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 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 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!

Monday 20 January 2020

New Year Plant Hunt 2020: analysis of results

New Year Plant Hunters in
Glengarriff, West Cork
Image: C. Heardman 
The analysis of BSBI's ninth New Year Plant Hunt has now been published and is available to download here. The analysis includes a summary and there's also a press release here which went out this morning to all our media contacts. 

1,714 people participated in the Hunt between 1st and 4th January, either individually, with family and friends or on group hunts, often organised by local botanical recording groups. That's an increase of 16% compared to last year. 20 people (mainly in northern/ upland areas) also contributed to our understanding of what was flowering where by emailing us locations of where they had hunted but found nothing in bloom. Many people also made casual observations on social media but didn’t email us or upload their records so we haven’t included them in our totals. 

We'd like to thank all of you who took part, a fantastic effort! You braved the cold and went out hunting from Shetland to Guernsey, from Donegal to Anglesey to Norfolk, from west Cork to Pembrokeshire to London to the Kent coast. 

Plant hunters out in London
on New Year's Day
Image: Jo Wright
You submitted a grand total of 778 lists comprising 14,724 records of 615 species in bloom across Britain and Ireland.

All your records were checked and analysed by Dr Kevin Walker, BSBI's Head of Science. Here are some of his key findings:
  • 53% of the records were of species which normally flower after midsummer and had managed to carry on flowering. These include ‘Autumn Stragglers’ such as Yarrow, Ragwort and Hogweed. This figure is slightly lower than last year's 58% - perhaps as a result of all the wet weather many of us experienced last autumn? 
  • Only 24% were ‘Springtime Specialists’ like Primrose and Lesser Celandine, so there is no indication of an early spring. This proportion is roughly similar to previous years. 
  • 23% of the records submitted were of species we might reasonably expect to flower at New Year, or species which we cannot easily be categorised as either ‘early’ or ‘late’. These include typical ‘All Year Rounders’ such as Shepherd’s-purse as well as ‘Winter Specialists’ such as Winter Heliotrope. Again, this proportion is roughly similar to previous years.
  • The top five species were Daisy, Groundsel, Dandelion, Annual Meadow-grass, and Common Chickweed – identical to last year’s list and all (native) plants we would expect to be flowering at this time of year.
  • 36% of species recorded were non-natives. This includes plants from warmer climates that have escaped from gardens or cultivation, become naturalised in the wild and were able to extend their flowering into the winter months.

Examining pavement plants in Heaton during the
North-east New Year Plant Hunt-Off
Image: James Common
As in previous years, urban areas tended to have more non-native species in flower than rural areas, as there are more sheltered and disturbed places with warm microclimates where alien plants can thrive. The milder south and west of Britain and Ireland had the highest numbers of species in flower – 115 in Swanage – a similar number to 2019 but nowhere near the 2016 top total of 162 species recorded in Berkshire by Prof Mick Crawley. 

Strawberry tree blooming in Killarney
Image: Jessica Hamilton
Kevin compared the results with meteorological data and said “2020 appears to have been an average year in terms of winter flowering in comparison to previous years. New Year Plant Hunt data from the past six years shows that there were fewer species in flower this year than in 2015, 2016 and 2019 but more than in 2017 and 2018. The reason for this seems clear – temperatures in the two months preceding this year’s Hunt were only a degree above average compared to 2015, 2016 and 2019, when the combined temperature anomalies were much higher. This was largely due to the cold and wet conditions experienced across much of the country in late 2019, especially in November when the Midlands and Northern England experienced widespread flooding”.

If you'd like to compare this year's results with those of previous years, please use the preceding links to access data from 2017-9 and to compare Kevin's analyses for each year, please visit our New Year Plant Hunt archive page.

BSBI President Lynne Farrell and friend
hunting in the Lake District
Image courtesy of L. Farrell
In conclusion, Kevin said “We can’t yet prove that more species are flowering in mid-winter nowadays, rather than in the past, but 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”.

Two guest blogposts coming soon in response to Kevin's comment: one about pollinators in winter - what impact might changes in flowering times have on our pollinators? And one about a citizen science project run by colleagues which aims to help scientists track the effects of weather on our wildlife. Watch this space and thanks again to everyone who has helped us build up a clearer picture of which plants are blooming in midwinter!

Sunday 19 January 2020

New Year Plant Hunt 2020 in the media: Part One

Many thanks to journalist Joe Shute for his feature in yesterday's Daily Telegraph about the New Year Plant Hunt. The feature appears in the print edition but not online, so Joe has very kindly given us permission to reprint it here. Please click on the image on the right to enlarge it and view the feature in full.

A reminder that an analysis by Dr Kevin Walker, BSBI Head of Science, of all the results you submitted as part of the New Year Plant Hunt will be published on these pages tomorrow 20th January. There are more than 14,700 records so it has taken us a while to check, validate and analyse all of them, and compare them with the results from previous years

We'd like once again to thank everyone who took part in the 2020 New Year Plant Hunt. You are helping us find out more about how flowering times for our wild and naturalised plants are changing in response to changes in autumn and winter weather patterns across Britain and Ireland, and what this might mean for the rest of our wildlife.  

Tuesday 7 January 2020

New Year Plant Hunt 2020: Day Four

Thyme-leaved sandwort, Aberdeenshire
Image: A. Peaker
As the sun set on the fourth and final day of the 2020 New Year Plant Hunt, the last few Group Hunts were taking place in Kirkcudbrightshire and Co. Galway, in Exmouth and Somerset, Hampshire, Norfolk, Warks., Yorkshire, Co. Durham, Denbighshire... and the last few weary botanists were heading home. 

Interesting and/ or unexpected species had been spotted, such as thyme-leaved sandwort found by Alison in Aberdeenshire or the fern-leaved beggarticks spotted by Wendy in Uckfield.

The members of the New Year Plant Hunt Support Team were all looking slightly the worse for wear after four solid days on the Help Desk, answering enquiries, helping with IDs and consoling people who had failed to find anything in bloom. 

As we kept reassuring people, those nil records were important too!

Plant hunting at Staveley NR, SW Yorks.
Image: C. Pinches
Kevin Walker, BSBI Head of Science, was out leading a group hunt at Staveley Nature Reserve in SW Yorkshire with Clare Pinches and Harrogate Nats. They found 14 species in bloom compared to 25 at the same site last year.

 As we said yesterday, Kevin's analysis of this year's results, checked against meteorological data, is going to be very interesting this year. He's hoping to publish his analysis on 20th January on these pages so watch this space.

Looking out for plants in bloom is a hard habit to break once you've started! Botanist Jerry did two plant hunts on his home patch (Notts.) then travelled over to Stamford to join the Northants. and Lincs. botanists on their hunt, where their finds included musk stork's-bill, bur chervil (the first record for the town since 1996) and dappled hawkweed.

Plant hunters from Northants., Cambs., Notts., 
Lincs. & Leics. in the historic town of Stamford
Image: J. Clough
As Jerry travelled home on the train, changing at Leicester, he couldn't resist doing a mini-hunt from the train window and spotted Oxford Ragwort blooming on the tracks as the train pulled in to Leicester station! 

Very fitting because this plant, originally from the volcanic slopes below Mt. Etna and introduced into Britain in the C18th as an ornamental, famously "jumped the fence" of the Oxford Botanic Garden, felt right at home on the cinder-strewn railway sidings and spread along railway tracks throughout the C19th as the Industrial Revolution brought the railway to cities across Britain and later Ireland. 

Winter heliotrope
Image: E. Delaney
Read more about Oxford ragwort here, then check out its BSBI distribution map and follow its progress over time and space!

Oxford ragwort doesn't show up on the Top 20 list of most frequently-spotted plants but winter heliotrope does. It's at number 18 with 182 sightings across Britain and Ireland. The plant on the left was spotted by Eamon Delaney, County Recorder for Co. Galway.; he and Hazel found 22 species in bloom in Headford.

By the end of Day Four, 600 lists had been received and were displaying on the Results map and 571 species had been recorded.

Tim Rich was out plant-hunting in the Cardiff area and recorded 76 species in bloom. He and Sarah Whild did the first Plant Hunt back in 2012 because they were surprised at how many plants they had noticed blooming along roadsides near them in the middle of winter. They took to social media (yes they were pioneers on social media too!) and told botanist friends about their New Year Hunt, word spread and now, eight years on, hundreds and hundreds of people are out hunting! 

Galway botanists head home from Merlin Woods
 where they spotted 42 species in bloom
Image courtesy of
Merlin Woods Community Garden
On Facebook at the end of Day Four, Tim posted photos of some of the 76 species he'd recorded and the friends he'd hunted with this year. He captioned his photo of a Gorse bush with "I have seen this gorse bush flowering over New Year every year for the last 9 years, an old friend".

He also tagged Sarah, who notched up 54 species in bloom in Shrewsbury, saying "When you see how many people have joined in and had fun, it just amazes me what we started" and Sarah replied "we had no idea!!!" 

Let's all raise a glass to both of them and say a huge thank you to these two lovely botanists who founded the New Year Plant Hunt!