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!

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