Saturday 31 December 2022

New Year Plant Hunt 2023: Day One

Red Dead-nettle by flashlight
Image: G. Scollard
We opted to start our twelfth New Year Plant Hunt on New Year's Eve 2022, as it was a Saturday so many people were off work and free to go out plant-hunting. Weather forecasts were not great and rain stopped play in many places but neither bad weather nor even pitch darkness can stop some botanists: once again the inimitable Ger Scollard was out with a flashlight and, within minutes of the Hunt starting, had recorded Red Dead-nettle in bloom near Tralee. What a legend! 

Once the sun was up, botanists were out hunting from Guernsey (31 species recorded, including Lesser Celandine, Pellitory-of-the-wall and and Common Dog-violet) up to Westray in the Orkney archipelago (4 species including Sea Mayweed) and from Earlham Cemetery in Norwich (21 species including Winter Aconite and Common Fumitory) over to Galway in the west of Ireland (8 species including Great Mullein and Yarrow). 

Our intrepid plant-hunters wandered along country lanes, around urban industrial estates and car parks, and into cemeteries, peering at road verges and pavement cracks, looking for wild and naturalised plants in bloom. 

Leicester botanists chuffed to find Annual
Mercury blooming on an industrial estate
Image: L. Marsh

By around 10pm, the Results page was showing that 836 unique records had been submitted and 169 species recorded, with Daisy, Dandelion and Groundsel (aka the Usual Suspects) topping the list of most frequently recorded plants. 

Botany groups out hunting in Somerset and the Bristol area, and ace botanists such as Paul Green, BSBI Ireland Officer, hunting in Co. Wexford, notched up some of the longest lists.

But as Moira from the New Year Plant Hunt Support Team reminded people, the Hunt isn't about competing for longest lists, it's about recording which plants are in bloom so we can compare across the years and against Met Office data, and learn more about how a changing climate is impacting our wildflowers. The Hunt is great fun but it's also an important Citizen Science initiative... with optional cake and hot chocolate ;-)

Jack and Florence consult Francis
Rose's Wildflower Key to check the
Ragwort that Florence found:
it was an Oxford Ragwort.
Image: L. Marsh
Lots of people who follow the same route over the years are reporting that they only found around half the usual number of species in bloom. I was out hunting today with my local botany group and although we had 16 pairs of eyes scrutinising the exact same area where we found 57 species in bloom in 2019, this time we only found 27 species, even though we had the benefit of the incredibly sharp eyes of Florence, one of our excellent young plant-hunters. It seems the cold snap a few weeks ago zapped a lot of species. 

But we had a brilliant afternoon - peering at plants in the company of lovely botanists really is one of life's great pleasures! 

If you haven't made plans yet to go out hunting, and you'd appreciate some company, try contacting your BSBI County Recorder to find out if there are any group hunts happening in your area, or check our New Year Plant Hunt Facebook group

You can also go out on your own, with family and friends or follow the example of Kerry botanist Jessica Hamilton and head out with a canine companion or two

Happy hunting - we can't wait to hear about what you find tomorrow!

Thursday 15 December 2022

December brings the final blogpost from outgoing BSBI President Lynne Farrell

Last time we heard from Lynne Farrell, she was just back from the Scottish Botanists' Conference and was preparing to hand the Presidential reins over to Micheline Sheehy Skeffington. 

So now here is Lynne's last message for you in 2022:

"The British and Irish Botanical Conference in mid-November was a great success with people travelling from all round Britain and Ireland. Well done to everyone for getting there despite various transport companies trying their best to ‘de-rail’ us. There were many interesting talks and exhibits but the best thing all agreed, was being able to meet in person to discuss and share plants and views with each other. I gave a talk titled 'Plants, Conservation and Me' which we recorded for the BSBI YouTube channel - you can watch the video by clicking on the link.

"You can see all the videos, photographs and exhibits from the Conference on this page

"The next event takes place at the end of this year and beginning of next. The 12th New Year Plant Hunt will run from Saturday 31st December 2022 to Tuesday 3rd January 2023. This time around, we should be able to potter about in groups, so I hope you can arrange to meet up with a few botanical friends and have a good day out recording. Last year 1,895 people took part and recorded 669 taxa in bloom. But will the recent cold spell knock some of them back this time?

"Last month, BSBI Chief Executive Julia Hanmer and I I wrote to the UK Govt to express the Society’s concerns over land use issues and their effects on nature conservation (you can read the BSBI Policy on Nature Conservation here) and management of habitats and plants. We mentioned BSBI’s role in recording plant and habitat changes over many years and how our data highlighted these. A reply was received on 13th December, which was good in that we know our letter was read. Here is the Government response; much of it concerns farming but there are links through to other proposals which could help in the longer term eg Nature Recovery Green paper.

"Writing the monthly blog has kept me on my toes and made me more aware of what is happening around me, and now I am handing over in 2023 to our new president Micheline Sheehy Skeffington. The image above left was captured by our Hon Gen Sec Steve Gater, and shows me and Micheline at the British and Irish Botanical Conference.

"But just before I hand over, here is a sample of what I have been doing in the outdoors over the past month, not necessarily botanical:

  • searching for Brown Hairstreak butterfly eggs - we found 99 in two hours between 12 of us, which is actually a good observational rate; 
  • watching starling murmurations at Leighton Moss;
  • finding collared puffballs;
  • catching the Windermere ferry (above right) across the lake to see an art exhibition, and
  • standing on Arnside pier waiting for the sun to go down (on left).
"There may well be snow in December and it is definitely frosty this morning, so keep warm and enjoy the fresh air."

Huge thanks to Lynne for this final blogpost and for all her monthly blogposts over the past three years of her Presidency. During the darkest days of lockdown, Lynne's monthly posts really helped us all stay connected while we weren't able to meet up in person. 

Thanks Lynne, for the blogposts and for serving as BSBI President for the past three years!