Friday 29 July 2022

Fen orchid refound in Carmarthenshire by 11-year old BSBI botanist

Image courtesy of
John Crellin/ Floral Images
Congratulations to botanist Tristan Moss (age 11) who spotted Fen Orchid during a visit to the MoD Establishment at Pendine, Carmarthenshire, while attending the Glynhir Recording Week with fellow BSBI botanists. 

According to Richard Pryce, BSBI County Recorder for Carmarthenshire and the organiser of the recording week, "the orchid had not been seen in Carmarthenshire for 19 years and was thought to have gone locally extinct". 

BSBI member Ruth Harding, whose day job is as the officer at Natural Resources Wales with responsibility for the site, said that she was "thrilled" at Tristan's find because "site management has been geared to restoring habitat suitable for the orchid to recolonise".

You can read more about the story of Tristan's find in this press release and in reports across the media in the past 24 hours: the story was picked up by ITV News, was covered in The Times and many regional newspapers and websites, it appears on the MoD Government website and was even mentioned by Martha Kearney on this morning's Today programme on Radio 4 (1 hour 46 minutes in). 

Tristan must have very sharp eyes because, as the image below shows, the Fen Orchid can be quite difficult to spot!

Thanks are due to Ruth and her team, to Richard and Kath for organising the recording week (a much-loved fixture in the BSBI events calendar) and for alerting all of us to this story, and to the staff at Pendine Establishment for access permission but the last word goes to Tristan who said: "I've been coming to BSBI meetings in Wales since I was a baby, re-finding the fen orchid made this the best year yet". 

Image courtesy of
John Crellin/ Floral Images

Tuesday 19 July 2022

BSBI Summer Meeting 2022: Day Three

Yesterday we heard from Julia Hanmer, BSBI's Chief Executive, about the day she spent at her first ever BSBI Annual Summer Meeting (ASM)

Today's report is from Than, another plant-lover attending the ASM for the first time.

Over to Than:    

"This was my first meeting. As a beginner to botany, and having done most of my botanising on the streets of London, the only pavements I knew were those of concrete. The limestone pavements we visited on the Southerscales Nature Reserve were therefore both excitingly new and strangely familiar all at once. 

"Here were entirely new plant communities - many of which I had never seen before - jostling together through the cracks and crevices, not unlike their unruly urban cousins who I was better acquainted with. 

"On the grazed pastures  surrounding the path up to the main expanse of pavement, we were greeted by a company of orchids. These comprised Coeloglossum viride (Frog orchid), which I thought were less glamorous, but no less dignified than their colourful neighbours, Gymnadenia conopsea (Chalk fragrant-orchid, image on left), and further along, some Neottia ovata (Twayblade orchid).

"The limestone pavements were nothing short of spectacular, building up from patches to a contiguous expanse further up. This was what I could only describe in some parts as a veritable fernucopia (image below right). 

"In one tiny section of paving we identified five different ferns, including both rarer limestone specialists and generalists - Gymnocarpium robertianum (Limestone fern), Dryopteris submontana (Rigid buckler-fern), Dryopteris filix-mas (Male fern), Dryopteris affinis (Scaly male fern) and Asplenium scolopendrium (Hart’s-tongue fern). 

"There were more to follow too, including Athyrium filix-femina (Lady fern), Asplenium trichomanes (Maidenhair spleenwort) and Asplenium viride (Green spleenwort).

"The number of wildflowers on display were also wonderfully plentiful. 

"Whilst I had seen the Thalictrum flavum (Common Meadow-rue) before, this was the first time I saw its dryland cousin, the Thalictrum minus (Lesser Meadow-rue, image on left), and that too, whilst in flower. 

"Another member of the Ranunculaceae, which proved a personal highlight was Actaea spicata (Baneberry, image below right). We were lucky enough to see them at different stages of life, with some in flower and others with swelling unripe fruit that were a glossy green for now, but as I was told, would eventually turn a deep and deadly red.

"Amongst many of the learnings, one of the botanists in our party was also kind enough to give me a two minute masterclass on the distinction between the native hawkbits, with the one we had encountered being the hairiest of them all, Leontodon hispidus (Rough hawkbit).

"The afternoon took us to Salt Lake Quarry Nature Reserve. A special find here was the Eleocharis mamillata (Northern spike-rush), a humble plant in many ways, but more notable in my view for its rarity than appearance. 

"A small plant I was particularly captivated by was perhaps more common, though one I had not seen before - the demure and dainty white flower of Linum catharticum (Fairy flax) - a plant as magical as its common name suggests.

"All in all this was another fantastic day of learning in a fantastic landscape. With so much expertise around, and exceedingly helpful botanists at hand (image below) who were willing to share their wisdom so readily, I feel my botanical knowledge has expanded exponentially in the few short days I have been here.

"Thank you BSBI!"

You're very welcome Than - we're delighted that you enjoyed your first ever Summer Meeting and were able to sharpen your plant ID skills! Many thanks for this write-up and for all the fabulous photos you took, to illustrate this  report. 

Only one day left of the Meeting so watch this space for the final report.

Monday 18 July 2022

BSBI Summer Meeting 2022: Day Two

Marsh Helleborine
Weybeck Pasture 16/7/2022
Image: J. Hanmer
Yesterday's report from the BSBI Annual Summer Meeting (ASM) came from botanist Laura, who is not (yet) a BSBI member and was attending her first ever ASM. Today we hear from another plant-lover attending her first ever ASM but this person is already right at the heart of the BSBI family - it's our CEO Julia Hanmer. 

Over to Julia:  

"It’s a real treat to be here amongst so many botanists at the BSBI Annual Summer Meeting in Malham Tarn. This is my first BSBI field meeting after joining in April 2021 during Covid and I’m so pleased to finally meet lots of members face to face, rather than just on Zoom.

"It’s also wonderful, as a beginner botanist, to be surrounded by many people who know their plants really well and can show me the features to look for to identify them. Also to share tips about memorising plants, including the way they taste and smell (such as that the leaves of Rumex acetosa (Common Sorrel) taste of apple peel).

Jeremy recording the plants
 that Julia's group spotted
Image: J. Hanmer

"Today we divided into small groups to visit and survey various different nature reserves or monads, all without putting too much pressure on these delicate habitats. Our group of seven went to Weybeck Pasture, a meadow recently taken back into management from a tenant farmer by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust (YWT). This was a rectangular field on the banks of the River Skirfare, near where it joins the River Wharfe.

"When we found our way to the field entrance, we were initially disappointed and wondering why this was down on the list of interesting local sites. However, this was a good chance for me to practice my common species identification skills, including grasses, thistles and clovers. We looked at Cirsium arvense (Creeping Thistle) with smooth stems and pale lilac flowers beside Cirsium vulgare’s deep purple flowers with prickly stems and an overall much angrier look. Discussing thistle identification led to tales of high-speed botanising and how to spot C. heterophyllum (Melancholy Thistle) from trains by the white colour of the hairs on the underside of the leaves.

"I’ve been doing the Identiplant course online since February to improve my plant identification skills and it was great to meet up with two others here who are doing the course and find many of the species I haven’t been able to track down yet in London such as Trifolium medium (Zigzag Clover).

Marsh Cinquefoil,
Tarn Moss, 16/7/2022
Image: J. Hanmer
"Once we walked down the slope towards the stream, we were suddenly in botanical heaven. We found a small slope covered in Gymnadenia conopsea (Fragrant-orchids), which smelt amazing and Epipactis palustris (Marsh Helleborine, image top right). This was alongside a wonderful wet flush with Pinguicula vulgaris (Common Butterwort), Polygala vulgaris (Common Milkwort), Black bog rush, Linum catharticum (Fairy Flax), Sesleria caerulea (Blue Moor-grass) and Pilosella officinarum (Mouse-ear-hawkweed.) Nearby, on a higher slope, we found Helianthemum nummularium (Common Rock-rose) and Primula farinosa (Bird’s-eye Primrose).

"After all that excitement and a paddle in the steam, we sheltered from the sun beside a limestone wall for lunch, then returned to the stream to attempt to re-find a rare species we had a grid reference for beside the small stream. The grid reference proved accurate and we found Blysmus compressus (Flat-sedge), a “Vulnerable” Red Data Book sedge. Now I understand the buzz of finding a rare plant! We counted 34 plants in flower in a small area 3.5m long in a small open area alongside the stream.

Common Wintergreen,
Tarn Moss, 16/7/2022
Image: J. Hanmer
"While Jeremy (image above left), Caroline and James went off to finish recording the monad (a 1km x 1km square), our car of four then headed back to FSC Malham Tarn for a cup of tea before walking to Tarn Moss NNR  and the amazing boardwalk over this very special bog beside tarn. We’d visited briefly on a walk yesterday afternoon but today we had time to linger and key out some of the exciting bog plants including comparing Galium uliginosum (Fen Bedstraw) with Galium palustre (Marsh-bedstraw), spotting the seed heads of Trollius europaeus (Globeflower) and finding Triglochin palustris (Marsh Arrowgrass), Comarum palustre (Marsh Cinquefoil, image above right), Vaccinium oxycoccus (Cranberry), Pyrola minor (Common Wintergreen) and the wonderful Drosera rotundifolia (Round-leaved Sundew, image on left).

"What a fantastic day! Huge thanks to everyone here for all your help in guiding me to find and identify these amazing plants".

Huge thanks also to our CEO Julia for this report, it's great that she had a chance to escape from her desk for a day and enjoy seeing some fabulous plants! Watch this space for the next report, from Day Three of the Summer Meeting.   

Sunday 17 July 2022

BSBI Summer Meeting 2022: Day One

On Thursday, we heard from Jonathan Shanklin, organiser of the 2022 BSBI Annual Summer Meeting; he was wending his way northwards to FSC Malham Tarn, brushing up on his upland plant ID skills en route and getting ready to welcome botanists to the Society's main summer recording event. 

Each day, we will be bringing you a report from one of the attendees at the Meeting; here is Laura's report from Friday, Day One:   

"On the first day of the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland's Annual Summer Meeting, there was no time for a leisurely settling-in to our commodious rooms of FSC Malham Tarn Field Centre, with all concerned instead wanting to get right to it with an excursion. The group of over twenty botanists, converging in the western Yorkshire Dales, had travelled from many corners of Great Britain (South Wales, Surrey, Edinburgh, Norfolk, Shropshire, Cambridgeshire, London, Teeside to name a few), some making longer trips of their drive over here to botanise at other locations en route. Conversation was easy, despite this being - for one member at least - the largest group of new people they had met in quite a long time!

"The botanists split into two for the first excursion, with the groups named “easy” and “rough”, although a warning that the easy group may well walk further than the rough group and would face some tricky botany. The ‘easy, but maybe not-too easy’ group visited Tarn Moss to the west of the Malham Tarn, while the ‘roughish perhaps’ group walked around the east of the Tarn under Great Close Hill, through the Ha Mire and in the Great Close Mire. The rest of this tale will be about the latter group since all this blogger subsequently learnt of the former group was that they discovered Salix pentandra (Bay Willow).

"It has been said in this blog before, and it will be said again, that a problem with Botanical Society meetings can sometimes be the initial chivvying of participants out of the car park. This time I was able to actually get a magnitude to this problem: 35 minutes, or 16.6% of total excursion time was spent recording plants around the fringe and in the front lawn of Malham Tarn house. It was our first monad [a 1km x 1lm square] though, so entirely necessary, and some plants of interest were discovered: Erinus alpinus (Fairy Foxglove) and Cymbalaria pallida (Italian Toadflax) for example, daintily gracing a shady limestone dry-wall, were new species to a number of folks in the group. By this number whether Erinus alpinus looked remotely foxglove-y or indeed Scrophuariaceae-y was questioned.

"And so on we progressed, through three successive monads of recording and new habitats and microhabitats yielding fresh collections of interesting specimens. All to the beautiful front drop of Malham Tarn - a large lake by English standards and spectacularly framed by rolling green fells and patches of deciduous woodland - and the dramatic backdrop of Great Close - a limestone cliff complete with Peregrine Falcon. Of botanical note on the lower slopes of Great Close Hill was found Galium sterneri (Limestone Bedstraw) clambering over a little hummock created on a limestone rock, happily growing alongside Galium saxatile (Heath Bedstraw) allowing a minute comparison for those with hand-lens. Mention must also be given to Primula farinosa (Bird’s Eye Primrose, image on left) that was discovered still flowering in the Ha Mire and frequently after that. This species was a new one for some of us and the compact, trim rosettes and creamy white underside of the leaves were admired - this mire would be well worth a visit at the prime of the primrose flowering.

"Finally, I must wrap this tale short since its relation is being squeezed into a spare moment before more excursions, with the exciting plant hunt in the latter part of the excursion. This Annual Meeting, in addition to general monad and tetrad recording, enjoying the sights and botanical company, we’re also trying to help the LORE project - looking for LOst Rarities in England - that is searching for species that have not been found at a site in the 21st Century. For Great Close this meant looking for Bartsia alpina (Alpine Bartsia) and Polygala amarella (Dwarf Milkwort). Great Close Mire was the subject of the search and everyone engaged. Three individuals of a more common Polygala were discovered, raising false hope, but sadly revealed no basal rosette of leaves which is characteristic of P. amarella.

"However, the search for B. alpina was successful! A single stem of this short but stout hemiparasite was discovered, it has already flowered so its purpley-blue flowers could not be admired but the stem nonetheless was highly distinctive and a joy for, in particular, the hemiparasite lovers in the group. A number of us carefully explored the hummocks all around but not a single further stem of this rare plant was discovered. We hope that the seeds currently maturing in the inflated red calices will help to perpetuate this plant into the future".

Many thanks to Laura for this account and to Wendy for images 1,2 and 4 and Julia for image 3. Day Two report to follow - watch this space! 

Friday 15 July 2022

BSBI Summer Meeting 2022: the prequel

Round-leaved Sundew in Flintshire 14/7/2022
Image: J. Shanklin
Today the BSBI Annual Summer Meeting (ASM) starts at FSC Malham Tarn in the Yorkshire Dales. After two years of no ASM due to Covid, botanists are delighted to have a chance to meet up and enjoy four days of communal plant-hunting in lovely surroundings. BSBI Field Meetings Secretary Jonathan Shanklin has been leading on organising the event and he has recruited various attendees to write up daily summaries from the field, starting tomorrow, but today we bring you Jonathan's 'prequel' report, sent through late last night, after leaving his Cambridgeshire base and heading northwards and westwards towards some very different plants. 

Over to Jonathan:   

"Having done as much preparation for the ASM as I could and dealt with the morning's emails, I headed for the Clwydian hills to get in some practice on upland botany. I was targeting two species in particular that hadn’t been seen in the Flintshire part of the area for over 20 years and also doing some general recording. The two species were Drosera rotundifolia (Round-leaved Sundew) and Jasione montana (Sheep's-bit). The latter fell at the first hurdle, when the comment in the BSBI Distribution Database gave a description that the plant was on a forest road. Modern GIS mapping puts this in the neighbouring county of Denbighshire

Into the valley of sundews; Flintshire 14/7/2022
Image: J. Shanklin

"Having arrived on site, I climbed up and over the hills to the marshy area indicated on the map. No luck with the Drosera, but there was a good display of Lysimachia (Anagallis) tenella (Bog Pimpernel). Back up the hill and down the next valley, which was a lovely glacial u-shaped valley, with no trace of any water in the upper part. However towards the bottom I encountered a flush full of more Lysimachia and at the base, there was the Drosera. I had lunch here, then climbed back up to the hill-fort of Penycloddiau, where a lake was shown on the map. It was bone dry! I then headed north on a circuit for general recording. As water usually indicates a different flora in the uplands, I headed for the next stream and found some Narthecium ossifragum (Bog Asphodel), then Oreopteris limbosperma (Lemon-scented Fern) and finally Equisetum sylvaticum (Wood Horsetail), which are all rare plants in Flintshire. Most of the upland streams had plenty of Myosotis secunda (Creeping Forget-me-not), which might need to come off the Rare Plant Register

Sheep-s-bit in Flintshire 14/7/2022
Image: J. Shanklin

"I eventually completed the circuit and thought that as I had a little time left over I might as well try the forest road to see if I could find the Jasione. It clearly wasn’t where the approximate map reference indicated, but I thought I’d go on a bit to some gorse bushes and call it a day. Exactly at my turn-round point there was the Jasione! It turned out that Martyn Stead had seen it there in 2017, but a nice end to the day. 

"So the moral for the ASM – we’ll make some accidental interesting finds; we should keep hunting in likely habitat beyond the expected locations and we’ll have a great time looking".

Well said Jonathan - that's exactly the spirit needed by our intrepid botanists, boldly going wherever they think there might be some interesting plants to enjoy, to identify and then to record! Watch this space for more reports from the Summer Meeting.

Thursday 14 July 2022

Scottish botanist raises extinction alarm on arctic-alpine plants

Snow pearlwort
Image: Sarah Watts
Scottish botanist Sarah Watts, PhD researcher from the University of Stirling, and a member of BSBI's Committee for Scotland, has been raising the alarm about the threat faced by rare arctic-alpine plants such as snow pearlwort, mountain sandwort and drooping saxifrage due to climate change. 

These species all require a cool climate at high altitude, so as the planet warms up, they have to move further northwards and upwards - until there is nowhere further for them to go. They also face competition from those lowland species colonising upland areas as they try to escape the effects of rising temperatures.

Sarah & Robin recording at Corrour, July 2022
Image Jim McIntosh 

Sarah's research is based on over 40 years' monitoring of the rare plants of Ben Lawers by staff and volunteers from the National Trust for Scotland. In a press release issued by Univ. Stirling, Sarah, who has spent the past twelve years as part of that team, said "Our research signals a rapid loss of biodiversity happening right now, which means that, if it's allowed to continue on this accelerated trajectory, due to climate change, we will see the extinction of species like these".

Sarah is co-author on this paper about snow pearlwort published in British & Irish Botany, BSBI's scientific journal; this plant has declined by 66% since the mid-1990s, leading the BSBI to change its conservation threat status from Vulnerable to Endangered. Snow pearlwort is the first vascular plant to be re-classified as Endangered due to climate change, but it's unlikely to be the last.

Botanists Gus, Robin & Jim (in red)
 recording at Corrour, July 2022
Image Sarah Watts
Jim McIntosh, BSBI's Scottish Officer, said: "This is a very worrying development; Sarah and I have just spent the past week with a team of botanists recording rare arctic-alpine plants on the Corrour Estate in the Scottish Highlands; we hope that this will set a good baseline for detecting any further changes due to global warming." 

To find out more about the plants that Jim, Sarah and the team recorded at Corrour, click on their Twitter accounts (this is Jim's and this is Sarah's) and on the #Corrour hashtag - and check out the coverage about Sarah's recent research into those rare arctic-alpines in news outlets such as the Daily Mail and the BBC website.  

Wednesday 6 July 2022

Photos of aquatic plants sought for new ID book

Image courtesy of Inland Fisheries Ireland
Our colleagues at Inland Fisheries Ireland are putting together a photographic guide to Ireland's freshwater and riparian plants. The book will also feature BSBI distribution maps for the 300 or so species. You can find out more about the plans for the book in this video of a talk given at the Irish Spring Conference by lead author Ronan Matson. 

Ronan has just contacted us to say "We’re down to the final few species for our aquatic plant ID book and are looking for photos of the following plants if possible - your members and supporters might see them and be in a position to take photos over the course of the summer? We’re looking for photos that include in situ shots, flowers, leaves etc. anything that we might be able to use to create a profile for each species. We’d be happy to acknowledge anyone whose photos we use!"  

Here is the list of plants for which Ronan and his colleagues would like images: 

  • Rumex conglomeratus
  • Pontederia cordata
  • Carex paniculata
  • Carex aquatilis
  • Carex nigra
  • Carex lasiocarpa
  • Carex demissa
  • Carex flacca
  • Carex disticha

You can contact Ronan at if you have any questions about the book or if you can help out with photos. Fingers crossed that some News & Views readers will be able to help!