Thursday 30 December 2021

British & Irish Botany: issue 3.4 published

Strawberry Tree overhanging the water:
Upper Lake, Killarney, Co. Kerry
Image: R. Hodd 
We've just pressed 'publish' on the latest issue of British & Irish Botany, BSBI's online, Open Access scientific journal. This is the final issue of 2021 and features five papers - over to Editor-in-Chief Ian Denholm to tell us more.

"Several papers published previously in British & Irish Botany have helped to elucidate the origins of our flora through combining knowledge of present-day distributions with considerations of history and pre-history, and even folklore and mythology. Opening papers to the current issue apply such a multidisciplinary approach to two of the most iconic members of the British and Irish flora. 

"Strawberry Tree Arbutus unedo is one of the so-called ‘Lusitanian’ species occurring disjunctly in western Ireland and the Iberian Peninsula, and whose origins have been hotly debated. Micheline Sheehy Skeffington (BSBI’s new President-elect!) and Nick Scott present compelling evidence that Arbutus, in County Kerry at least, was introduced by copper miners arriving in Ireland in the late Neolithic. Coupled with Micheline’s other research on western Ireland specialities, this reinforces a likelihood that each of the Lusitanian species, far from having a homogeneous phytogeographical origin, has an idiosyncratic story to tell.

Mistletoe in fruit
Image: J. Briggs

"On a seasonal note, Jonathan Briggs reviews in detail the biology, range, uses and conservation status of mistletoe, Viscum album. As one of the leading world authorities on this species, Jonathan is well placed to attempt to disentangle occurrences that are native from one resulting from its widespread cultivation (to support its traditional role in Christmas festivities!). 

"Returning to an Irish theme, Dan Minchin and colleagues document the expansion of a colony of Water-soldier Stratiotes aloides on the shore of Lough Derg, County Galway. The colony was monitored over 13 years by surface observations supplemented by satellite images and a GPS-enabled drone – tasks that are complicated by most emergent plants descending below the surface during winter.

"Willowherbs Epilobium spp. are well known for their propensity to hybridise. BSBI expert plant referee Geoffrey Kitchener and colleagues report on new hybrid combinations for Britain involving a non-native, strikingly large-flowered subspecies of Square-stemmed Willowherb E. tetragonum subsp. tournefortii that is established on roadsides in Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire. 

Tournefort's Willowherb on the right;
an intermediate hybrid on the left.
Image: P. Leonard 
"Hybrids between the native subspecies of E. tetragonum with other Epilobium taxa are very well documented, but those involving the newcomer subspecies are proving distinctive and noteworthy.

"In the final paper, Alastair Fitter and colleagues, including BSBI Head of Science Kevin Walker, detail the occurrence and ecology of the very local Gingerbread Sedge Carex elongata in Yorkshire, paying particular attention to a recent and substantial increase of this plant at Askham Bog near York. This expansion is not only welcome but also topical given that BSBI participated in a recent successful campaign to oppose a housing development in close proximity to the nature reserve".

So, another jam-packed issue with something for everyone. British & Irish Botany is free to read (and free for authors to publish in) and there's no log in required - just head over here to start enjoying the latest issue and then why not browse our archive? We are now accepting submissions for the first issue of volume four in 2022, so why not get in touch if you are thinking of contributing? Meanwhile, a very Happy New Year from all of us here at British & Irish Botany!

Friday 17 December 2021

Around the World in 80 plants: discount offer for BSBI members

In the January 2021 issue of BSBI News, our membership newsletter, Clive Stace - BSBI's Book Reviews Editor and author of the New Flora of the British Isles - reviewed Around the World in 80 Trees by Jonathan Drori. 

Clive referred to "the excellence of the text and its major contribution to our appreciation and understanding of trees. Very highly recommended to all plant lovers".

Now Jonathan Drori, a longstanding BSBI member, has published a follow-up book, Around the World in 80 Plants, which was short-listed recently for Waterstone's Book of the Year. 

Jonathan's publishers, Laurence King Publishing, said:

"In his follow-up to the bestselling Around the World in 80 Trees, Jonathan Drori takes another trip across the globe, bringing to life the science of plants by revealing how their worlds are intricately entwined with our own history, culture and folklore. 

"From the seemingly familiar tomato and dandelion to the eerie mandrake and Spanish ‘moss’ of Louisiana, each of these stories is full of surprises. Some have a troubling past, while others have ignited human creativity or enabled whole civilizations to flourish. 

"With a colourful cast of characters all brought to life by illustrator Lucille Clerc, this is a botanical journey of beauty and brilliance".

Lawrence King Publishing are offering a 35% discount to any BSBI members wishing to purchase a copy of Around the World in 80 Plants. If you are one of our c3,500 members, please visit the password-protected members-only area of the BSBI website and you will find instructions on how to claim your discount. Email me if you have forgotten your password. 

If you are not yet a BSBI member: claiming discounts on selected botany books is one of the many benefits of membership, so why not treat yourself? With our new online membership form and Direct Debit facilities (£ sterling or euros), it has never been quicker and easier to join our growing ranks and start enjoying all these benefits

Thursday 16 December 2021

Blown away: December report from BSBI President Lynne Farrell

Cotoneaster full of berries - great for the birds!
All images on this page by L. Farrell
"The number of people attending the on-line meetings in late November has been very encouraging, and I would like to reiterate the vast amount of work that goes on behind the scenes to run these events, which we have all enjoyed. 

"Thanks go to our staff and volunteers. 

"If you were unable to attend, all the videos and exhibits from the Annual Exhibition Meeting and the Scottish Botanists’ Conference are available now, and you can find them by visiting the webpages and clicking on the links. 

"I hope that you have all survived the recent storms. Arwen reeked far more damage in the north-west than predicted and some villages in the Lakes are still without power. 

"Arnside did not have power cuts but many of the large specimen trees in the area have been flattened, partly due to the shallow roots on the limestone rocks and partly due to the unusual north-easterly direction of the wind whistling down the valleys. 

"The image on the left shows a large Beech which 'dominoed' an Oak and a heritage Pear Tree in a nearby local nature reserve. 

"Some neighbours had a lucky escape (see image below right) when the ancient Corsican pines were prostrated, although the tree with the raven’s nest remains standing. As I type this, Storm Barra is now making its attack and it remains to be seen what effect that has produced in the morning light.

"Owing to unreliable internet connections, I was unable to join the National Biodiversity Network's 2021 conference held recently but will be able to catch up with the recorded proceedings soon. It was an interesting programme, and I was a bit blown away myself as I was made an honorary member of the NBN Trust

"What else lies in store for us all before the end of the year? Small gatherings of families and friends over the festive period should go ahead this time, and I hope you all have a Happy Christmas. Please join in the New Year Plant Hunt from 1-4 January 2022 and let us hope we do not get totally blown away by it all".

Friday 12 November 2021

Getting down to it: November report from BSBI President Lynne Farrell

November has been a time for getting down to it and it is a time to consolidate and enjoy what the Society has been doing throughout the year. 

On 6th November we held the Scottish Botanists' Conference by Zoom, and around 250 people tuned in, with many participating through talks, posters and photographs entered into the 2021 BSBI Photographic Competition

Videos of the talks will be available soon for those who missed this event on the actual day, but you can view the exhibits right now.

Next weekend, will be the Annual General Meeting on Friday 19th November in the evening, followed by the BSBI Annual Exhibition Meeting all day on Saturday 20th.

Again, this will be a virtual link, which in some ways is more flexible, enabling people from around Britain and Ireland (and overseas!) to join in, but it does involve much hard work behind the scenes, so thanks to our staff and volunteers for putting on the show, and thanks to our members for their contributions. 

I have been getting down to it in the field also, although I have to admit that is more challenging as I get older and certainly getting up from the ground is even harder (image below of me and fellow fungi-hunters lying on a cricket pitch to take photographs - taken by my friend Sue Brindle). 

However, there are some treasures to be found at ground level and with the generous amount of rain that has fallen during the past 3 weeks, many fungi have appeared very quickly, with different species emerging with each day. 

I am by no means a mycologist but that does not mean I cannot enjoy the sheer range and beauty of these ‘plants’ which have their own kingdom. Their names are equally as fascinating, including Orange Peel (image top right), Plums and Custard, Penny Bun, Violet Coral (image above left) and White Spindles. Please do leave these growing for others to see and enjoy, and just get down to fully appreciate them.

Wednesday 20 October 2021

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness: October report from BSBI President Lynne Farrell

The past month has consisted of many BSBI Zoom meetings- not my preferred activity but essential for keeping in touch with people in Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England, although I would obviously prefer to be able to meet at least some of you.

However, I have had a few visitors including friends and woodland ecologist George and Sue Peterken. George is writing a new book on Woodlands, so we were on Arnside Knott looking at the different forms of Juniper. This year seems to be a good year for berries (image on right). 

They gave me a copy of their book Art Meets Ecology, published in 2020, which aims to connect people who are happy to connect art with science- which certainly fits my interests. During a walk along the shore we found more black berries, this time definitely not edible, of Atropa belladonna, Deadly Nightshade (image below left).

Some trees have good crops of berries, with those on Rowan and Hawthorn being particularly abundant, whereas Oak and Beech have few fruits this year. The next day the bay was shrouded in mist and it took at least an hour to rise, so trying to capture the different phases meant sitting patiently for some time (image at the end of this blogpost).

Our coastline is very varied and always inspires me, and a short trip to St Abbs Head, Scottish Wildlife Trust reserve, and Marine Reserve, provided a stimulating walk, not only due to the stiff breeze but also for the excellent geology trail, fantastic scenery and the occasional rare plant of Crambe maritima. (image below right). 

A field of pumpkins nearby reminded me it’s time to make soup and chutney again!

Tuesday 12th October was Day of the Scientist, so I hope some of you enjoyed listening to the hour-long special edition of Jim Al-Khalili’s ‘ The Life Scientific’ on BBC Radio 4. There have been botanists on his programmes fairly recently.

Finally, I was very impressed with our new 'student membership' video which you can watch here. Congratulations to our volunteer Andrew Rowley who directed and produced the video, which is all about what student membership of the BSBI can do for you.. Excellent work Andrew. 

Monday 4 October 2021

BSBI membership: we've just made it easier than ever to join us!

Small Scabious in Co. Durham
Image: BSBI member Heather Kelly 
In a rapidly changing world, our wild plants have never been more in need of the support, understanding and appreciation that BSBI is uniquely placed to provide. But we are entirely reliant on, and extremely grateful for, the contributions of our amazing volunteer members. If you haven't yet joined our growing ranks, then this is the best time of the year to do so. Read on to find out why...

First of all, it's great value for money! Join us in October for the year ahead and your membership starts at once, so you could enjoy up to 15 months of benefits for the price of 12 months, and no need to renew until January 2023. Our subscription rates are the same as last year, and with our newly-updated online membership form it has never been quicker and easier to become a member. 

Yellow water-lily in Warwickshire
Image: BSBI member Angelika Smith

So what do you get for your money?   

You'll become part of a diverse community of botanists, from national experts and specialists right through to plant-lovers who are just beginning to dip a toe into the world of identifying, recording and monitoring our wild flowers. You'll already have spotted some of the many free resources on our website but as a member, you'll be able to take the next steps to develop your skills. 

Looking for a short plant ID course? We can help you find one and you can apply for one of our grants to help with the cost. You don't have to be a BSBI member to apply for a grant but members are prioritised in the award process. We also have grants if you want to carry out more in-depth study or research. Find out more here.

Plant ID students
Image: BSBI Comms Officer Louise Marsh

Already studying plants? We have a package of support and opportunities tailored for students, and with our heavily-subsidised special student members' rate, you could end up paying as little as £1 per month! More info here

Interested in one of our series of Handbooks for tricky plant groups? We've published three Handbooks already this year and members enjoy some great discounts - 30% off the cost of our latest title, the Field Handbook to British and Irish Dandelions.

You'll be joining a society whose plant distribution data and analysis help policy-makers, conservation agencies, researchers and academics gain a better understanding of the changes happening right now to our wild plants and the urgent need to conserve important plant populations. 

Squinancywort in Co. Kerry
Image: BSBI member Jessica Hamilton 
In a time of biodiversity loss and climate change, the data gathered by BSBI's volunteer members and supporters have never been more important. 

Maybe you've taken part in one of our citizen science recording projects such as the New Year Plant Hunt, Plant Alert or the Garden Wildflower Hunt, or you've been out monitoring plants for the National Plant Monitoring Scheme, or been  recording in your local area

Or maybe you are just happy to know that your subscription is helping us to maintain one of the world's largest botanical databases (50 million records and counting!) and supporting our Science Team as they contribute to internationally important reports such as RBG Kew's State of the World's Plants and Fungi

Whether or not you are an active botanical recorder, by joining our growing ranks as a member you will be directly supporting our work to advance the understanding and appreciation of wild plants and support their conservation in Britain and Ireland. 

You'll be joining a community of people with a passion for plants, who share their knowledge and enthusiasm on social media; at our national conferences, workshops and field meetings; at local events organised by county flora groups; via our expert referee service (only available to members); and in our in-house periodicals such as our membership newsletter BSBI News which you'll receive three times a year. Here's a taster of what's in the latest issue and check out recent articles on wildflower ID books, on plant ID apps (how well do they work?) and how to ID those pesky dandelion lookalikes

Want more tips to get you started with plant ID? Check out these helpful hints

Keeled Garlic in Musselburgh
Image: BSBI member Chris Jeffree
To find out more about what our fabulous BSBI members - all 3,340 of them, a 7% increase compared to last October - achieved in the past year, why not take a look at our latest Annual Review

If you are already one of our members, we'd like to say a huge thank you to each and every one of you. If you haven't joined us yet, why not head over here and become member no. 3,341? 

With our new online membership form, it has never been quicker and easier to join BSBI and we can't wait to send you your bumper welcome pack! So if you share our vision of a world where wild plants thrive and are valued, right now is the time to join us.

Thursday 16 September 2021

British & Irish Botany: issue 3.3 published

Snake's-head fritillary
Image: P. Stroh
We've just pressed 'publish' on the latest issue of British & Irish Botany, BSBI's online, Open Access scientific journal. 

This issue features ten papers, starting with a report by BSBI Head of Science Kevin Walker on the lovely Snake's-head Fritillary Fritillaria meleagris. Kevin's blogpost about this iconic plant, as part of our Wildflower of the Month series during lockdown, proved very popular and in this new paper he analyses its occurrence in different habitats and discusses its claim to native status. 

Next up we have a paper by Michael Braithwaite about the discovery of the local flora as reflected in BSBI vice-county datasets. Michael uses Berwickshire, where he was County Recorder for many years, as a case-study and his account makes fascinating reading for all botanical recorders in the run-up to publication in 2022 of our next plant distribution Atlas

Mayweeds on Orkney
Image: J. Crossley

Also in this issue we have a report on Sea Mayweed, Scentless Mayweed and their puzzling  intermediates in Orkney; and Mick Crawley considers the dramatic recent increase in abundance of Rat's-tail Fescue Vulpia myuros as a weed of winter wheat-fields - he reports on a long-term experiment at Silwood Park, Bucks. to discover what extent this increase is due to no-till cultivation, or to herbicide-resistance, or to autumn cultivation coupled with warmer winter weather.  

Authors of BSBI Handbooks have been busy too: Mark Lynes describes three new species of Lady's-mantle Alchemilla from northern Britain, ahead of publication, probably next year, of his long-awaited Alchemilla Handbook; and three new species of Dandelion are described by John Richards in the run-up to publication of his new Field Handbook to British and Irish Dandelions, due out next month. BSBI members should watch out for the special members-only discount offers on both these books.

Hepste Hawkweed
Image: T. Rich

Over to B&IB Editor-in-Chief Ian Denholm to tell us about the four remaining papers in this issue:

"Within the family Polygonaceae, Redshank Persicaria maculosa and Pale Persicaria P. lapathifolia are both common in Britain but subject to confusion through over-reliance on flower colour as a distinguishing feature. Michael Wilcox reviews contrasting taxonomic treatments and provides guidelines for rationalising considerable variation within the Pale Persicaria ‘complex’.

"Tim Rich continues his survey of the status of Britain’s Hawkweeds (genus Hieracium) with a report on Hepste Hawkweed H. apheles - an extremely rare endemic restricted to five plants in a single locality in the Brecon Beacons. This is one of several endemic taxa with a threat status of ‘critically endangered’ according to IUCN criteria, safeguarded to some extent by the deposition of seed in the Millennium Seed Bank.

"Finally, Clive Stace and Duilio Iamonico resolve issues of species typification within the genera Vulpia and Atriplex, respectively".

So, another jam-packed issue with something for everyone. British & Irish Botany is free to read (and free for authors to publish in) and there's no log in required - just head over here to start enjoying the latest issue and then why not browse our archive? We are now accepting submissions for the fourth and final issue of this third volume, due out in December - why not get in touch if you are thinking of contributing?

Wednesday 15 September 2021

Plant monitoring on Mull: September report from BSBI President Lynne Farrell

Ro Scott helping Lynne mark out her
NPMS plot on Mull
Image: L. Farrell
Last month BSBI President Lynne Farrell was on South Walney, escaping the heat and looking at coastal plants. 

So where is she this month? On another island? Yep! 

Over to Lynne:

"I’ve been busy both in the field and in the office over the past month. In my vice-county, Mid Ebudes, I have re-recorded my plots on Mull for the National Plant Monitoring Scheme (NPMS). 

I set my plots up in 2016, shortly after the Scheme started

Tunbridge Filmy-fern
Image: Jonathan Keefe
The NPMS is one of the major projects to which many BSBI members have been contributing. If you would like to get involved, click here to find out if there is a square near you.

I have also been checking a few of the rarer species localities including the Tunbridge filmy-fern Hymenophyllum tunbrigense. Wilson's filmy-fern H. wilsonii is much more common but there are only a few sites for H. tunbrigense, although both have a similar distribution mainly along the western coasts of Britain and Ireland. 

Tunbridge filmy-fern - yes, the spelling is different in the Latin and common names - was first found in Britain in Tunbridge, Kent, hence the name.

The WILDGuides book Britain’s Ferns by James Merryweather came in useful as the photographs are excellent, so encouraging people wishing to learn more about these attractive species. The only drawback is that the pages are not waterproof. 

The location of the filmy-fern, at
the base of a Birch tree
Image courtesy of L. Farrell
However, the publication has been awarded the Presidents’ Award this year - this is the annual prize awarded by the Presidents of the BSBI and the Wild Flower Society

You can see more about the previous winners here.

James wanted us to see the beauty of this group of plants and to encourage us all to enjoy and easily identify them. Other books provide more detailed text, which complement this volume. 

Back in the office I have been writing my annual Message from the President for the new BSBI Annual Review, which will be mailed out to members inside the September issue of BSBI News and will be on the website soon after.

I've also been attending a meeting of the Board of Trustees and other Committee meetings, and planning for the BSBI Annual Exhibition Meeting and AGM in November. 

So, a busy month!"

Friday 27 August 2021

Plant-hunting on Ben Nevis with BSBI Scottish Officer and Team RBGE

View south from the summit of Ben Nevis
Image: J. McIntosh
Jim McIntosh, BSBI Scottish Officer, regularly walks the hills and climbs mountains in pursuit of interesting plant records, but he was recently invited to join a particularly interesting expedition. 

Over to Jim to tell us more: 

"19th August 2021 was the 250th anniversary of the first recorded ascent of Ben Nevis – by botanist James Robertson, who had been commissioned by John Hope, the King’s Botanist and Superintendent of the Botanic Garden, to explore the native plants of Scotland.

"Robertson’s account of the day given in A Naturalist in the Highlands- James Robertson – his life and travels in Scotland 1767-1771 is very brief, and he doesn’t even record what species he saw except that ‘the plants here are similar to those on Ben Awin and Carngarm..’ (Ben Avon & Cairngorm - for which he provides detailed lists in earlier pages). 

"He continues tantalisingly ‘only here, at the west side near the foot I found the M…’ but gives no indication what species ‘M’ is though it must be particularly notable for him not to name it in full! He describes the ‘the third part of the hill towards the top is entirely naked, resembling a heap of stones thrown together confusedly’.

"Fittingly a visit to the summit of Ben Nevis was organised by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) to mark the occasion, and the group included today’s Regius Keeper, Simon Milne, and Director of Science, Prof Peter Hollingsworth, RBGE bryologists and lichenologists, representatives from land-managers the John Muir Trust and Jahama Estates; NatureScot, the Sanger Institute and me!   

Jim & #TeamRBGE colleague pressing specimens
Image: S. Jones (RBGE)
"The idea was to collect specimens for the exciting new Darwin Tree of Life project which aims to sequence the entire genomes of all (70,000) animals, plants & fungi in Britain & Ireland. And we also collected specimens of Alpine Meadow-grass Poa alpina and Mountain Sorrel Oxyria digyna to lodge in the RBGE Herbarium to mark this special occasion. Click on the links to see BSBI distribution maps for those species. 

"We chose to ascend Ben Nevis via the challenging Càrn Mòr Dearg and its famous arête. And, of course, I couldn’t help recording (for Atlas 2040 of course!) as I went along. 

Jim (on left) & colleagues on 
Càrn Mòr Dearg arête
Image: S. Jones

"Also, because Càrn Mòr Dearg itself is one of our top ten highest mountains, at 1220 m, I made a full list of all flowering plant species within 10 m vertical of its summit, while everyone else enjoyed a leisurely lunch as the mist and drizzle gradually cleared. I logged 20 species in total, including many arctic-alpines of more acid substrates as befits a granite ridge.  

"As we scrambled along the ridge, we noticed occasional patches of Moss Campion Silene acaulis, more commonly seen on base rich soils and crags but somehow also happy here. But a highlight was finding Sibbaldia  Sibbaldia procumbens on the ridge and pretty commonly on late snow line areas on the lower plateau of Ben Nevis. 

Simon Milne & Sibbaldia
Image: J. McIntosh
"This is an important species for RBGE, which was co-founded by Robert Sibbald in 1670 and now has Sibbaldia as its emblem. The Regius Keeper duly knelt and paid homage to the diminutive plant.

"After group photos at the perfectly still summit, and short interviews to camera by Simon and Peter, we began the descent, collecting more bryophytes and looking for some of the most exciting flowering plant species. 

"No point in recording here after the comprehensive and thorough North Face Survey involving botanists and climbing guides in 2014-2016, but nice to chance upon Brook Saxifrage Saxifraga rivularis (image below) beside a cairn at the top of one of the gullies.

"Even more exciting was renewing acquaintance with Tufted Saxifrage S. cespitosa nearby – it's one of our rarest and most important arctic-alpines, on Schedule 8 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act (W&CA) 1981 and listed as Endangered on the GB Red List.

[Ed.: Check out the BSBI Code of Conduct for the full lists of plants on Schedules 8&9 of the W&CA and read more about the GB Red List here.] 

"Late in the evening as we descended the main path the sun began to break through wispy clouds, low in the west. 

"We eventually returned to the carpark some 12 hours after starting off on the 20km, 1500m ascent expedition tired, hungry but very happy!"

From left: Neil Bell (RBGE/BBS), Pete Hollingsworth
(RBGE), Stephen Venables (broadcaster/ mountaineer),
Simon Milne (RBGE) & Jim McIntosh (BSBI) - 
on the summit!

Many thanks to Jim for this fascinating account - sounds like a great day! 

Being a botanist really can take you to the most amazing places. 

If Jim's account has left you hungry to read more about botanising on Scottish mountains, check out our 4-part 'Botanical Book at Bedtime' by Peter Llewellyn, all about his plant-hunting adventures in the Cairngorms - part one is here.

We'll leave you with an image taken by Jim of the view from the path on the descent - enjoy!

Thursday 26 August 2021

Call-out for Restharrows

Botanist Mike Wilcox has been looking at Restharrows Ononis spp. and now he has a request - over to Mike:

"Recently, plants seen of Ononis do not fit the description in Stace (2019) for O. repens (on right) and not fully for O. spinosa (below left) even if using Sell & Murrell where O. repens is treated within the subspecies of O. spinosa

"Whether these are hybrids or not is debatable. In relation to the two taxa and putative hybrids, I would be interested in material (fresh) to have a look at in detail, including some anatomical aspects as they are given as two different chromosome numbers in Stace (2019) and looking at aspects such as stomata it might help decide what the two taxa are and or putative hybrids.

"It may be a bit late to start doing this but I will pick it up next year and hopefully see more material from different areas.

"Meanwhile, if you have one or both (or putative hybrids) I would be interested to see some material for a preliminary look at these taxa. Email me at for details of where to send your specimens".

Images courtesy of John Crellin at Floral Images

Friday 13 August 2021

BSBI Training Grants: Supporting botanists in 2021: Part Two

View of Salisbury from Old Sarum Castle
Image: K. Mason
Following on from Mike's account of the 'Using a Flora' course, which he was able to undertake thanks to a BSBI Training grant, we now present Kevin's account of the course he attended in May:

"My journey in plant identification began when I studied a degree in Animal biology and conservation, and more recently my passion for wildflowers has been fed in my current role as a Wildlife Trainee with the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust. My position means I get to spend my days in amazing habitats from floodplain meadows to ancient woodlands. 

Rough chervil with
purple blotching on the stem
Image courtesy of
John Crellin/ Floral Images

The incredible diversity of wildflowers I see each day is both beautiful and daunting, and it seemed that as soon as I got to grips with identifying one species, countless others would spring up around me as the season went on. While I like to attempt identification by myself, I felt attending a course in wildflower ID would give me an edge. Thanks to a training grant from BSBI I was able to book myself onto a course.

The course I had chosen was the ‘Wildflower Identification and Survey - Neutral and Calcareous Grasslands’ course, run by the Species Recovery Trust. We met on a rather wet day at Old Sarum Castle on the edge of Salisbury, the cathedral barely visible through the steady rain. Despite the weather, spirits were high and I was really keen to get out into the grassland with the other attendees. 

Our tutor for the day, Dominic, started us off with some common but important species of grasslands and meadows. While I could already quite confidently identify Trifolium pratense and T. repens (Red and White clover), I learned that you can quickly get an idea of the nutrient levels of a grassland by how much White and Red clover is present – more White clover generally means higher nutrient levels. We soon found Lotus corniculatus (Common bird’s-foot trefoil), another common but important grassland flower, told apart from Lotus pedunculatus (Greater bird’s-foot trefoil) by the latter having a hollow stem.

Image: K. Mason
After we had gone over most of the flowers at Old Sarum Castle, we got back in our cars and made the short trip up the road to Figsbury ring, an Iron age hill fort managed by the National Trust. The entrance track was more suited to a tank than my little car but I eventually made it in one piece. We regrouped in the car park and had a quick look at the surrounding flora. 

The group had spotted a large white umbellifer and had misidentified it as Anthriscus sylvestris (Cow parsley), as had I. Dominic told us that cow parsley would mostly have gone over by the end of June, and that what we had found was actually Chaerophyllum temulum (Rough chervil), identified by the purple spotting on the stems. After a quick brief on the history of the site we walked on to see what we could find.

Immediately it was obvious that the flora was more diverse at Figsbury, which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to the quality of the chalk grassland present. My eyes were instantly drawn to the orchids – Anacamptis pyramidalis (Pyramidal), Dactylorhiza fuchsii (Common spotted) and Gymnadenia conopsea (Chalk fragrant). Moving on we saw my personal favourite, Hippocrepis comosa (Horseshoe vetch), with bright yellow pea-like flowers arranged in a horseshoe and 4-8 pairs of pinnate leaflets.

Unlike Maria (above), Kevin didn't see
Frog Orchid - let's hope he sees it soon!
Image: L. Marsh

The short sward of the chalk grassland was ideal for spotting small, low-growing wildflowers such as bright pink Thymus polytrichus (Wild thyme) whose leaves had a disappointingly weak scent, and the memorably named Squinancywort  Asperula cynanchica with attractive pale pink, 4 petaled flowers. Earlier on in the day Dominic had shown us how to make a “gun” with the flower head of Plantago lanceolata (Ribwort plantain), which is quite drab as flowers go, so when we saw Plantago media (Hoary plantain) I was impressed by how bright it was with its white flowers and purple filaments.

After a final unsuccessful search for Dactylorhiza viridis (Frog orchid) which are reportedly present at Figsbury Ring, Dominic decided that it would be sensible to finish early and get out of the rain. While a part of me was disappointed to finish the day early, I was also very relieved that I could finally get a little drier. Despite the rain I had a great day out and learned so much from Dominic, and I am already looking for the next plant ID course to attend!"

Thanks Kevin, we're delighted that you were able to enjoy the course!

Wednesday 11 August 2021

Hotting up: August report from BSBI President Lynne Farrell

"The weather has certainly hotted up in the past month and some extreme temperatures have been felt all around Britain and Ireland. This might well have attracted people to aquatic habitats and coastal areas. Now, at the beginning of August, a weather front is sweeping in, bringing heavy rain and strong winds, battering down the plants in our gardens and in the wild. 

The last few inclement days have provided me with an excuse to watch the Olympics, and I discovered that seeing the events unfolding live in the early morning was infinitely preferable to watching the review in the evening, so my usual timetable has changed too, and will revert to normal soon.

The hot temperatures and bright sun actually made me retreat to shady areas when outside and the local lime trees, many of which are Small-leaved lime Tilia cordata in Cumbria, are laden with flowers, which the bees appreciate. After a dearth of honey last year, this will be a bumper season.

Pollinators such as hoverflies have been late emerging and now are flying strongly. The large Fritillary butterfly species have benefitted from the warmth and good numbers have been observed allaying concern that many were disappearing in some parts of Britain. Earlier species did not fare well. The butterflies woke up early too in the morning sun so counting and photographing them on my weekly transect walk was challenging. Luckily part of the walk is in the shade.

However, choosing an overcast day with tolerable temperatures, was definitely required for a visit to South Walney island nature reserve to enjoy coastal breezes and plants that love exposed areas. Viper’s Bugloss Echium vulgare catches everyone’s eye due to its abundance and striking colours. The rarer, and poisonous Henbane Hyocyamus niger,  (top right) is also attractive but only to look at. 

Sea Holly Eryngium maritimum is also a coastal species being found at the back of the dunes, often where they are just stabilising, whereas Yellow horned-poppy Glaucium flavum (on right) prefers the shingle banks. Wild pansy Viola tricolor ssp. curtisii (above left) which occurs both in dunes and further inland on heaths, quickly shrivels up in the heat. So I hope you have all survived this hot spell".

Sunday 8 August 2021

BSBI Training Grants: Supporting botanists in 2021: Part One

Tutor Mark Duffell and students in the 
meadow at Colemere
When the 2021 round of applications for BSBI Training Grants opened on 1st January, we weren't sure how many plant ID courses would run this year; all of the 2020 grants we'd awarded had to be put on hold, as courses were cancelled or postponed due to the pandemic. So it was a huge relief when the first of 2021's successful applicants started to email us with reports of the training courses that had taken place, and which they had been able to undertake thanks to their BSBI grants.

The first report was sent in by Mike who attended a course in late May - he also provided all the images on this post. Over to Mike to tell us all about getting to grips with 'Stace' aka the Botanists' Bible:

"As a mature student returning to biological recording after a long absence, I was well aware that my plant identification skills were in need of considerable improvement. I am currently on the second year of the Manchester Metropolitan University’s MSc course in (take a deep breath) Biological Recording and Ecological Modelling. The course contains a mix of core and optional units, all taken (Covid-19 permitting) at a Field Studies Council centre – usually Preston Montford near Shrewsbury. The presence of Mark Duffell’s excellent four-day introduction to Using a Flora on the list of optional units was too good an opportunity to miss, so I signed up quickly.

Comparing keys at Preston Montford
Needless to say, the course concentrated on Clive Stace’s New Flora of the British Isles – a book that (along with the previous Clapham, Tutin and Warburg) I have always found challenging. My preference has always been to default to something with pictures – currently David Streeter’s Collins Wild Flower Guide. But now, I felt, was the time to start ‘doing things properly’.

In tackling this daunting tome, Mark Duffell took three main approaches. First, was a general introduction to the key terminology – with a particular focus on flower anatomy and determining the floral formulae for the key UK plant families. Second, was dissection: flower parts were carefully removed and then mounted on a piece of Sellotape, enabling the floral formula to be worked out and the final result attached to a piece of paper for future reference. Finally, we practised constructing simple dichotomous keys for a small group of common species. This, it turns out, is not as simple as it might appear. Working outside at Preston Montford, we were able to attach our keys (and specimens) to a convenient fence.  It was surprising how different the efforts of the various groups were.

An enjoyable feature of the course was the ability to get out of the lab and, armed with lenses, tweezers and Sellotape, to explore some of the wide range of habitats in the vicinity of Preston Montford. The first day saw us in a lowland meadow at Colemere in North Shropshire, where we were able to distinguish Ranunculus bulbosus (Bulbous Buttercup) from the more familiar R. repens and R. acris (Meadow and Creeping Buttercups respectively). A white umbellifer flowering in profusion across the meadow produced a stiffer challenge. Most of us knew that it was Conopodium majus (Pignut), but getting there through the key in Stace was a less than straightforward exercise. This was my first introduction to the stylopodium (a term that unhelpfully does not appear in Stace’s main glossary). Mark’s description of it as a ‘happy beetle’ was pleasingly memorable.

Mark and course participants at Snail Beach
Our next day’s field excursion was to the mysteriously-named Snail Beach, an area of former lead mining south-west of Shrewsbury. Here the target species included several of the Asteraceae, a family that required us to get to grips with some different plant terminology – notably capitula (the terminal heads upon which the many small flowers are borne) and phyllaries (the sepal-like bracts that lie outside the flower-bearing area). The almost ubiquitous Leucanthemum vulgare (Ox-eye Daisy) was a generally easy introduction, although the narrow transparent wings that separate Leucanthemum from the non-native Leucanthemella were hard to pick out in the field. Thus prepared, we entered the (for me) always tricky area of “yellow compositae” (using the old family name), identifying both Pilosella officinarum (Mouse-ear Hawkweed) and Leontodon hispidus (Rough Hawkbit). 

Common rock-rose
The final day’s field trip took us to Llanymynech Rocks, a wildlife reserve straddling the Welsh-English border that is managed by the Montgomeryshire and Shropshire Wildlife Trusts. As well as being a fine viewpoint across the Shropshire landscape, this site includes a range of interesting habitats. Helianthemum nummularium (Common Rock-rose) was in flower on open grassland above an old quarry, while Neottia ovata (Common Twayblade) lurked in the shady woodland. 

Back at base, the course finished off with an identification test (although an additional home-based assignment was also set). When it came to identifying plants under the pressure of a time limit, I admit that Stace was not the first reference book that I reached for. The ability to quickly assign a plant to the correct family, which I suspect most experienced botanists possess, enables the initial Stace keys to be by-passed – whilst bearing in mind that pitfalls may await too hasty a diagnosis. However, when it came to separating out genera within a family, or species within a genus, it was reassuring to know that Stace was close at hand.

Heading home from Llanymynech Rocks
Looking forward I now have more confidence to embark upon surveys of habitats in my own area of the country (Dorset) where I have already been stalking over the grasslands armed with an impressive array of literature. However, despite the presence of some now out-of-date names (a perennial botanical bugbear) my old ‘Field Flora’ (aka ‘Baby Stace’) still represents a more portable document than the shiny new fourth edition!"

Many thanks to Mike for this account - great to hear that a BSBI grant has helped him get to grips with the Botanists' Bible!