Thursday, 16 June 2022

Meeting up with fellow botanists - at last! June report by BSBI President Lynne Farrell

Last month saw BSBI President Lynne Farrell enjoying bluebells, orchids and bird's-eye primrose in Cumbria, where she is based. 

Then last week, at long last, our first face-to-face post-Covid national field meeting was held and Lynne was there to enjoy it. 

Over to Lynne to tell us more:  

"It has taken a long time, but it has now begun to warm up and, more importantly to me, I have been able to get out into the field and meet botanists again. 

The Wales Annual Meeting and AGM, held at Bangor, Caernarvonshire from 10th to 12th June, had a good attendance, and it was a delight to be able to share plants and visit places with others. 

"We explored a variety of habitats from botanic gardens, to mountains, saltmarsh, dunes, meadows and wet patches.  

"Treborth Botanic Garden, situated on the coast near the Menai Bridge, is being restored by a group of enthusiastic people following on from the retirement of Nigel Brown, who cared for the Garden for many years and who is now continuing to enjoy life as joint BSBI County Recorder for Anglesey.

"The images this month are from a recent coastal visit in Cumbria, where some species such as Sea Bindweed Calystegia soldnalella (image above right), are easy to identify but we needed to get down on our hands and knees with the books (image above left) to be sure of Variegated Horsetail Equisetum variegatumFortunately, we had Mike Porter, co-author of the BSBI Handbook on Violas, with us to pronounce on the coastal ecotype of Wild Pansy Viola tricolor coastal ecotype (image below).

Thursday, 9 June 2022

British & Irish Botany: issue 4.2 published

Sword-leaved Helleborine
growing under oak and holly
 in Knapdale, Argyll
Image: P. Batty

The latest issue of British & Irish Botany has just been published and features nine papers or short notes which range across time and space to grab your botanical attention, whether your interest lies in trees or grasses, gorgeous orchids or challenging apomicts!

There are two papers for orchid-lovers, investigating long-term changes in their abundance and distribution, so it seems fitting to ask Editor-in-Chief Prof. Ian Denholm to say something about them, as he is also one of our expert referees on orchids

Over to Ian: 

"Dave Trudgill follows up on his paper in our last issue, once again using data extracted from BSBI’s Distribution Database, but this time he is comparing the current ranges in Britain of 20 orchid species with those recorded four decades previously. Emphasis on northern and southern geographical limits provides insights into likely impacts of climate change on the distributions of individual taxa. In our second orchid paper, Patricia Batty reports on systematic monitoring of four Scottish colonies of Sword-leaved Helleborine, Cephalanthera longifolia, following the size, flowering success and longevity of individual plants over a 22-year period". 

Birches at Holme Fen
Image: S. McAdam

From Scotland to Holme Fen, Cambridgeshire, for our next paper, but staying with the theme of long-term observation, Anthony Davy and John Gill report on growth trajectories of a stand of birch trees over a 38-year period; then we stay with trees but head over to Wales, where Martin Lepsi and Tim Rich focus on two endemic Welsh whitebeams, Sorbus cambrensis and S. stenophylla

Next we go back in time, for a report by Jim Bevan on the 16 species of hawkweed Hieracium that were known in 1821 and the nomenclatural problems which still exist.

Brambles are as tricky to identify as hawkweeds and it doesn't help when they change their names, but the new name proposed by Muhammad Idrees and Julian Shaw for the species formerly known as the Rubus rubicundiflorus is both snappier and honours a much-loved botanist, the late Peter Sell

This issue also features notes on Atriplex species and hybrids by Mike Wilcox; a conspectus of, and key to, the world's species of Vulpia by Clive Stace; and a discussion by Diulio Iamonico on the typification of the Linnean name Papaver medium in Flora Anglica (1754). 

We hope that you enjoy your whistle-stop tour across the decades and countries with this latest issue of British & Irish Botany, which as always is completely free, both for you to read and for our authors to publish in: happy reading! 

Wednesday, 8 June 2022

Botanical heatmaps will ensure 'Right Tree, Right Place' - thanks to BSBI's volunteer recorders

BSBI volunteer recorders identifying
 and recording the plants they spot
Image: M.Crittenden
At BSBI, we are sometimes asked - by those who are new to the Society and our work - how exactly the botanical records that our volunteer members collect help us to fulfil our goal of addressing biodiversity loss and climate change (one of the three goals in our strategic plan). Well, today we can tell you more about one recent initiative which uses the plant records in the BSBI Database to help protect both our wildlife and the sites on which we rely for carbon sequestration. 

This initiative - botanical heatmaps - has been developed by BSBI in partnership Natural England, and I asked BSBI Head of Science Kevin Walker to tell us more.    

LM: So Kevin, what exactly is a botanical value map/ heatmap?

BSBI's Kevin Walker recording sedges
Image: P. Stroh
KW: “The ‘heatmaps’ are basically coincidence maps that summarise of all the amazing botanical records that BSBI volunteers collect. In the case of the tree-planting maps, these summarise the coincidence of rare, scarce, threatened species as well as habitat specialists that indicate the presence of good quality habitat on the ground. 

"We have produced a number of maps for the ‘Right Tree, Right Place work’: maps for rare, scarce and threatened species at 100 x 100 m resolution, habitat indicators at 1 x 1 km resolution and an overall ‘botanical value’ map which combines all these datasets”.

LM: What should a landowner do if they are thinking of planting trees on their land and want to make sure they are going to end up with the right tree in the right place?

Tree-planting was due to take place on this
 species-rich peatbog in Cumbria, which
 supports sundews and cranberry
Image: K. Watson  
KW: “These maps will help landowners to see if their land is likely to have open habitats of interest that should not be planted on. These might include species-rich grassland or blanket bog with deep peat. From July the ‘botanical value’ maps will be free to access online – these will indicate if the 1-km within which a planting site is located has species of conservation interest. The more detailed data-layers will be available to organisations that are likely to be involved in planting proposals such as Woodland Trust and Forestry Commission”.

LM: How did the idea for the heatmaps come about?

Botanical heatmap showing
priority plant species
(yellow = high priority)
KW: “The UK government’s ambitious tree-planting targets have unfortunately led to some planting of trees on open habitats rich in wildlife and/or important for carbon sequestration. In some cases, it was apparent that BSBI held data which could have been used to avoid such damage and so we worked closely with Natural England and the Woodland Trust to see how these data could be most effectively used. 

"The heatmaps are the product of this work and have taken about 18 months to produce, working in partnership with colleagues in Natural England, the Woodland Trust and the Forestry Commission. The most recent development has been funded by Defra, through the Natural Capital and Ecosystem Assessment (NCEA) programme".

LM: As you mentioned before, the data underpinning the heatmaps comprises all the plant records that have been collected over the years by our wonderful BSBI volunteer recorders. How many records are currently held in the BSBI database? 

KW: "As of today, the BSBI database contains a staggering 50,688,285 records, mainly collected by our amazing volunteer recorders, who go out in all weathers across Britain and Ireland and submit their records to the BSBI Distribution Database. In recent years this total has been augmented by about a million more records each year, and all these records are being increasingly used for nature conservation and scientific research".

Aspens silhouetted against the skyline:
the right tree in the right place!
Image: P. Smith
LM: That's impressive Kevin, and three cheers for all our wonderful volunteer recorders. Final question, if BSBI members and supporters want to find out more about the heatmaps, where should they look? 

KW: "We produced a great summary in our membership newsletter, BSBI News – and we've made the article freely available here so non-members can read it too. On the Natural England website, there's also a technical report and a blogpost about the heatmaps". 

LM: Thanks Kevin, readers can download a copy of the technical report by following the link on this page

Many thanks to Kevin for telling us about the botanical heatmaps and for all the hard work that he and our partners at Natural England, the Woodland Trust and the Forestry Commission have put in over the past 18 months to launch this exciting new initiative. And of course, thanks again to our fabulous volunteer recorders, without whom those botanical heatmaps would be completely empty! 

Finally, a call-out to any readers who haven't yet tried botanical recording but are inspired by hearing about the botanical heatmaps - there's lots of help and support on offer if you want to get involved: Check out these helpful hints to get you started, these resources to help you identify the wildflowers you spot and then try using the form on this page to submit your first ever plant record. 

Monday, 6 June 2022

BSBI Finance Manager running to support members in hardship

In the last couple of years, we've heard from several long-term BSBI members experiencing financial difficulties; we put our heads together to find a way to help them and we've created the BSBI Hardship Fund. One of our staff members, BSBI Finance Manager Julie Etherington (that's her on the right) is so keen to support the Hardship Fund that she is preparing to go the extra mile - in fact the extra 21 km. - to raise money towards the Fund. 

I caught up with Julie to find out more but first of all, over to BSBI Fundraising Manager Sarah Woods to tell us how the Hardship Fund idea came about:

Sarah: "The Hardship Fund has come around thanks to a number of groups and individuals at BSBI (including Julie herself) and an overarching belief that short-term financial issues should not mean people are excluded from something they care about – particularly where they might have been part of the fabric of BSBI for years. I think it is a principle that many will agree with, and for many years much has been done to try and keep all members connected with the Society, regardless of circumstances, but the time was right to formalise this slightly more into what has become the Hardship Fund".

Louise: What impact has the Hardship Fund had so far, and have many people benefited? 

Sarah: "I’m happy to say that we’ve been able to approach a number of individuals who’d let us know that they had had to consider their membership in 2022 for exactly the reasons the Fund was created, and we’ve been able to help them bridge the cost of membership and remain with the Society. Given the wider economic picture at the moment, it feels necessary and right that we have been able to put this in place, especially given the contribution so many members give to the life of the Society through volunteering, recording and engaging with our work".

Louise: Our members certainly make amazing contributions to botanical recording and scientific understanding, so anything we can do to support them gets my vote! 

Now, over to you Julie: How long have you been running and have you ever attempted a half-marathon before? 

Julie: "I’ve always been an on / off runner, however, in 2019, I took it up with much more interest in a bid to get fit before turning 50. To me, running is not only to get fit but but now also an opportunity to free my mind for an hour or two, to relax, have fun and a great excuse to get outdoors. I normally don’t take it too seriously & choose not to check times or distances so I surprised myself by spontaneously entering a 10k race in my village in September last year. I loved the buzz of the event so when my running buddy Kate suggested doing a half marathon, the seed had already been planted to believe I could go further … and here I am, running my very first half marathon".

Louise: Wow, so you're really starting to get serious about your running! But have you ever done any kind of sponsored run before? 

Julie: "Although I’ve raised money running before, such as for the well-known Cancer Research Race For Life, I know that smaller charities can sometimes get overlooked so this time seemed the perfect opportunity to support a new and important cause close to my heart - BSBI’s Hardship Fund". 

Louise: We're really glad that you are supporting the Fund, both with this half marathon and by championing the idea over the past few years. And I see that you've had a lovely BSBI T-shirt printed (image above right) to wear on the day! So, what have you been doing to get in training?

Julie: "All sorts of things! Every Monday for the last couple of months, Kate tells me how far we need to run in the week ahead; now in excess of 30km per week. Unfortunately, I have very little discipline when it comes to following a training plan so I tend to instead make it up as I go along. Last month, for example, I did a HIIT session, yoga, ran a little and climbed Helvellyn over Striding Edge (image above left) with a friend on a rare and gloriously blue Lake District day; a perfect & memorable experience".

Louise: That sounds intense! So once the run is over and all the donations have been collected and gone into the Hardship Fund, how will you be relaxing? 

Julie: "Straight after the race - which is on Father’s Day, Sunday 19th June - probably one of the first things I’ll do is to phone my lovely Dad to give him the news of whether I made it over the finish line. He’s given me special dispensation to miss visiting him on Father’s Day this year so I will definitely want to talk to him instead.

Longer term, I will definitely continue to run. I feel very lucky to live in a lovely part of West Lancashire where there are so many quiet lanes, hills and beautiful views to enjoy. Whether I do another half marathon after this remains to be seen, though I suspect I have "the bug" now!" 

Louise: Good luck Julie! If anybody would like to sponsor Julie and help support the BSBI Hardship Fund, here is Julie's Just Giving page. Keep an eye on this page to find out how she got on and how much money was raised for the Fund. And if you are a BSBI member experiencing financial difficulties, take a look at the Hardship Fund webpage where you can find out about the criteria and how to apply.

Monday, 16 May 2022

Greenwings giveaway: the answer

Swallowtail on Milk-parsley
Image: A. Hunter
Our Greenwings giveaway competition has now closed, all entries anonymised and put into the randomiser, and the winner notified. 

The correct answer to the competition question 'What is the main food plant of the Swallowtail butterfly' was Milk-parsley Peucedanum palustre.

Here is the plant's distribution map, based on locations where it has been recorded over the years by BSBI's volunteer members. 

Although other food plants have been recorded in this country for migrants of the continental race of Swallowtails, the Milk Parsley is the only food plant for the native British race.

Many thanks to everyone who entered the competition via Twitter or Instagram and huge thanks to Greenwings for this great offer which celebrates their joining the growing list of BSBI's corporate supporters.  

Friday, 13 May 2022

Greenwings giveaway: win a one-day wildlife holiday in the Norfolk Broads

Swallowtail on its main food plant
Image: A. Hunter
In ecology, everything is connected and interdependent - the flower relies on its pollinator, the butterfly relies on its food plant - and for natural history organisations such as the BSBI, the same principle applies: by working together, we can all achieve much, much more than soldiering on alone. 

But what, you are wondering, does this have to do with the great giveaway we are offering? Well, we are celebrating a new close relationship between the BSBI and Greenwings Wildlife Holidays, who have recently joined the growing list of BSBI's corporate supporters - they will be donating 10% of the proceeds of botanical wildlife holidays to BSBI, to help fund our research, training and outreach programmes. 

Southern Marsh-orchid
and Marsh Fern
Image: A. Hunter
BSBI Fundraising Manager Sarah Woods said “It is fantastic to be working with Greenwings to celebrate botany and the knowledge and enthusiasm of those who lead botanical tours. It is especially welcome to us that their botanical holidays will now also advance the knowledge, understanding and enjoyment of our own native flora, and help in its protection and conservation.”

Greenwings already has a similar relationship with our friends at Butterfly Conservation and are specialists in moth- and butterfly-watching holidays. Understanding the need for plants that support our iconic native butterflies, they are offering one lucky BSBI follower a free space on a £100 one-day wildlife holiday

You will join naturalist Patrick Barkham and co-leader Alice Hunter in the Norfolk Broads on 7th June to look for Swallowtails and their food plants, plus Marsh Harriers, Bearded Tits, Norfolk Hawker dragonflies, and plants including Fen Orchids and Marsh Peas. Here's a report of the last time this team visited the Broads looking for Swallowtails, to give you an idea of what to expect. 

Swallowtail on a Marsh Orchid
Image: J. Dowding

Appetite well and truly whetted? Then here's how to enter:

1. You'll need to be on social media - either Instagram or Twitter - and you'll need to follow both BSBI and Greenwings. BSBI is on Twitter here and on Instagram here; Greenwings is on Twitter here and on Instagram here.      

2. You'll need to answer this question correctly: What is the main food-plant of the Swallowtail butterfly? (Top tip: our friends at the Field Studies Council do a great fold-out guide to caterpillars of all 60 species of British and Irish butterflies, and it lists the various food plants too.) 

3. You'll need to post your answer on Twitter or Instagram, tagging both BSBI and Greenwings. 

The winner will be chosen at random from correct entries after the competition has closed.  

Here are the Terms & Conditions: 

  1. One entry per account. Entrants may enter on both Instagram and Twitter.
  2. There is no entry fee and no purchase necessary to enter this giveaway.
  3. The competition will run from 12 noon (BST) on Friday 13th May to 12 noon on Monday 16th May.
  4. The winner will be chosen at random from received and verified entries and will be notified by Direct Message within 5 days of the closing date. If the winner cannot be contacted or does not claim the prize within 10 days of notification, we reserve the right to withdraw the prize from the winner and chose a replacement winner.
  5. Any personal data relating to the winner or any other entrants will be used solely in accordance with current UK data protection legislation and will not be disclosed to a third party without the entrant’s prior consent.
  6. Decisions in respect of all matters to do with the competition will be final and no correspondence will be entered into.
  7. By entering this competition, an entrant is indicating their agreement to be bound by these terms and conditions.
  8. The prize is as stated and no cash or other alternatives will be offered. The prize is not transferable and is subject to availability. Please note that travel costs to the holiday, entry fees to reserves, drinks and any other personal items are not included in the prize.
  9. Greenwings and BSBI reserve the right to cancel or amend the competition and these terms and conditions without notice in the event of unforeseen circumstances

Good luck - we'll post the answer to the question on this News & Views blog next week.

Thursday, 12 May 2022

Bluebells, orchids and Bird's-eye Primrose: May report from BSBI President Lynne Farrell

Last month saw BSBI President Lynne Farrell looking at alpines and Pasque flowers (very fitting, as it was Easter). 

So, what has she been up to since then? 

Over to Lynne:

"I have to start this note with the emblem of BSBI, our native Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta as the flower show has been spectacular over the past few weeks. It is difficult to obtain the right shade of blue in a photograph and convey the lovely scent which wafts across on the breeze when walking through a blue woodland. 

"Here, on one of the Cumbria Wildlife Trust nature reserves (image above right), there has been extensive storm damage with many mature Oak trees flattened and branches torn off. Many of these fallen giants have been left deliberately as long as they are not a danger to visitors, and the gaps that have been created in the woodland will allow many of the young Oak saplings to grow and replace their parents.

"It reminded me of being in a tropical jungle where a fallen giant creates the light and space for other species to take advantage. 

"A quick reminder here that if you are looking at a Bluebell and you aren't sure if it's a native bluebell or a garden hybrid, there are some helpful links and illustrations on this page.

"At Gait Barrows NNR in Lancashire, clearing to benefit another species, Bird’s-eye Primrose Primula farinosa (image above left) has taken place over the past few years. Creating bare patches in the marl around Little Haweswater with subsequent cattle grazing, has provided the right habitat for this small and beautiful plant to thrive. 

"It seems to be flowering early this spring and there are many small rosettes surrounding the flowering plants, so the future of what was a declining population due to closing up of the sward is now assured.

"Also just into Lancashire, the National Trust carried out their annual count of Early Purple Orchids Orchis mascula and Green-winged Orchids Anacamptis morio (image on right) which grow together in a large field near the coast. Despite it being a wet morning, a record number of flowering plants of both species were recorded. 

"It seems to have been a good year up here for early flowering species, not just orchids. I hope that you also have been able to enjoy the colourful shows throughout Britain and Ireland".

Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Escape to the Orchid Field: Pete's Big Day Out

As many regular readers will be aware, BSBI's Science Team (Kevin Walker and Pete Stroh) have been working flat out for the last three years (it probably seems a lot longer to them!) on the third BSBI plant distribution atlas which will contain, summarise and interpret the data collected by thousands of BSBI members and supporters during the twenty years of fieldwork towards the Atlas 2020 project

For months now, anyone asking Pete what he has been up to recently, has received a glazed look and the muttered response "Atlas captions..."

But it is springtime, when botanists need to get out into the field, even if only for a few hours, so I was delighted to receive the below message from Pete last Friday:  

"I escaped the Atlas for the afternoon to survey Terry Wells's Green-winged orchid plot at Upwood Meadows NNR (image at the foot of the page) in Huntingdonshire. I've been doing this each year since 2007. The plot was set up in 1978, and I wrote it up for British & Irish Botany in 2019. 

"Anyway, I thought I'd send you some pics, just in case you wanted to mention it on the blog and social media. 

"The crucial bit to mention is that the methodology uses two tape measures attached to permanent (feno)markers (image on left). Coordinates are taken for each individual, so that they can be relocated by triangulation each year. 

"That means that you can see if a plant has survived, assess flowering performance, know how old it is (at least from 1978), etc.  

"When I got to the plot, it looked like it was a 'bad year', with very few flowering orchids. However, I found 94 individuals - only four were missing from last year (possibly dead), and there were five new plants. So a net gain of one from last year, which itself was a 'good year'! 

"Of the 94, 61 produced flowering stems BUT 46 stems had their heads bitten off by deer and rabbits, so would not have been seen without using this method. 33 were vegetative (so would have also been missed). 

"Without using triangulation, I would have counted about 15 orchids, instead of 94! That's a lesson to reinforce for anyone counting orchids (or anything else), I think". 

Many thanks to Pete 'Two Tape-Measures' Stroh for this account - he also took all the images on this page during last Friday's brief orchid outing; you can see the distinctive green 'wings' (i.e. the lines on the tepals) very clearly on the pink example above right - click on the image to enlarge it. 

So, we have now sealed up the escape tunnel and Pete is back hard at work editing those Atlas captions. 

We hope soon to be able to tell you more about his progress and when we can expect to see the Atlas in print or online, so watch this space!

Meanwhile, if you are planning to get out and enjoy looking at and identifying our native orchids, many of which are at their best right now, you'll want to check out the resources and links we've pulled together for you on our Orchid ID page. 

We'll leave you with a pic (below) of Terry Wells's Upwood Meadows plot where Pete's population of Green-Winged Orchids resides safely within the well-managed boundaries of a protected site. 


Tuesday, 26 April 2022

BSBI News: April issue published

The latest issue of BSBI News has just been mailed out to our c3,400 members and it's an 88-page corker! But if you haven't yet joined BSBI and you're wondering what all the fuss is about, read on to find out what's in this April issue - and there's a free sampler and a full free article for you to enjoy!

The article we've selected from this issue for everyone, member and non-member alike, to enjoy is called 'Right tree, right place: using botanical heat-maps to inform tree-planting' and it's by BSBI Head of Science Kevin Walker with Becky Trippier and Clare Pinches from Natural England. Many of you will remember the uproar on social media in 2020 when several species-rich sites were due to be planted, quite inappropriately, with trees; habitats supporting orchids and threatened bog plants would have been destroyed if those plans had been implemented. 

In response to this problem, BSBI has been working in partnership with Natural England, the Woodland Trust and the Forestry Commission to develop botanical heat-maps, based on BSBI data, which can be provided, under licence, to a range of land management organisations involved in decision-making around tree-planting: so our data - those millions of botanical records collected by our wonderful BSBI  members - will help to ensure that, in future, new trees and woodlands are planted in the right place. 

Read the article in full here to find out more about the heat-maps and check out free articles from other recent issues on this page.

Rahallan orchids, Co. Fermanagah
Image H. Northridge

Some of the other delights in this latest issue of BSBI News include: plant identification aids, from buckler-ferns to elms to a new dichotomous key to native and alien roses; eight pages of news about adventives and aliens across Britain and Ireland; a report on Alpine Clubmoss, which has been refound in the North York Moors after three decades; Robert Northridge's introduction to the plants of Co. Fermanagh; and President-elect Micheline Sheehy Skeffington considering how Irish place names can be used to locate rare species.

You can find the sampler issue on this page, where you'll have the option to read it on a Screen Reader, or you can view or download it as a pdf. Non-members can also access samplers of every issue of BSBI News since April 2020, when editor John Norton took up the reins. Many thanks to John for preparing the samplers which give a real taste of what's inside each issue of our membership newsletter. 

Vicia villosa (Fodder vetch)
spotted in Aldershot,
reported in BSBI News #150
Image: F. Rumsey

Finally, you'll notice that this new issue is number 150 - and with three issues each year, this means that BSBI News is now celebrating its 50th anniversary. An article in this latest issue called 'Now we are 50', submitted by Clive Lovatt, BSBI County Recorder for West Gloucestershire just a few days before his very sad and sudden death, celebrates this milestone and looks at how BSBI News has changed over the years. It is full of delicious 'Clive-isms' - the red colour used for the title in early issues is described as 'rather arterial'; the stylised bluebell logo is "planted" on the front cover... Clive will be much missed for his way with words, as well as his botanical skills. 

Everyone, whether member or non-member, can enjoy reading electronic back issues of BSBI News, from No. 1 (published in 1972) to No. 136 (September 2017), on our BSBI News archive page. This latest issue and other recent issues are available, to BSBI members only, on the recently revamped password-protected members' area of the BSBI website. Print copies of BSBI News are also posted to any members who prefer that option (a growing number are opting for paperless membership).  

If you are keen on wild plants and you enjoy the samplers and the free articles, do consider joining BSBI: access to the three full issues of BSBI News each year is just one of the many benefits you will enjoy as a member - find out more here.

Thursday, 14 April 2022

Alpines and a plant for Easter: April report from BSBI President Lynne Farrell

Last month saw BSBI President Lynne Farrell looking for signs of Spring up in Cumbria, where she is based. 

So, has it warmed up yet? 

Over to Lynne:

"It has been very cold and windy up here recently so I am focusing on plants photographed in the shelter of the garden and at the local Alpine Garden Society Spring show, which displayed plants of different colour, shape and form. 

"I know these are not native British species, but it might give you ideas on how to grow alpines in various pots. Most people will be able to find a brick and so could create their own miniature garden, and these examples (on the right and at the foot of the page) show you what can be achieved when you become more adept at construction and putting the right plant in the right pot.

"As it is Eastertime, I’ve also included a Pasque Flower, Pulsatilla rubra, from my garden (on left). In the next few weeks our native P. vulgaris will be in full bloom on the chalk in SE England or oolite in Gloucestershire, with one site on magnesian limestone in the north. 

"Take a look at this BSBI distribution map which shows where the plant has been recorded by our volunteer members over the years. 

P. vulgaris at Knocking Hoe
Image: K. Walker 
"One of the best places to see P. vulgaris is at Therfield Heath/Castle Hill on the Cambs/Herts border, where you can walk along the Icknield Way before heading up the steep slope to see the purple flowerheads and finely divided, silky-hairy leaves. 

"Its stronghold is in France, but I’ve never been early enough to see it in bloom there.

"A detailed account of this and other grassland species features in Grassland plants of the British and Irish lowlands (BSBI 2019) co-authored by the BSBI Science Team Kevin Walker and Pete Stroh, together with several BSBI members who have studied grasslands for many years. This book is well-illustrated and recommended. 

"There are alpine Pulsatilla species too, which can be seen growing in species-rich meadows on the continent". 

Friday, 11 March 2022

Signs of Spring: March report from BSBI President Lynne Farrell

Narcissus at Sizergh Castle NT
Image: L. Farrell
Last time we heard from BSBI President Lynne Farrell, she was looking at mistletoe but as we move towards Spring, what is Lynne looking out for now? 

Read on to find out: 

"During the past few weeks plants and animals have begun to stir as the days lengthen a little, and I now have three clumps of frogspawn in my garden pond. Most of the local colour is from Spring bulbs, some of which are native in parts of Britain and Ireland and others which are neophytes throughout this range.

Narcissus pseudonarcissus (daffodil) is considered to be native in England and Wales and an alien in Ireland and Scotland, while Leucojum vernum (Spring Snowflake) is a neophyte, being introduced into gardens from where it has spread into the wild with the first wild record being in 1866. Two sites in SW England were thought to be native.

Spring Snowflake at
Sizergh Castle NT
Image: L. Farrell
Daffodils, of which we have several species and hybrids, are essentially all neophytes (apart from N. pseudonarcissus much beloved by Wordsworth), including the Tenby Daffodil, N. obvallaris introduced and now naturalised in South Wales. It was St David’s Day on 1st March so were they in bloom then? 

Daffodils are also collectors' items, rather like Snowdrops, but I do not know the equivalent name for Galanthophlies. Perhaps someone can inform me?

Spring tidying up (image below) is also in progress after the various storms we have experienced. Fallen trees are being felled, cut up and transported locally for firewood, but many are being left in place in coppices and more inaccessible places to provide wild life habitats in the future.

Several large trees blown down near where I live by storm Arwen, crashed in to the walled garden and damaged several old fruit trees. Work continues to ‘tidy them up’, so that safe access can be gained to the allotments. This will take some time throughout the country and no doubt the recovery will be compared to the Great Storm of 1987.

Monday, 28 February 2022

British & Irish Botany: issue 4.1 published

Wolffia columbiana in the Gwent Levels
with Lemna gibba, L. minor, L. minuta
 and Spirodela polyrgiza.
Image: R. V. Lansdown 
The latest issue of British & Irish Botany, BSBI's open access, online scientific journal has just been published and there is a distinct watery theme.

National aquatics expert Richard Lansdown, author of BSBI Handbook #11 on Water-starworts, has collaborated with colleagues to produce a paper on two duckweeds new to Britain. Wolffia columbiana was found last year in ditches in the Pevensey Levels in Sussex and later in grazing marsh complexes in Somerset, Kent and on the Gwent Levels, where Wolffia globosa was also discovered. The genus Wolffia famously includes the world's smallest flowering plant so it's perhaps not surprising that these duckweeds aren't the easiest plants to spot.

Limonium recurvum subsp. crigyllensis
on Anglesey: Ivor's paper unpicks
the taxonomic history of some members of
this group of sea-lavenders. 
Image: E.I.S. Rees
We head to the Welsh and Scottish coasts for the next two papers: firstly, Ivor Rees describes a new and distinct subspecies within the Rock Sea-lavender Limonium binervosum aggregate from an Anglesey saltmarsh. This taxon has been known since 2006 but has only now received formal taxonomic recognition. Staying by the coast, Mike Wilcox considers Sea Couch and coastal hybrid couch grasses in Scotland. 

Mike moves inland for his second paper in this issue as he looks at Scentless Mayweed. Mike is well known to News & Views readers because he often reaches out to botanists across Britain and Ireland to ask them to send him plant specimens for closer analysis. If you are one of the many botanists who have responded to Mike's requests, then thank you for your contribution to scientific papers such as the ones in this issue. Please keep up the good work and keep an eye out the next time Mike asks for specimens!

Achenes of three taxa of Triplerospermum:
read Mike's paper to find out how tiny  
differences between these achenes help
identify the species and their hybrids.
Image: M. Wilcox

We also have a paper for the many orchid fans who read British & Irish Botany. David Trudgill has been mining the BSBI Distribution Database to do some analysis on twenty species of orchid recorded in Scotland in recent decades, to answer the question 'are they declining and if so, to what extent'? It turns out the situation isn't as clear-cut as you might have thought... BSBI members can also enjoy a similar paper by David in the latest issue of BSBI News, our membership newsletter. If you aren't already a member, do consider joining us and you'll have online access to every paper ever published in BSBI News, from issue 1 in 1972 right through to the January 2022 issue which contains that paper by David on records of orchids across Britain and Ireland.

For grass aficianados, we also have a paper by Clive Stace on subspecies of Vulpia geniculata. If you are looking at these six papers in this latest issue of British & Irish Botany and thinking, hmm I have some similar observations about a plant in my area, please do consider submitting a draft or just email us for a chat. Editor-in-Chief Ian Denholm and I can soon tell you if it's worth writing your finds up for the journal, or if it would be better to run your draft past John Norton, editor of BSBI News, or there's always the option to publish on this blog. If you have something interesting to say about British and Irish plants, the chances are that your fellow botanists will want to hear about it - it's just a question of choosing the most appropriate place to publish. Don't be shy, drop us a line! And meanwhile, please enjoy the latest issue of British & Irish Botany.

Thursday, 17 February 2022

Interview with Mark Lynes, author of BSBI Handbook #24: Alchemilla

There’s a new addition to the series of BSBI Handbooks: we are delighted to announce that Alchemilla: Lady’s-mantles of Britain and Ireland is due to be published in April. BSBI members will be able to benefit from an exclusive introductory offer of £12.50 (excl. P&P) which will save them £7.50 compared the RRP of £20.

I spoke to Mark Lynes, the author of the new Handbook, to find out what made him decide to devote years of his life to the study of Lady’s-mantles. Mark also provided all the images which illustrate this interview.

LM: Mark, before we start talking about the new Handbook, could you tell us a bit more about yourself please, and how you got started as a botanist?

ML: Well, I’m a Chartered Legal Executive by profession, practising as a conveyancing lawyer, for many years based in Doncaster, more recently in Lincoln. I’ve been interested in natural history for as long as I can remember. Whilst still at school, Brian Eversham (now CEO of the Wildlife Trust for Beds., Cambs. & Northants.) and I carried out a detailed botanical survey of a local peat moor, which is still talked about to this day. I was even a member of BSBI back in the day. Subsequently I was ‘lost’ to birding for around two decades, twitching in particular – charging up and down the country chasing rare birds. It was not until the early 2000’s that I finally came to my senses and took up serious botany once more.

Alchemilla glaucescens

LM: Well I’m glad you saw the light and came back to botany, Mark! But then what drew you to Lady’s-mantles as a genus? Many of us – especially if we are gardeners – will have an idea of what a Lady’s-mantle looks like but may not realise that there are many different species.

ML: Well, the obvious thing for a lapsed (bird) twitcher, is to immediately dive into rare plant twitching! Soon enough I came upon Alchemilla. Seeing that there were only 12 native taxa, I thought ‘well, how hard can it be?’ and was soon up in Teesdale, where I quickly discovered ‘very hard indeed’. This would have been around 2005 and I came home from my day out with a multitude of specimens and photographs, absolutely none of which I could identify. This seemed like a challenge and – as I am nothing if not obstinate – I immediately set about teaching myself to speak Alchemilla.

Mark Lynes in 'twitcher'
mode with binoculars
LM: Oh dear, I’m afraid I laughed out loud at that ‘how hard can it be’! We’ve all done it though, started on a new group of plants and then realised the enormity of the challenge ahead – especially challenging if there isn’t a BSBI Handbook to help us along the way. So, what exactly made you decide to take the leap from being an Alchemillaphile to taking on the mantle (see what I did there?) of being a Handbook author? Did you put yourself forward or were you press-ganged by BSBI staffers?

ML: By 2012 I had somehow come to the attention of Kevin Walker, BSBI’s Head of Science, and a meeting was suggested. We met at Doncaster railway station in early 2012, where Kevin was on a brief stopover, changing trains en route back from a school reunion do of some sort. Here, I’m afraid to say my ego rather got the better of me and when Kevin suggested I might like to ‘do the handbook’, I jumped at the chance. The fact he also dangled the prospect of a small financial grant which would enable me to go to Scandinavia to study Alchemilla was a ‘Brucie bonus’ (younger readers might need to Google that saying).

Alchemilla wichurae - close-up of the flowers

LM: Er, you had ‘somehow come to the attention of…’? Our Head of Science is not easily impressed so you must have built up quite a reputation by that point! So, tell me a bit more about the Handbook – I know that it’s around 220 pages long, and covers 20 taxa. How many are native and how many alien?

ML: Yes, the Handbook covers 20 taxa in detail – 15 native and five alien – four of which I recently described. An appendix includes details of a further nine taxa which either might conceivably be found in Britain and/ or Ireland or are otherwise relevant in some way.

LM: And descriptions of those four new taxa were published in British & Irish Botany, BSBI’s in-house scientific journal. The first, Alchemilla sciura, is here, published in 2019, and the other three species, all from northern Britain, are here, published in 2021. When did you start working on the book?

Alchemilla glabra

ML: The work really started with the BSBI-funded visit to Sweden and Norway in June/July 2012, so – and as I say in the book – it has been a long time in gestation. The actual writing process began on the 2nd of January 2016 and for this and the following two winters, I barely left the house. Pressure of work and the desire to remain married meant I could only realistically work at weekends. Summers were taken up with fieldwork, collecting and photographing Alchemilla from across Britain and Scandinavia.

LM: Could you give us an example please of one of the species you cover and what we can expect to find out from the new Handbook about its identification, distribution and current conservation status?

Creag na caillich

ML: Each of the 20 species covered in detail is lavishly illustrated with numerous colour photographs illustrating all of the key features, including leaf teeth and hypanthia, for example. Many species have additional plates devoted to images of individual leaves, illustrating both the variation within the species concerned and identification criteria. Each species account begins with details of the ecology, distribution and conservation status of the species account, most of which were prepared by Kevin Walker. For some species – for example A. sciura – I have been able to update what we know of the distribution of the plant, based on fieldwork conducted as recently as summer 2021. The identification of each species is covered in great detail also, yet is written in a relaxed, and so hopefully accessible, style

LM: You must have visited a lot of locations across Britain and Ireland in the course of your research. Are there any that particularly stand out in your memory?

Alchemilla neomanifesta
ML: Well I absolutely love Grass Wood in the Yorkshire Dales. I’m not normally a ‘woody’ person, but there’s just something about the place that makes it very special. I suppose the fact it holds five native species of Alchemilla, including the recently described A. falsadenta, helps. If only there weren’t so many ticks there now. In Scotland, I have a thing about Creag na Caillich in Ben Lawers NNR. It’s somewhere I can imagine finding just about anything Alchemilla-wise – and of course is home to another of my recently described species A. neomanifesta. A visit in the company of Sarah Watts, then of NTS Scotland, will live long in the memory, not least for the fact that we broke a tyre on the NTS 4x4 on the way back to the road. So, if ever you need a tyre changing on a Toyota Hilux, I’m yer man!

Herbarium sheet of A. glabra
collected by Margaret Bradshaw

LM: Thanks Mark, I’ll let you know if I’m ever in that situation! But as well as field visits, did you visit many herbaria to look at specimens? Are herbarium specimens particularly useful when it comes to Alchemilla identification?

ML: Herbarium specimens are extremely useful in the identification of Alchemilla and the book would have been impossible without access to them. Things which are not apparent in the field, tend to reveal themselves when subjected to a 10x hand lens or similarly low-powered microscope. That said, I physically visited only two herbaria, the one at Cambridge University and one in Umeå University, Sweden. However, I did spend three days solid in the latter, working until midnight on occasion, before going out collecting Alchemilla the same night. For the majority of my specimen research, I relied on material I collected, or which was sent to me by various BSBI members and County Recorders, together with gifts of specimens and some use of herbarium loans.

Specimen of A. glomerulans
sent to Mark for determination 

LM: Sounds as though you got a lot of feedback from BSBI County Recorders, our expert referees and many of our “ordinary members” who go out plant recording. Is there anyone in particular whose help you would like to acknowledge?

ML: Over the years I have received innumerable specimens sent to me my BSBI members and County Recorders from across Britain and Ireland, such that they are far too numerous to mention individually. One who does particularly stand out, however, is Paul Smith, the County Recorder for the Outer Hebrides (VC110). I receive a package from Paul most years and always look forward to it as I am seeing material from far-flung locations I have never visited, and in many cases probably never will. One constant throughout work on the Handbook has of course been my fellow Alchemilla referee, Dr Margaret Bradshaw. In the early days – before work on the book commenced or was even mooted - I attended a couple of her Alchemilla workshops held in Teesdale. Until encountering Margaret, I was essentially self-taught in the ways of Alchemilla. Her knowledge of the Alchemilla species of these islands is unrivalled and I have tapped into it on every available opportunity. She’s always been very generous with her knowledge and, more recently with literature and specimens, some going back to the 1940’s. Within the last couple of weeks, I went up to see her at her home in Teesdale and came home with boxes – literally – full of papers and documents. My visit also gave me an excuse to go and see the Red-flanked Bluetail which is wintering along the river near Wynch Bridge (Kevin Walker will be impressed, even if nobody else is…)

Margaret Bradshaw's stomping ground
 in Teesdale

LM: Hmm once a twitcher, always a twitcher…. But back to the plants! Tell me about the illustrations: they are always an important part of any BSBI Handbook – so, what can we expect here – photographs? Drawings? Diagrams? And are there distribution maps?

ML: Photographs, yes. Lots and lots of photographs, over 200 in all, showing just about every conceivably useful identification feature, or simply being very nice to look at. Whilst photos do much of the heavy lifting, they are ably supported by ‘hair diagrams’ for each species, these illustrating typical maxima and minima hair distribution on the leaves and stem/inflorescence of each species

Mark's Alchemilla collection
LM: Finally: all BSBI Handbook authors benefit from an editor to help them through the process towards publication. Who was your editor?

ML: There are two things which have – finally – made the book happen. The first is my taking early retirement from work, thus finally freeing up the time required to put the thing together. The second and equally important factor, has been my editor, Jeremy Roberts. I’ve known Jeremy for a number of years now and, for me, he was a natural choice as editor. What I did not fully appreciate when I asked him, was just how pivotal he would be to the whole process. Not only has he wrangled my text into something readable, he is also responsible for the aforementioned hair diagrams, together with all the other drawings and diagrams within the book. Without Jeremy’s input, the book would not have been anywhere near as good as it hopefully is. I owe him a huge vote of thanks.

A. glomerulans

LM: Well said, three cheers for Jeremy! Thanks for talking to us about the new Handbook Mark, the 24th in BSBI’s series of Handbooks for difficult plant groups. Alchemilla: Lady’s-mantles of Britain and Ireland has been a long time coming but it looks as though it will be well worth the wait – many thanks to you and Jeremy for all your hard work and thank you for talking to me today. Before you go, may I issue an invitation to you please? Might you think of leading an Alchemilla workshop at some point, so we can all road-test the new Handbook?

ML:  Yes, I am hoping to organise an Alchemilla workshop at some point once the book is out of the way, although it may be next year now, so watch this space!

A. filicaulis var. vestita 

LM: Thanks Mark! Now, readers will want to know how to get hold of a copy of the new Handbook.

If you are a BSBI member, there is a flyer tucked inside the January issue of BSBI News which you should have received by now. It explains how BSBI members can benefit from our exclusive offer and save £7.50 compared to the RRP of £20. You can either order your copy by post before the end of March or else you can pay by PayPal – just click here to land on the members-only area of the BSBI website (you'll need to have your password to hand – email me if you’ve forgotten it – and don’t forget to include your membership number).

If you are not a BSBI member, you have two options: you will be able to buy the book from Summerfield Books and other natural history book-sellers later this spring. Or why not join BSBI and enjoy all the benefits of membership, including this special offer? It has never been quicker and easier to become a BSBI member and start getting involved