter, exotic mass-flowering plants can provide a reliable and rich resource of nectar and pollen. Winter-active nests of Bombus terrestris appear to have a strong association with these plants and currently, wildflowers found straggling on into Winter likely do not provide sufficient forage to be utilised alone. 

Eristalis tenax on Dandelion
Image courtesy of Trevor Kerridge 
"Towards the end of Winter and early Spring, a variety of early-flowering species such as Lesser Celandines and Blackthorn begin to flower, and their importance as magnets for early-emerging pollinators should certainly not be overlooked. More data is needed on the winter foraging activity of bumblebees and other pollinators that may venture out on mild winter days. Sightings of winter-active bumblebees can be submitted online to the Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society (BWARS)’s winter bumblebee project."

Many thanks to Charlotte for these helpful insights into a pollinator's eye view of our winter flowers, whether wild or in gardens. Thanks also for the superb images she sourced to illustrate this post: some are her own and some were sourced from her network of contacts. Many thanks to them too and we have shared links to their Twitter accounts so you can follow them. You can also follow Charlotte on Twitter for more of her observations on the natural world and our wonderful wildlife, both plants and animals. 

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

BSBI News: January issue is out!

The latest issue of BSBI News, our membership newsletter, is being mailed out this week and the electronic version will be available in a few days via the password-protected members-only area of the BSBI website

It's the first issue under the editorship of John Norton, who took over late last year from Andrew Branson so I bet you'll be keen to know what's inside! 

And the big question... 

Has John managed to maintain the high standard set by Andrew? 

Fortunately John, like his predecessor, has agreed to provide News & Views readers - whether BSBI members or not - with an advance peek inside the issue. So I can report that this issue, BSBI News #143, contains the following delights:



The newly-discovered hybrid toadflax
Image: M. Wilcox
There are six featured articles, including a long-term assessment of the effects of dredging on the aquatic plants of a Yorkshire canal - eight pages of essential reading for ecologists and botanical surveyors. You may have read previous articles on the short-term damage to aquatic plants caused by dredging of navigable canals, but this overview by Ray Goulder paints a different picture of long-term outcomes. 

There's an overview of the genus Cymbalaria (toadflaxes) in Britain including the discovery of the hybrid between the well-known and widespread Ivy-leaved Toadflax (238 records of Ivy-leaved Toadflax blooming across Britain and Ireland during the 2020 New Year Plant Hunt) and the less-common Italian Toadflax


Crepis mollis being reclusive in Northumberland
Image: J. Richards
Prof John Richards considers an increasingly rare plant which "inspires devotion among its acolytes, through its reclusive nature and highly selective habitat requirements". He asks "Whatever happened to Crepis mollis (Northern Hawk's-beard)?"

I'm not going to tell you about the other three featured articles - you'll just have to wait until your copy of BSBI News arrives! - but I will say that one of them focuses on an orchid... 


In this issue, BSBI News also welcomes its new Book Reviews Editor, Prof Clive Stace, and there are eight pages of reviews including Grassland plants of the British and Irish lowlands, reviewed (very favourably) by Prof Mick Crawley; the latest BSBI Handbook is reviewed and deemed to be "a super little book"; Ian Denholm, one of BSBI's expert referees on orchids, has good things to say about the new Field Guide to the Orchids of Europe and the Mediterranean; and Clive himself reviews Tony Church's Arran's Flora.


Plant families workshop in Rhayader, Wales
Image: B. Brown
There are 10 pages covering notable events and interesting plant findings from across Britain and Ireland in recent months, including the Summer Meeting, the Exhibition Meeting, the Aquatic Plant Project in Ireland and the Plant Families workshop in Wales.

There are obituaries and letters and membership notices and an address from BSBI President Lynne Farrell and an editorial.

There are 12 pages of reports of adventives and alien plants turning up across Britain and Ireland, such as the Chinese Mallow spotted beside the River Thames by Caroline Bateman...


Chinese Mallow Malva verticillata
Image: G. Hounsome
Shall I just stop talking now so you can go and sit by the front door and wait for the postie to arrive with your copy of BSBI News no. 143? There are 84 pages for you to enjoy and I'm sure you'll want to join me in congratulating Editor John Norton on an excellent first issue. I'm sure John would love to hear from you at john.norton@bsbi.org if you have any comments on this issue or suggestions for the next one. What articles would you like to read? Or could you offer an article?  

Finally, a reminder that if you are not yet a BSBI member but you'd like to remedy that unfortunate situation asap and start receiving three issues each year of BSBI News - and enjoying a host of other membership benefits - just head over here, pay your sub, fill in the membership form and sit back and wait for your copy to drop through the letterbox. 

Happy reading!  

Sunday, 26 January 2020

Here's How BSBI Training Grants Helped Botanists in 2019: Part Seven

Ken (top right) keying out aquatics
Image: Louise Denning 
 
Following on from last month's post by Claire, it was great to hear from botanist Louise about how a BSBI Training Grant helped her too in 2019. Reminder that if you would like to apply for a Training Grant for a plant ID course taking place this year, the deadline is end of January so you'll need to get your skates on!

Over to Louise, who also provided all the images on this page :


"In 2018, I started working for Natural England based in their Lincoln office, after many years of being an environmental consultant and having just finished a self-funded PhD. 

"My role at Natural England is focused on the coastal habitats around The Wash and along the Lincolnshire Coast (mainly saltmarsh, sand dunes and coastal grazing marsh), but my patch also covers the South Lincolnshire Fens. Much of my work involves stakeholders and partners and I am very fortunate to be able to undertake botanical fieldwork at some amazing local sites.

Mare's-tail Hippuris vulgaris
"When I moved to Lincolnshire from Oxfordshire, one of my goals was to improve my general botanical skills (and to meet new people), and in 2018, I undertook the FISC test to provide myself with a benchmark of where I was at. I also joined the South Lincolnshire Flora Group and been involved with the Heritage Lottery Funded Love Lincs Plants project run by Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust. 

"Through my PhD I have gained invaluable identification skills on coastal habitats in particular for sand dunes and saltmarsh, but it has been many years since I had done any significant aquatic or wetland surveys. I was therefore looking to improve my plant identification skills with this tricky group to assist with my job role and for my voluntary work. 

"Specifically I was looking to improve my field recognition skills and in using plant keys for difficult species groups.

Utricularia specimen
showing the bladders
"After a good look through the Field Studies Council (FSC) courses I decided on undertaking two one day courses on Aquatic Plants (one intermediate, one advanced) being led by Ken Adams at the Epping Forest Centre. Epping Forest is designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and also a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). 

"The SSSI is designated in part due to its  “abundance of bogs, pools and ponds in the Forest, some of which are considerable botanical and entomological interest”. I applied for the BSBI training grant to help towards the cost of the course and was exceptionally happy to have been awarded a grant of £110. 

"On one of the hottest days in July 2019 I travelled down to Essex, with the car thermometer reaching a blistering 37ºC. On arrival we were welcomed and shown to one of the teaching labs, which was fortunately a little cooler than outside. 


Myriophyllum specimen
"The attendees included a mixture of volunteers, consultants and those from nature conservation organisations all wishing to improve their botanical identification. Most people were attending both days, but that was not necessary. Around the lab there were specimens all collected by Ken from the locality, allowing direct comparison between similar species (a very useful reference tool).

"Ken kicked off the session with a presentation covering a wide range of aquatic and emergent plant groups. Helpful identification tips were given for surface water plants commonly known as the duckweeds such as Wolffia, Lemna and Spirodela as well as the non-native invasive Azolla (Water-fern). 

"We also looked at submerged water plants using leaf insertion and dissection patterns to aid recognition. This is a tricky group with easily confused genera and species such as Ceratophyllum, Myriophyllum, and Ranunculus (although this group would be picked up again later). 

The pond at the FSC centre
"We then started looking at the species with floating leaves on the surface. One of the most helpful parts of the morning was looking at the commonly confused tall emergents. Ken provided useful tips on the leaf arrangement of Typha, Sparganium, Iris, Glyceria, Phalaris and Phragmities. 

"This was followed by a review of the main river bank sedges ie Carex riparia (Greater Pond Sedge), Carex acutiformis (Lesser Pond Sedge), Carex acuta (Slender-tufted Sedge), etc, as well as other members of the Cyperaceae.

Pool infested with Crassula helmsii
"Mid-morning we headed out into the heat, behind the back of the FSC building there was a couple of lovely ponds with Nymphaea alba (White Water-lily), Menyanthes trifoliata (Bogbean), Lythrum salicaria (Purple-loosestrife), Iris pseudacorus (Yellow Iris), Potentilla palustris (Marsh cinquefoil) and Lycopus europaeus (Gypsywort) to name just a few. 

"We then visited a pool (unfortunately one of many within Epping Forest) infested with Crassula helmsii (New Zealand Pigmyweed) which is a serious threat. After this, we headed back inside and spent the remainder of the afternoon looking at the specimens that had been collected and set out.

Ken's keys are legendary!
"The second day provided an opportunity to look more at the difficult plant groups more closely. 

"Specimens of species of Chara (Stoneworts), Callitriche (Starworts), Grass-leaved Pondweeds including various species of Potamogeton (Pondweeds), and Zannichellia (Horned Pondweeds) were available to look at under the microscope and Ken supplied his keys which he has published in the Essex Botany Newsletters (which are excellent not just for the aquatic/ emergent plants but for other difficult groups like Epilobium (Willowherbs).

Yellow loosestrife 
"Later we visited the River Roding and Lesser Wake Valley Ponds where we saw a number of aquatic, emergent and wetland species including Scutellaria galericulata (Skullcap), Lysimachia vulgaris (Yellow Loosestrife), Pulicaria dysenterica (Common Fleabane), Hippuris vulgaris (Mare’s-tail), Typha angustifolia (Lesser Bulrush) and Sagittaria sagittifolia (Arrowhead).

"For lunch on both days we were very fortunate to visit the local pub which served a great lunch. During the session Ken Adams announced that the course was likely to be one of his last and so like many of those who attended, I felt extremely privileged to have been there. 

"As is often the case the more knowledge you have on a species group, the more you realise there is still far more to learn – but with the skills picked up on this course and the amazing ID guides provided, I feel I am better equipped to try and key-out some of the more difficult groups. 

River Roding
"Since attending the course I have taken part in the Natural England Long-term Monitoring Surveys at Bure Marshes NNR in Norfolk which had a number of aquatic and wetland rarities, and surveyed some of the dune slacks at Gibraltar Point. 

"In 2020 I will be able to further develop my new skills, as I am the Site Lead for the Dynamic Dunescapes (Lincolnshire dunes) project funded by the HLF and EU LIFE, part of which involves rejuvenating the dune slacks at Saltfleetby to Theddlethorpe Dunes NNR; and I hope to undertake surveys after recent ditch slubbing works at Baston and Thurlby Fen, a Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust reserve".


Ken Adams (with bamboo cane for hoicking out
aquatic plants) surrounded by happy students
Many thanks to Louise for sharing this account of how a BSBI Training Grant helped her sharpen her ID skills ahead of some challenging survey work ahead of her which could lead to rejuvenation of some important dune slacks - essential for conservation of other wildlife. 

It's great to feel that BSBI has been able to help equip her with the ID skills to meet that challenge!