Thursday 31 December 2020

2020: BSBI members rose to the challenges of lockdown

Melancholy thistle & associates, Ben Lawers
Image: Sarah Watts
As this strangest of years draws to a close, it's a good time to look back on everything that BSBI members achieved in 2020. The year started with our ninth New Year Plant Hunt which attracted a record number of participants: 1,714. In late March, just as the botanical season was about to start... well you all know what happened. 

Probably a good job that 2019 was our final year to go out recording for Atlas 2020 - this year was always meant to be the year when plant records were checked and uploaded and by the end of March, around six million records had been added to our Distribution Database, taking the total to more than 48 million*. Find out more about all our members' achievements up to the end of March in our Annual Review

A fortnight after lockdown started, we launched our Garden Wildflower Hunt so that botanists could hunt for plants and collect valuable data while following Government restrictions to stay at home. By the end of April, our wonderful members and supporters had submitted more than 9,000 records of wildflowers in gardens.  

Sporangia of Europe's newest fern
Image: R. Hodd

From May onwards we started offering online training webinars and supporting webpages on the identification of dandelions, ferns, grasses, aquatics and stoneworts and we set up a BSBI YouTube channel to share videos of the webinars. The YouTube channel also proved handy later in the year when we moved our Scottish Botanists' Conference and Annual Exhibition Meeting online and then made all the talks available via YouTube. We were fortunate to receive funding from NPWS, CeDAR and the Heritage Lottery Fund to make all these projects and activities possible. 

Our scientific journal, British & Irish Botany, went from strength to strength with four issues throughout the year including a paper on Europe's newest fern, which attracted international media interest. We also made sample issues of our membership newsletter available to non-members and December saw the launch of a new mid-monthly eNewsletter - more than 1000 people signed up to receive the first issue. In all these ways we are meeting the goals laid out in our new Strategy for 2021-4.    

Only one new BSBI Handbook was published in 2020 but there are ten currently in the pipeline, with two due for publication early in 2021 and as always, there will be large discounts for BSBI members, as there were for Britain's Orchids which featured BSBI distribution maps.

We were also contributors once again to RBG Kew's report on the State of the World's Plants & Fungi - Kevin Walker, BSBI Head of Science, and Pete Stroh, Scientific Officer for England, were co-authors on this paper which included BSBI plant data.

As 2020 draws to a close we are delighted to report that membership has continued to grow, with 3,260 members as of today, and the contributions of two long-standing BSBI members have been acknowledged in the New Year Honours list: Oxfordshire botanist/ ecologist Dr Judy Webb is awarded the British Empire Medal and Dr Steph Tyler, Chair of BSBI Committee for Wales, is awarded OBE. Congratulations to both of them.  

Who knows what challenges we will face in 2021 but we do know how we will be starting the year - our tenth New Year Plant Hunt kicks off at one minute past midnight on New Year's Day and we hope that you will be able to take part, as long as you can do so while following Government guidance and staying safe. Plant records are important but the safety and health of our botanists is even more important, so please look after yourselves and have a very Happy New Year!

* By midnight on 31st December 2020, the total number of plant records in our Database had risen to 49,265,649 - well done everyone! 

Thursday 24 December 2020

Happy Christmas from BSBI President Lynne Farrell

A Christmas message from BSBI President Lynne Farrell

"It is raining and windy again, and the news is not good, but the nearby villagers in Levens have done their best to brighten us up with their splendid, multi-coloured Christmas tree (on right), so well done to them. The colours are those of the rainbow, ‘highlighting’ the role the NHS have played in all our lives this year.

"In my village we have a nativity trail and 16 different displays in various homes and gardens to spot. On Sunday morning I am making mince pies for all the houses in my cul-de-sac and we are emerging onto our doorsteps to raise a glass and wish each other a much better New Year. That is my wish for all BSBI members too, and I am hoping to actually see some of you in 2021. Meanwhile - Happy Christmas!"

You can read monthly posts from Lynne on this blog - watch out for her next post in early January, when she will tell us all about her New Year Plant Hunt

Wednesday 23 December 2020

New BSBI Handbooks in the pipeline!

A selection of BSBI Handbooks
Since the demise of BSBI Publications Committee under the Governance changes voted in at last month's Exhibition Meeting, our former President David Pearman has been keeping an eye on BSBI's publications portfolio and liaising with Handbook authors and editors. 

There was a rumour going round recently that there were no fewer than ten BSBI Handbooks in the pipeline, so I caught up with David to find out if this could possibly be true - ten Handbooks! 

Here's what David said:   

"We are pleased to say that the list of forthcoming BSBI Handbooks is longer than ever and very exciting! This spring we have two coming - the next monograph on a Hawkweed section, by Tim Rich & David McCosh, this time Hieracium sections Foliosa & Prenanthoidea, followed in April 2021 by a completely new work on Broomrapes, written by Chris Thorogood and Fred Rumsey (Natural History Museum).

Sample of Chris Thorogood's
illustrations of Broomrapes
Orobanche spp.

"These will be followed in the spring of 2022 by a completely new, all-colour edition of the Dandelions Handbook and a comprehensively revised edition of Umbellifers (Carrot family), with many new species and drawings.

"2023 should see two more completely revised editions of the Handbooks on Roses, and on Willows and Poplars, plus two new works, on Alchemilla, Lady's Mantles, and on Oxalis, the latter covering Europe as well as Britain and Ireland.

"Finally, we are working on a Fern and Horsetail guide, in conjunction with the British Pteridological Society, and an updated version of the Crucifer Handbook".

So there you have it straight from the horse's mouth - ten Handbooks (count them!) in the pipeline. 

Keep an eye on the BSBI Handbooks page on the website for more info and don't forget - BSBI members can enjoy special money-saving offers on all BSBI Handbooks: yet another reason to join the growing ranks of BSBI members! 

Friday 11 December 2020

November: big events and Yellow Brains: notes from the BSBI President

Here's the latest monthly report from BSBI President Lynne Farrell telling us what she got up to in November:

"We have held three very successful and much-appreciated annual exhibition and general meetings recently in Dublin, Edinburgh and London- virtually, of course. You can see the talks on the BSBI YouTube channel here for the Irish Meeting, here for the Scottish Conference and here for the Exhibition Meeting.

You can also browse exhibits via the event websites - here for the Scottish Conference and here for the Annual Exhibition Meeting

The downside was that we were not able to be together in reality but the upside was that more people from all round Britain and Ireland were able to share the events on-line. Members from Donegal and Cork ‘came’ to London, which would have been time-consuming and expensive otherwise. Although you have to concentrate using Zoom, there is the advantage that you can dip in and out on the day itself, and also view the event at a later date. We hope that you will do so and continue to enjoy the presentations. Thanks go to the technological team for making this possible.

Outside you may have noticed on your ‘health walks’ and in your garden that plants are continuing to flower much later due to the mild conditions, but as I write there is a cold front approaching so that may change quickly. The Garden Wildflower Hunt should indicate some of these late bloomers.

During the autumn I have turned my attention to fungi, which have also continued to emerge throughout November. Fungi have featured on Book of the Week on BBC Radio 4 and there are several new publications to help you with identification and understanding of this extremely large and important ‘group’. The variety of shapes and forms is worth looking at even if running down to species level is challenging. Here are a few for you to enjoy- the names are also interesting- Collared Earthstar, Purple Jellydisc (below), Yellow Brain (above left), Pink Ballerina".

Wednesday 9 December 2020

Paul Green returns (for a while) as BSBI Ireland Officer

Last year we welcomed Sarah Pierce as our new BSBI IrelandOfficer and now that Sarah has gone on maternity leave, it’s time to welcome her maternity cover, Paul Green. Paul‘s name will be familiar to many people in BSBI as he has previously filled the role of our Wales Officer – not once but twice!

Paul & Allium. Image: I. Bonner

I caught up with Paul and asked him to tell us more:

LM: Paul, it’s great to be working with you again – welcome back! Before we talk about your new role, could you tell us something about your previous times as a BSBI staff member?

PG: I worked as the BSBI Wales Officer from 2012-2015, covering Polly Spencer-Vellacott while on maternity leave, and we also job shared during that time. I stepped back into the role for six months in late 2017, as Polly’s family had decided to relocate to Scotland. I had a desk space in the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff.

LM: And you’ve also filled the role of BSBI Vice-County Recorder (VCR) more than once I think?

Paul (on right) leads an Atriplex workshop

PG: I served as the VCR for South Somerset VC5 for ten years from 1992. Stepped down as VCR for Waterford H6 in 2019, after being in the post for 18 years. I am still the VCR for Wexford H12, which I have been doing since 2003.

LM: And I think you were working with Sarah to get the Aquatic Plant Project set up?

PG: While Sarah settled in as Ireland Officer in 2019, I was working in the background organising the Aquatic Plant Project. Working out sites to visit, species we had to re-find at sites, advertising the project etc. Nick Stewart led the training days, he knows everything you need to know about plants growing in water, and explains how to identify them in an easy way to understand.

LM: So you know BSBI inside out! What will your main duties be as Ireland Officer?

PG: It will be working with members in Ireland in every way I can be of help, and with staff members across BSBI. Promoting BSBI as much as possible, and hopefully being able to get out in the field with botanists in Ireland.

Paul (on right) leading a fern workshop
LM: And could you take us right back to the beginning – how did you first get attracted to botany?

PG: I have always been into all wildlife since I was a very young child, but can’t remember when it was just plants that I wanted to know their names. All other wildlife groups I’m just happy looking, not being that bothered what they are.

LM: And what happened next? How did you build up your botanical skills?

PG: I'm completely self-taught, with a little help from my grandmothers, as one loved wildlife and the other gardening. I never intended making a living from plants, it came about by chance when in 2004 Ian Bennallick said Greentours Natural History Holidays were looking for botanical leaders, he put my name forward. Ever since, I have been making my living from plants.

LM: So now you are Ireland Officer, and in this strange Covid world I guess you’ll be working from home – whereabouts is that?

PG: I’m based 6km from the south coast, at Ballycullane, Co. Wexford, in the southeast of Ireland. Because of Covid-19 restrictions I’m working from home. My botany room has been converted into my Ireland Officer office. I have a large collection of botany books from all around the world, which take up one entire wall space. For example I have a near complete set of the Journal of Botany dating back to the 1860s.  

LM: Well that's fitting, as you are also editor of Irish Botanical News! So what’s next on your To Do list? Apart from the NewYear Plant Hunt of course - you’ve notched up some great Plant Hunt records over the years!

PG: I generally like to botanise in my home patch, rather than travel miles. This year I took on a new challenge, to see how many of the monads in Wexford that had 14 or less species needed to bring their total of species recorded up to 200. I started this on 1st January when I took part in the New Year Plant Hunt and did a circular walk in a monad, easily finding the 4 species I needed. On average I generally added 30-40 new species to each monad. I love just being out looking at plants, and seem to have a lot of luck finding the unexpected, for example in 2019 I was walking along the beach at Morriscastle, Co. Wexford and refound Sea Stock Matthiola sinuata, (image on right) which had been thought extinct in Ireland since 1933.

LM: That was a great (re)find! Can we follow the latest news about your botanical finds on social media?

PG: On Twitter I can be followed at @BSBI_Ireland (the BSBI Ireland Officer's account) and @WexfordBotany1 (my VCR account). I normally tweet at least once a week, and always try and put something flowering up for Wild Flower Hour that I have seen during the week.

LM: Well, many thanks for talking to us Paul and again – welcome back!

Monday 7 December 2020

British & Irish Botany: December issue published

We’ve just published the latest issue of British & Irish Botany – it’s the fourth issue of our second volume and the final one for 2020. Unlike the previous issue, we don’t have any flying mousetail ferns, new to Europe, this time around (sorry!) but there are six fascinating papers from across Britain and Ireland for you to enjoy.

Over to Editor Ian Denholm to tell you about the first two papers:

Inflorescences of 3 varieties of Juncus effusus. Images: R. Stace
Clive Stace provides an authoritative review of the status in the British Isles of hybrids between five native and closely-related species of rush (Hard, Soft, Compact, Baltic and Thread). As well as outlining broad morphological features he describes aspects of stem anatomy that may be required for a confirmatory diagnosis.

Mark Hill, Chris Preston and Jonathan Shanklin utilise statistical tools to assign plant species in Cambridgeshire to ‘clusters’ representing ecological and/or geographical features. The analysis is based on over 300,000 county records accumulated for BSBI’s Atlas 2020 project and offers a preview of how the new Atlas 2020 datasets can be exploited for further insights into the structure of the British and Irish flora”.

Check out also Jonathan’s poster about Cambridgeshire’s protected road verges, which he exhibited at the BSBI Exhibition Meeting. Ian and I would also like to thank Jonathan for his contribution as a member of the British & Irish Botany editorial team and to congratulate him on the recent honour paid to him: a glacier in Antarctica has been named after Jonathan in recognition of his contribution to science as a co-discoverer of the hole in the ozone layer.

The formal gardens at Worsley New Hall

One for all ecologists, horticulturists and fans of archaeophytes next: Mick Crawley, Clive’s co-author on the New Naturalist ‘Alien Plants’ book, has contributed this paper about Large-flowered Hemp-nettle Galeopsis speciosa, a baseline flora for the site of the new RHS garden at Worsley New Hall in Salford and the resulting description of a new Galeopsis speciosa Open Vegetation plant community. Four wildflower seedmixes were used at the site and if this is a subject that interests you, be sure to check out both this opinion piece by BSBI Head of Science Kevin Walker and a video of the panel discussion held at the recent BSBI Exhibition Meeting, when the pros and cons of seedmixes were debated.  

Kerry Lily. Image: R. Hodd
Two papers from the Republic of Ireland: first Darach Lupton and Micheline Sheehy Skeffington review the ecology and status of the Kerry Lily Simethis mattiazzi in Ireland and then Marcus Collier and Lindsay Hollingsworth from Trinity College, Dublin, discuss the ground flora of field boundary dry stone walls in The Burren in the west of Ireland.

Finally, we have a paper from Scotland: Michael Braithwaite, past President of BSBI, former County Recorder for Berwickshire and author of various publications about botany in the Scottish Borders, looks at plant migration history in a fascinating paper called Patrolling the Scottish Border. Be sure also to check out Michael’s recent exhibit – a 25-page poster - at the BSBI Exhibition Meeting - called ‘Tetrad distributions for some selected pairs of British species’, it provides a nice complement to his paper in British & Irish Botany. 

View the whole issue here - it's free, it's Open Access, and it's just waiting for you to sit back and enjoy a jolly good read!