Wednesday 31 March 2021

BSBI County Recorder Brian Ballinger honoured for his contribution to botany

Brian with a copy of the Urban Flora checklist
Brian Ballinger, BSBI's County Recorder for Easter Ross, has just been awarded a high-profile honour in recognition of his contribution to Scottish botany.

The Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society (RCHS) - known to its friends as The Caley - was founded in 1809 and is Scotland's national horticultural and gardening society. 

It issues a number of prestigious awards, medals and certificates of merit in recognition of the achievements of professional horticulturists, nurserymen etc. One of these awards is the biennial Dr Patrick Neill Memorial Medal, awarded to a Scottish botanist or cultivator.

Brian's botanical outreach display at the
Dundee Food & Flower Festival

 Dr Neill was one of the Founders and the first Secretary of the RCHS and instigated the award in 1851. The list of holders of this prestigious award can be viewed here.

Brian's citation can be viewed here, where some aspects of his contribution to field botany are celebrated. 

BSBI botanists will be aware of posters Brian exhibited at last autumn's Scottish Botanists' Conference - examples here, here and here, of his comparisons of the urban and rural flora in Easter Ross, of his work with the Botanical Society of Scotland's Urban Flora of Scotland Project and most recently of his talk at the 2021 Scottish Spring Conference, where he told us about his lockdown year and the local projects he undertook. 

Brian in the field with Dr Mary Dean 

You can watch a video of Brian's talk here but do also look at his citation to find out about some of the other ecological and environmental projects in which he has been involved.

Brian is a delightful and modest chap, not given to blowing his own trumpet, and when I asked him for a quote for this blog, I'm afraid all I could get out of him was "This really was a big surprise" and "I was very surprised but pleased to receive this award". 

I'm sure Brian's many friends and colleagues will be delighted to blow that trumpet on his behalf. Here's what Dr Mary Dean, botany lecturer and Chair of BSBI's Skills & Training Committee said: "I’m delighted that Brian has received this award, it is definitely well-deserved. I first met Brian and his late wife Barbara over 20 years ago on a BSBI field meeting recording for Atlas 2000. As well as their role as County Recorders, they kindly helped me, a relatively inexperienced botanist, with fieldwork and plant identification for my PhD. Brian is a good friend and a very active recorder - you can see more examples of his recording activity over the years on the Easter Ross county page." 

Congratulations Brian on this very well-deserved reward and many thanks for everything you have done for Scottish botany! 

Friday 12 March 2021

Signs of spring: March report from BSBI President Lynne Farrell

The last report from BSBI President Lynne Farrell was full of talk of icicles and tracks in the snow, but now she is starting to see some signs of spring. Over to Lynne: 

"Even though it is still wet, cold and windy there has been quite a lot of activity amongst the botanical community and the emerging plants.

As it was International Women’s Day on 8th March, I will start with the females. Trees may still not have sprung into leaf but their flowers are often visible early in the year. Yew is dioecious in having female and male flowers on separate plants, whilst Hazel and Larch are monoecious, having female and male flowers on the same plant. 

The female flowers are sometimes less conspicuous than the males, but both are needed to produce the next generation. My photograph on the right shows both male and female flowers of Hazel. 

Daphne mezereum
Image: D. Benham
Also on the theme of women, we have just welcomed a new BSBI staff member, Sarah Woods, as our Fundraising Manager and you can read an interview with her here

Two of our BSBI members have been on BBC Radio 4 recently: on Monday, Joshua Styles had a half-hour programme in the series 'My Name Is...' where he talked about plant blindness and why we should all value more highly the tiny plants that grow beneath our feet. 

The next day, Mark Spencer featured on 'The Life Scientific', a programme I really enjoy, talking about how he became first a botanist and then a forensic botanist. Plants feature well in both these programmes. 

In addition, Louise and I have contributed a presentation entitled ‘BSBI: recording our plants’, to the Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Environmental Records Centre (BMERC) recorders’ seminar, to be held on March 13th.

Daphne laureola
Image: L. Farrell
Another opportunity to spread the word about plants and the BSBI's work. We will make the video available afterwards on our BSBI YouTube channel.

Events that are coming up in March are the Scottish Spring Conference on Saturday 20th, followed by the Irish Spring Conference on Saturday 27th. I hope you can tune in to those also. You will need to ‘book in’ and they will, of course, be by Zoom. 

Talks will be recorded, so once again, you can catch up later.

I’ve also been helping locally with searching for Daphne mezereum (Mezereon) and D. laureola (Spurge Laurel) neither of which is common in Cumbs and N.Lancs. 

Plus I have contributed to a new fingerpost in the AONB along Dollywood Lane, near Arnside. Here I am (image below) pointing in the right direction!"

Many thanks to Lynne for this report and watch out for those videos - and the plants!

Tuesday 9 March 2021

Springtime conferences for botanists

Marsh saxifrage
Image: M. Long
Coming up later this month there are two online conferences for wildflower-lovers across Britain and Ireland.

On Saturday 27th March there's the Irish Spring Conference organised by BSBI Ireland Officer Paul Green who said "We have ten talks to offer you during this half-day event which runs from 10a.m. to 1.20pm and there will be something for everyone, from the seasoned botanical recorder to the beginner plant-hunter. 

"We'll hear about several iconic plants: two orchids - the Dune Helleborine and the Irish Lady's-tresses - as well as the Cloudberry and the Marsh Saxifrage, and find out where they occur in Ireland and how they are being conserved; we'll hear how Irish botanists contributed to the New Year Plant Hunt and what their records tell us about wildflowers and our changing climate; we'll discover how to identify riverside sedges, how to save Ireland's protected (Schedule 8) plants and whether botany can provide a window to our medieval past; and we'll enjoy talks by Rory Hodd about Ireland's disjunct flora, by Jim McIntosh about exciting new recording projects and, during the coffee break, a slideshow of nice finds across Ireland in 2020. 

Wallflower on a castle wall; a window
into our medieval past?
Image: Fiona MacGowan
"The event takes place via Zoom and is free to attend but you will need to register please and you can do that here. I hope you can make it on 27th March!"

Before that there is the Scottish Spring Conference on Saturday 20th March - it runs from 10a.m. to 12.45p.m. 

"Organiser Jim McIntosh, BSBI's Scottish Officer, said "I'm delighted that Stuart Adair will be opening the day's proceedings with his excellent talk about 20 years of conservation work at Carrifran Wildwood. He gave this talk at last November's Scottish Botanists' Conference but it was marred by technical gremlins and had to be cut short. So if you are one of the many people who were upset at missing this talk first time around - now's your chance to hear it with those gremlins hopefully banished.

Workshop at the 2019 Scottish Spring
Conference - those were the days!
Image: J. McIntosh

"We'll also be offering a talk about mountain flowers (the images for this look fabulous!) and several short talks about a couple of projects aimed at active botanical recorders: I'll be talking about the Scottish Hectad Rare Plant Project and John Grace will tell us about the Urban Flora Project. I've also got an update about various news items from BSBI and Michael Philip, County Recorder for Lanarkshire, will be talking about local botany groups. 

"This Scottish Spring Conference is maybe aimed more at the seasoned recorder than the casual botanist but I think Stuart's talk about the Carrifran Wildwood will appeal to lots of folk. Like the Irish Spring Conference, this event is free (although donations are always welcome) but you do need to register and you can do that here". 

Ok folks get those dates in your diaries and register asap!     

Monday 1 March 2021

Interview with Sarah Woods, BSBI's new Fundraising Manager

It’s not every day that BSBI welcomes a new staff member – and even rarer when we’re talking about a brand new post! Late last year we advertised for our first ever BSBI Fundraising Manager and after a long and rigorous interview process, we appointed Sarah Woods. She started in post today, Monday 1st March, and I couldn’t wait to interview her:

LM: So Sarah, welcome to BSBI! Would you like to tell us a bit about yourself and what you were doing before you joined us?

SW: It’s incredibly exciting to be here, if all a little surreal in the latter half of the pandemic! I’m a Somerset girl born and bred, currently living in London with dreams of greener pastures. I originally got into fundraising following my undergraduate degree in Cambridge, and it’s been fantastically rewarding to put myself to use connecting people with causes they care about, to the betterment of all.

I’m lucky that it’s also taken me to some exciting places – including a trip to Hong Kong and Beijing, working at The National Theatre for three years, and most recently looking after operations in the South East for the UK’s leading Surf Therapy charity, The Wave Project – helping young people improve their mental health and resilience through surfing.

Sarah on firewood duties in
the Canadian Yukon, 2017 
LM: That sounds like a real variety box of organisations! Are there any similarities between working at an organisation like The National Theatre and BSBI?

SW: The voluntary sector is a brilliant melting pot of organisations and causes, but at the end of the day I think it comes down to communities – I love people who are passionate about something, and I love helping them express and work on that passion, whether that’s Shakespeare or species of orchids. But I imagine there might be fewer opportunities to bump into Judi Dench in the canteen here…

LM: Ah, I’m afraid we don’t even have a staff canteen, so your opportunities for bumping into national treasures may be rather limited! But there is a large and ever-expanding botanical community and you’ll certainly be able to transfer some of those skills and that experience to your new role at BSBI. So what’s your first priority for the next few weeks?

SW: I’m looking forward to meeting as many people as possible who make BSBI tick and learning what the heart of the organisation is about; the welcome from everyone I’ve spoken to so far has been incredibly warm.

Not a bad campsite: on a canoe
expedition with British Exploring on
Byglandsfjorden, Norway 2014
LM: Botanists are a really friendly bunch! What about longer term? What goals would you like to have achieved by the end of the summer?

SW: With this role being new to the organisation, I want to make sure it becomes embedded in moving the organisational strategy forwards, but that it also builds on the great foundations that exist currently. I’d like to have secured some exciting grant opportunities for new and on-going projects, and to have started the process of making our great membership offering even more widely known. Equally, I’d like to make it as easy as possible for as many people as possible to support the work of BSBI, and to buy into our mission and vision. Wrapping up the Atlas 2020 project is going to be something that feeds into most of those goals.

LM: Is this a good moment to ask if you like wild flowers? I’m assuming you aren’t going to say “eew no, can’t stand ‘em...” but of course you don’t need to be a botanist to fundraise for the Botanical Society!

Walking the Offa's Dyke Path
with friends, 2019
SW: My botanical knowledge is definitely at the beginner level – but my father is an incredibly keen gardener, and growing up in the countryside I can recognise a lot of verge and path-side plants by sight, so I’m hoping I can seize the opportunity to learn from the best!

LM: Ah that makes you the ideal person to try out some of the resources we’ve been assembling in recent years, such as our helpful hints for getting started in botany and our plant ID page for beginners. I think the outdoors and nature are important to you though?

SW: Yes, the outdoors and nature are incredibly important to me – where my ‘soul’ is happiest, I like to think – and with a name like ‘Woods’ I’m guessing that was true for my ancestors too. I’ve done a couple of expeditions with the British Exploring Society, and can’t wait to get back out into all the fantastic landscapes that Britain and Ireland have to offer as soon as the restrictions allow.

LM: Well don’t forget to visit some marshes - a much maligned habitat, a bit soggy but with some great plants! Sarah, you told us at your interview that you had attended last year’s BSBI Exhibition Meeting and enjoyed it. So now you are on the staff, can I put your name down for a short slot at this year’s meeting in November, so you can tell everyone how you are getting on in the role?  

SW: Absolutely – hopefully we can celebrate some great achievements and the continuing generosity of this community.

LM: It’s a deal! And meanwhile, where can people reach you if they are interested to learn more about BSBI’s development?

SW: My email address is and I’d be more than happy to hear from anyone who has thoughts or ideas on all facets of BSBI’s charitable arm – from the membership and its benefits, to funding opportunities we could pursue, to recruiting new supporters.

LM: Well good luck, keep us posted on how you’re getting on and once again – welcome to the BSBI!

SW: Thank you!