Sunday 1 October 2023

BSBI membership: save money with our autumn 2024 special offer

Last autumn, we launched our membership special offer by saying that 'in a rapidly changing world, our wild plants have never been more in need of the support, understanding and appreciation that BSBI is uniquely placed to provide'. In the 12 months since then, we've seen even more evidence of how our climate is changing, while Plant Atlas 2020 and the latest State of Nature report flagged how British and Irish wild flowers, and the many other species of wildlife who depend on them, are increasingly threatened. 

We have never been more reliant on, and grateful for, the contributions of BSBI's fabulous volunteer members. So today we are inviting you to join our growing ranks, if you haven't already, and asking our members to help us spread the word about the benefits of BSBI membership - for you and for our wonderful wild flowers. 

So, at a time when we are all counting the pennies, why join BSBI? And why now?

Green-winged orchid in East Sussex
Image: Susan Greig

First of all, if you join BSBI in October, your membership starts at once so you could enjoy up to 15 months of membership benefits for the price of 12 months. You wouldn't need to renew your membership until January 2025.

Secondly, we've expanded our range of membership benefits in the past year and there are even more in the pipeline. As well as the three issues each year of BSBI News, our colourful magazine packed with information about British and Irish wild flowers (check out the sampler page and some of the free articles to give you an idea of the contents), membership brings you big discounts on botany books, such as Plant Atlas 2020 (50% off for members buying the print copy); BSBI Handbooks (pre-publication offers for members, usually around a third off) and other selected botany books advertised via the password-protected members' area on our website. 

Limestone bedstraw on The Burren
Image: Heather Kelly
Membership also gives you favoured status when applying for BSBI training and plant study grants - if you're thinking of doing a plant ID course, such as BSBI's online Identiplant course or one of the many courses offered by external providers, you can apply for a grant of up to £250 to help you. Members also have exclusive access to 100+ expert plant referees to help you with identification, and to 100+ scientific papers free to download from our members' area. Concerned about the environmental impact of your membership? By opting for paperless membership and choosing eBooks rather than printed Handbooks, you'll be minimising your carbon footprint. 

Wood-sorrel in Surrey
Image: Gillian Elsom
But there's a third reason for joining the growing ranks of BSBI members - it's not just about all the practical and financial benefits you'll enjoy. You'll also be helping us to support British and Irish wildflowers. How? Because while many of our almost 4,000 members carry out amazing work studying, recording, monitoring and helping to conserve wild plants across Britain and Ireland, feeding into projects such as Plant Atlas 2020, the State of Nature 2023 report, the many county Floras and the National Plant Monitoring Scheme in which BSBI is a partner, many others are simply happy to know that their subscription helps support our work to advance the understanding and appreciation of wild plants and to support their conservation across Britain and Ireland. 

Autumn colours by Lough Dan, Co. Wicklow
Image: Alexis Fitzgerald
Check out our nature conservation policy and our strategic plan to find out more; find out how our botanical heatmaps, developed with Natural England, are helping ensure that we get the right tree in the right place (and not in the wrong place!); check out the members who won awards in 2022 for outstanding contributions to botany; or leaf through our latest Annual Review to find out what the Society achieved last year thanks to all our wonderful members.

If you are already a BSBI member, we'd like to say a huge thank you to each and every one of you for all that you do, and ask you to spread the word to friends and colleagues who you think might enjoy becoming a member - and don't forget that a gift membership of BSBI makes a great present for a loved one!

Our ranks are growing - by around 30% in the last three years - so if you haven't yet joined us, why not head over here and become our next new member? We can't wait to welcome you and send you your membership welcome pack. Together we can keep working towards a world where wild plants across Britain and Ireland thrive and are valued - and so are the thousands of amazing BSBI botanists who support them.

Friday 28 July 2023

Resources for horticulturally-inclined botanists

Tree Lupin naturalised near St. Andrews, Scotland
Image: P. Marks
Many botanists are as interested in horticultural plants as they are in 'wild' plants, whether because they are keen gardeners or because, as our climate changes, an increasing number of garden plants are naturalising and managing to persist in the wild without human intervention. 

This was one of the many fascinating discoveries revealed by BSBI's Plant Atlas 2020 project - more than 50% of the taxa recorded were of non-native species

Many of these are ancient introductions (archaeophytes), often brought over by the Romans, or neophytes, introduced by humans either deliberately or accidentally in the past five centuries. 

Red-hot Poker blooming in Kent
at New Year  2018
Image: D. Steere
Our 'Definitions' page explains a bit more about these terms. 

But increasingly we are noticing garden plants which used to die back in the autumn but are now 'jumping the garden fence' and becoming naturalised between pavement cracks, at the bases of walls, on waste ground... some are even managing to flower in midwinter

Red-hot Poker Kniphofia uvaria, Three-cornered Garlic Allium triquetrum and Fern-leaved Beggarticks Bidens ferulifolia have all been recorded in bloom during recent New Year Plant Hunts.  

Our in-house expert referee on garden plants (accessible only to BSBI members) has never been busier, dealing with ID queries, and of course there are gardening books and websites, but now there is another option available to botanists wanting to take a deeper dive into the identification and understanding of garden plants. 

Books in the Lindley Library
Image courtesy of the RHS

The Royal Horticultural Society's Lindley Library in London holds world-renowned collections of books on horticulture, early printed books and botanical art. 

Their modern collections are available for everyone to access but BSBI members interested in the botanical collection are now invited to sign up as researchers (this is free) and gain access to the RHS reference collection, rare books and the botanical art. 

Groups of botanists can also request a tour of the collection (free but donations invited). That's two great ways to find out more about garden plants. Just email to arrange your visit.

Early printed botanical book
 in the Lindley Library

Image courtesy of the RHS

Some of the upcoming RHS events may also be of interest to botanists. Dr Mark Spencer, BSBI County Recorder for Middlesex/ the London area, is giving a talk on 3rd August about his book Murder Most Florid: inside the mind of a forensic botanist. This is a longer version of the fascinating talk he gave at BSBI's British & Irish Botanical Conference, held last November at the Natural History Museum. 

On 8th August, Sarah Morrish (who exhibited at BSBI's 2017 Annual Exhibition Meeting, the forerunner of the British & Irish Botanical Conference) will be leading a workshop on 'Illustrating Nature: Introduction to Botanical Art in Pen & Ink'. 

Find out more about these events and book your space via this link

Thursday 27 July 2023

Growing botanical skills in Northern Ireland

An important announcement from Julia Hanmer, BSBI Chief Executive: 

"We are delighted that BSBI has been awarded funding to grow botanical skills and evidence for nature recovery in Northern Ireland, thanks to funding from the Department of Agriculture, Environment & Rural Affairs (DAERA)’s Environment Fund. 

"The project will work to support botanical training, recording and monitoring activities over five years, 2023-2028. We will recruit a Botanical Skills Officer, who will organise training and events to encourage plant identification and recording, as well as working to increase participation in the National Plant Monitoring Scheme (NPMS). 

"We will work closely with DAERA, the Centre for Environmental Data and Recording (CEDaR) and our NPMS partners (BSBI, Plantlife, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology) as well as landowners and other organisations to ensure there are the necessary botanical skills and evidence to underpin nature recovery in Northern Ireland".

Many thanks to Julia for sharing this exciting news and to DAERA for funding this new post - more details and application forms can be found here. You can find out more about BSBI's current staff and officers on our Who's Who page, and if you are keen to know more about BSBI's botanical provision across the whole island of Ireland, both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, please visit our Ireland page

Friday 30 June 2023

Botanical University Challenge: here come the finals

Contestants at BUC 2022 (held online)
The final round of the 2023 Botanical University Challenge (BUC) takes place at University of Nottingham on 5th July and BSBI is delighted to be supporting this year's event. 

BUC is an annual contest to find the most botanically knowledgeable team of students from across Britain and Ireland; it was first held in 2016 and is the brainchild of Prof John Warren, Dr Jonathan Mitchley and Prof Paul Ashton, all former members of BSBI Skills & Training (formerly Training & Education) Committee. This interview with John from 2019 gives you more background.

The Edge Hill team at BUC 2016:
Josh Styles on the team!
Image: J. Mitchley 

Previous heats took place in February and the four teams who have made it to the finals are: the Ptrinity Pteridophytes from Trinity College Dublin (a last-minute replacement for Team Stone Roses from MMU who had to drop out); Malus Intent from Eden Project Learning; the University of Cambridge team; and the Bad Birches from University of Oxford.  

You can find out more and book here to watch the live-stream or here to attend the event in person. You'll also be able to follow the action on Twitter at #BUC2023 and do feel free to try and answer the questions yourself, that's all part of the fun. 

John Warren (centre) at
BSBI Training & Education Committee:
the breeding ground for many great ideas!
Image: L. Marsh

BSBI staffers will be attending BUC 2023, chatting to students and finding out how BSBI can support them as they get started in their botanical careers. We'll have a display stand with BSBI literature and leaflets, our slide 'What Can the BSBI Offer to Botany & Plant Science Students' (see below) will be up on the screen between rounds, and we're also providing prizes for all the finalists: free student/ paperless membership of BSBI. Of course some of the students (including Billy Fullwood, Chair of BSBI Events & Comms Committee) are already very active BSBI members, so they will be able to carry their prize over to next year. 

As John Warren says, "From its humble beginnings in 2015 as an idea discussed at the BSBI Training & Education Committee, Botanical University Challenge has gone from strength to strength!". 

So keep an eye on BUC on 5th July and be amazed and inspired by those incredibly knowledgeable teams of early career botanists! 

Thursday 15 June 2023

BSBI Summer Meeting 2023: Jessica Hamilton's report

One of the many Summer Meeting excursions
Image: C. Heardman
BSBI's Annual Summer Meeting is a regular feature in our programme of field meetings and indoor events. It's our main summer get-together and the location rotates between England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. This year it was Ireland's turn and Jessica Hamilton, ecologist, leader of the BSBI Kerry group and member of BSBI's Committee for Ireland, was there - here is her report.

Over to Jessica:

"It’s hard to believe that it’s nearly been a whole month since the #BSBISummerMeeting took place from the 19th to the 22nd May last month!

Aquatics expert Nick Stewart leads an outdoor
workshop during the visit to Ross Island
Image: M. Sheehy Skeffington

This was a special event, not only was it the first BSBI Summer Meeting to take place in the Republic of Ireland in 12 years, but the outings took place predominantly in the environs of Killarney National Park, a place I have a very strong bias and love for, and where I have been lucky to spend a considerable amount of time botanising over the years.

The organising committee for the event was comprised of a local crew (myself, Mary Sheehan, Rory Hodd, Jean Hamilton, and Clare Heardman) along with BSBI Ireland Officer Paul Green, President Micheline Sheehy Skeffington, and Field Meetings Secretary Jonathan Shanklin.

Our base for the weekend was at the Castlerosse Park Resort Hotel which is located just outside Killarney town and provided easy access to the National Park and surrounds. In total we had approximately 80 participants across the four days, with botanists coming from across Ireland, as well as from across the water in the United Kingdom. Over the course of the event, participants were encouraged to engage with social media and use the hashtag #BSBISummerMeeting when posting about the event online.

Minister Malcolm Noonan launching
 the Summer Meeting
Image: J. Hamilton 

Each day there were several outings that ran in parallel to different locations around the Killarney National Park environs. In the evenings there was dinner and evening talk(s), followed by ID sessions that looked at material collected during the various forays.   

Irish botanist Fiona O'Neill said “The weekend had everything.” 

Here’s the rundown of the outings that took place, and some of the highlights:

Friday 19th May

The meeting started off on Friday afternoon as participants began to trickle in and arrive for a weekend of botanising. Two short forays were made through the Park from the Hotel focusing on grassland, woodland and lakeshore. Sedges were a strong feature, including Carex pallescens, C. laevigata and C. vesicaria. That evening we were delighted to have Minister Malcolm Noonan TD who joined us for dinner and then officially launched the event as well as giving a wonderful speech. The Minister attended our Plant Atlas launch in Dublin in March, and we were very happy to welcome him to another BSBI event. We were then treated to talks by Mary Sheehan (National Parks & Wildlife Service) on Killarney National Park and one from Rory Hodd (County Recorder for Co. Kerry) on the flora of Kerry.

Saturday 20th May

On Saturday there were three different outings happening simultaneously

First off Clare Heardman and Paul Green led a walk along the Muckross Peninsula where participants were treated to Marsh Fern Thelypteris palustris, as well as uncommon Whitebeams such as Sorbus anglica, to name but a few.

At the same time, Rory Hodd and Jean Hamilton brought a busload of botanists to explore Glencar Valley. They first visited an acid oak woodland, and the lucky participants got to see an array of fantastic species including Tunbridge Filmy-fern Hymenophyllum tunbrigense, Irish Spurge Euphorbia hyberna and the famous Killarney Fern Vandenboschia speciosa, which is a protected species in Ireland. After visiting the oak woodland, they visited an area of blanket bog and were treated to Atlantic bog species such as butterworts, sundews and Black Bog-rush Schoenus nigricans.

The third outing that day saw Mary Sheehan and Micheline Sheehy Skeffington lead an outing to Lough Leane to do some island botanising. The boats departed from Ross Island in picturesque conditions and took participants to visit both Rough and Inisfallen Islands. Participants saw an array of wonderful species including lakeshore species, as well as a few giant Strawberry Trees Arbutus unedo on Rough Island (image above left). 

That evening, participants were again treated to another two fantastic talks, one from Daniel Kelly on the Woods of Killarney (image on right), followed by Tim Rich, who shared his superb knowledge on Whitebeams

Sunday 21st May

On Sunday, three outings again took place: Daniel Kelly and Clare Heardman led an outing to Derrycunnihy Woods. Clare recaps “Our group, led by Professor Daniel Kelly, took a boat trip from Ross Castle up through the Killarney lakes to Lord Brandon's Cottage and then walked the Kerry Way across the bog and up through the magnificent Derrycunnihy Woods” 

Prof Daniel Kelly &
fern expert Fred Rumsey
admiring epiphytes
Image: C. Heardman

This particular outing ended up being a firm favourite with those who ventured on it - Fiona O'Neill said "The Sunday morning boat trip from Ross Castle across the lakes is one of those lifetime high points” and Dr Jonathan Mitchley also had this to say about the trip: “At the top of my list must be Sunday’s boat trip across the lakes, at over an hour across water as calm as a mill pond past wonderful green vistas it was a trip to treasure”

Not only did they get to see wonderful views, they also saw some pretty fantastic plants, including Spring Quillwort Isoetes echinospora and Pillwort Pilularia globulifera, as well as the ubiquitous Filmy-ferns Hymenophyllum spp., along with the quintessential Killarney Fern. They were also very lucky to get good views of a White-tailed Eagle that was perched nearby.

I led an outing to my neck of the woods, North Kerry, where we walked a section of the Dingle Way and then went onto Banna Dune slack for some coastal gems. 

The Dingle Way excursion, led by Jessica
Image: M. Sheehy Skeffington

Julie Larkin (joint County Recorder for Co. Waterford) had this to say “On Sunday morning Jessica Hamilton led us along the Dingle Way where we walked across the lower northern slopes of the Slieve Mish Mountains with spectacular views over Tralee Bay. Species we encountered along the way included Large-flowered Butterwort Pinguicula grandiflora, Pale Butterwort Pinguicula lusitanica, Round-leaved Sundew Drosera rotundifolia and other wonderful bog species.  We also saw the dainty Cornish Moneywort Sibthorpia europaea, whose distribution in Ireland is restricted to the Dingle Peninsula,” Julie also got to see her first Kerry Slug Geomalacus maculosus which is a curious species whose range is restricted to the south-west of Ireland.  

Clambering around to see
the Cornish Moneywort
Image: J. Hamilton

We then ventured to Banna dune slack that was awash with Marsh Orchids. Other highlights included Adder’s-tongue Fern Ophioglossum vulgatum, Squinancywort Asperula cynanchica, which is a real western species in Ireland, and the two species of Fern-grass, Catapodium marinum and C. rigidum).  

The final outing that took place that day was to Torc Mountain, along the Old Kenmare Road and was led by Rory and Mary Sheehan where participants saw a mix of woodland and oceanic bog flora, including Brown Beak-sedge Rhynchospora fuscaThat evening I gave a talk on the Flora of North Kerry which featured some nice places to botanise in North Kerry, and it of course featured my two #BotanyDogs Lilly and Ben. 

Monday 22nd May

Although things were winding down, there was still exploring to be done and plants to ID! 

After dinner, poring over a big mystery sedge!
Image: M. Sheehy Skeffington

Paul and Micheline visited Tomies Woods, an oceanic old oak woodland located on the western edge of Lough Leane where participants got to encounter yet more characteristic Killarney woodland assemblages, as well as the scarce Ivy-leaved Bellflower Wahlenbergia hederacea. There was also an outing to Gap of Dunloe led by Jonathan Shanklin, where Nick Stewart collected an unusual very tall sedge in the lake and recorded Awlwort Subularia aquatica last seen in the Gap of Dunloe in 1910!

The montivagant Rory Hodd led a Rough Crew outing up the Macgillycuddy Reeks where participants were treated to a range of montane flora such as Roseroot Rhodiola rosea, Brittle Bladder-fern Cystopteris fragilis and montane Saxifrage species such as Irish Saxifraga rosacea and Starry S. stellaris

Rory and the Rough Crew
Image: C. Heardman

An outing to Muckross surrounds was led by Sean Forde and Mary Sheehan where they measured a veteran yew tree by the Abbey and discussed sustainable farm management, involving the famed Kerry cattle.

To wrap things up, we all had an enthralling few days. You really can’t beat being in the field with fellow botanists and nature enthusiasts. 

We started planning the event and the outings back in the autumn of 2022, so it was great to see everything come to fruition so smoothly and it more than made up for the long Zoom meetings.

As Fiona O Neil says, “After three years of solo or small group outings, joining the 2023 BSBI Summer Meeting reminded me why being with a large group of botanists, and those who love plants, is such an enriching experience.”

Large-flowered Butterwort seen during the 
Summer Meeting
Image: C. Heardman
Thanks to my colleagues for helping organise the successful weekend and to all the participants who came along and shared their incredible knowledge. We are especially grateful to the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) for providing funding and Minister of State Malcolm Noonan TD for attending and launching the event.

I’ll leave you with a final quote from Jonathan Mitchley (Dr M) which I think perfectly summarises everyone’s feelings and thoughts about the event:

“Each day brought new landscapes and plant discoveries, for this visitor from relatively parched Berkshire, huge rocks and tree trunks dripping with epiphytes including filmy ferns, mosses, liverworts and lichens was a major botanical highlight. But perhaps even more than this, meeting with so many botanical personalities all generous and giving of their knowledge, experience and good humour was the ultimate highpoint, reinforcing what I already knew, botanists are such wonderful folk, I can’t wait for the next instalment!”

Many thanks to Jessica for this report and to everyone who shared comments and photos, or helped organise such a fabulous event!

Monday 12 June 2023

British & Irish Botany: issue 5.2 published

Sitka Spruce regenerating in
the Lake District
Image: K. Walker 
We are delighted to publish the second issue of volume 5 of British & Irish Botany, the Botanical Society's online, Open Access scientific journal; several of the papers in this new issue have a distinctly northern/ arboreal theme!

First up, Dr Sarah Watts, Chair of the Montane Woodland Action Group, and an active member of BSBI's Committee for Scotland, has previously contributed very popular papers on Snow Pearlwort Sagina nivalis and on botanical records from the Corrour Estate in Westerness, where she is Conservation Manager. Her latest paper 'High mountain trees: altitudinal records recently broken for eleven different tree species in Britain' reports on the findings of a recent citizen science project to document observations of trees growing above 900 metres in Britain. It makes fascinating reading for anyone interested in altitudinal ranges of British and Irish plants who has been following David Pearman's research on this subject. 

One point of note is that more than half the high altitude tree records Sarah collated were of Sitka Spruce Picea sitchensis, whose ability to spread into upland/ moorland habitats was flagged in the recent Plant Atlas 2020 summaries

Creeping Lady's-tresses on a wall
 in Aberdeenshire
Image: T. Norton

Joshua Evans presents the results of distribution modelling to predict the current and future distribution of pine woodland specialist plants, such as Creeping Lady's-tresses and One-flowered Wintergreen, in the Cairngorms National Park, and proposes the creation of habitat corridors to prevent populations of these iconic plants becoming isolated. Adrian Manning et al. consider the wild Scots Pines Pinus sylvestris of Kielderhead, (Northumberland), summarising debates over their status and significance, and conservation efforts so far. 

We move from the trees of northern places to the heathlands of the west of Ireland for a paper in which BSBI President Micheline Sheehy Skeffington and Nick Scott ask, 'Were the five rare heathers of the west of Ireland introduced through human activity? An ecological, genetic, biogeographical and historical assessment'. If you enjoyed Micheline's previous very popular paper for British & Irish Botany, on whether the Strawberry Tree Arbutus unedo is native to Ireland or was brought over by Bronze Age copper miners, then you are going to love this one too! 

The prostrate form of Variegated Horsetail
Image: P. Smith

Next we go to the Sefton Coast for Philip Smith's paper on the distribution and ecology of Variegated Horsetail Equisetum variegatum (a tiny thing but surprisingly colourful once you get a handlens on to it: it's green, orange, black and white!) and then we have two papers on hawkweeds: Tim Rich reports on the rediscovery of Hieracium fissuricola, an extinct Lake District endemic, and Jim Bevan considers the history of H. tridentatum and its replacement with H. trichocaulon.

The final paper is a fascinating journey back into botanical history; Chris Preston reports on C19th Cambridgeshire botanist the Reverend Richard Relhan and how his botanical recording activities were 'constrained by poverty'. Relhan was largely restricted to areas he could visit on foot and, like his near-contemporary John Clare, he was affected and saddened by the enclosure and drainage of species-rich habitats in his home county. Chris's fluency, erudition and in-depth knowledge of historical botanists make his papers and talks a 'must' - check out this video of Chris's talk at the recent Cambridge launch of the Plant Atlas, where he held his audience captive with tales of the authors of previous plant distribution atlases. 

We hope you enjoy this latest issue of British & Irish Botany and as always, get in touch with us if you have an idea for a paper you'd like to submit; both seasoned contributors and first-time authors are equally welcome!

Thursday 18 May 2023

Getting started with wild flower families

Attendees at one of Faith Anstey's
wildflower ID workshops
When you are starting out with wildflower identification, knowing which family your plant belongs to can save you a huge amount of time. Working through an ID book from the very beginning can be both time-consuming and daunting - so many new botanical terms to learn! 

Life is much easier if you can go straight to the right family and start keying out from there. But how can you be sure that you've identified the right family?

To solve this problem, BSBI has teamed up with Plantlife Scotland to provide two 'Identifying Wild Flower Families' workshops this summer, the first in Edinburgh in June and a second in Strathspey in July. Each workshop costs only £20 for BSBI members and full-time students (£40 for non-students and non-members) and included in the price are two essential pieces of kit: a handlens to help you see those essential plant characters; and a copy of Faith Anstey's Pocket Guide to Wildflower Families.   

Faith has a proven track record in running very popular wild flower family workshops for BSBI. As she says: "Identifying wild flowers is as easy as FFF – Finding the Family First. In our workshops, expert tutors give you hands-on ID experience in small groups. Learn what points to look for, conquer your fear of keys and follow a flowchart to 50 wildflower families – as many as 500 different species will soon be at your fingertips".

To book for one of these workshops, please visit the BSBI Ticket Tailor page - there are still some spaces left but hurry to be sure of a place, and learn to identify wild flower families with confidence!

Monday 15 May 2023

Invasives Week: Plants of Concern

American Skunk-cabbage:
this invasive non-native is on the increase
Image: K. Walker
Every year, organisations across Britain and Ireland come together to raise awareness of the impacts of invasive non-native species, and the simple things we can all do to help protect the environment. 

This year's Invasive Species Week runs from 15th to 21st May, and here are three ways that you can get involved.

1. Book for this talk by Dr Oli Pescott from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, about some of the non-native plants recorded for the recently-published BSBI Plant Atlas. Did you know that of the 3,495 species recorded, only 1,692 were native to Britain & Ireland? So for the first time, we have more non-native than native species on these islands! If you want to check if a plant is native or not, just look it up on our Plant Atlas website, where you will also be able to find out if the plant is on the increase or in decline (and the reasons why). Also check out the Atlas summaries (free to download by following the links on this page) to read about how our flora is changing and which species are very much on the increase.

Floating pennywort:
clogs up waterways; a huge amount of money
is spent trying to eradicate this invasive non-native
Image: Crown copyright 2009 

2. While some non-native species are invasive, the majority are benign and many of those non-natives are actually important for pollinators and other wildlife; some of our native species can also prove invasive - there isn't a clear-cut message of 'native good, alien bad'. That's why resources like Plant Atlas 2020 are so important, helping us all to drill down and find out more. 

But for next Sunday's Wild Flower Hour on social media, the focus is very much on those non-natives that are proving problematic. Why not join us at 8pm on Sunday 21st May, to see images of those problem plants? And keep an eye on the #INNSweek hashtag for more info.

3. Check out this 'What Can I Do' page for lots of helpful info about invasive non-native species: what they are, how they are spread, and what action is being taken to reduce their impacts. You'll also find lots of tips on how we can all make sure that we don't inadvertently contribute to the spread of invasive plants. By following the 'Five Simple Things I Can Do', we can all make sure that we are part of the solution rather than part of the problem!

Tuesday 14 February 2023

British & Irish Botany: issue 5.1 published

Eric Greenwood recording
Dipsacus laciniatus at Bidston Marsh
on the Wirral Peninsula
Image: B. D. Greenwood
We've just published the first issue of volume 5 of British & Irish Botany, our Open Access online scientific journal: another varied feast of contributions, encompassing vegetation dynamics, dispersal ecology, botanical history, ethnobotany and systematics.

The latest issue kicks off with two papers about the plants of particular habitats. First, the late Michael Prosser et al. discuss how phytosociology informs the conservation of species-rich meadows in hydrologically dynamic habitats, and how an example from British floodplains could help inform the debate around this subject in a wider European context. Following Michael's death, the paper has been completed by Michael's co-authors, Hilary Wallace and David Gowing, and is published as a tribute to one of Britain's most assiduous and most able phytosociologists.

Then we have a final paper from the late Eric Greenwood, who sadly died late last year, having just submitted his comprehensive analysis of changes to the coastal flora of the Wirral peninsula on Merseyside. Eric's wife Barbara worked with us to bring this paper to publication and we extend to her our thanks and our condolences. Eric had been an active BSBI member for 59 years and was made an Honorary Member in recognition of his many years of service to the Society. His obituary will be published in a future issue of BSBI News and on our obituaries webpage

Centaurea debauxii
Image: C. Skilbeck
Our next two papers focus on seeds and their dispersal: the first record from a NW European shore of the seed of the pan-tropical Yellow Water Pea; and a discussion on achene dispersal in British and Irish Knapweeds Centaurea.

British & Irish Botany also publishes papers on subjects such as historical botany and uses of plants by humans, and we have two examples for you in this latest issue: Chris Preston and David Pearman discuss C17th botanist Edward Lhwyd and the plants listed from Glamorgan in Camden's 'Britannia', while Michael Braithwaite considers whether the distribution patterns of plants used by humans as food can provide us with any clues as to whether those plants are native or introducedFind out more about the subjects covered in the journal on this page

Broad-leaved Helleborine
recorded in Northumberland; 
note the purple discolouration to the pedicel
Image: J. Richards

We close this issue with a paper proposing a botanical name for a well-known Hylotelephium (Sedum) and a note postulating that pedicel colour does not separate Dune Helleborine from Lindisfarne Helleborine. 

We hope that all our readers will find something of interest in this latest issue and would encourage submissions; here are the submission guidelines and if you are unsure whether or not your manuscript meets our criteria, you can always contact the Editorial Team at for an informal chat. 

Meanwhile, we hope that you enjoy reading British & Irish Botany 5.1.

Monday 13 February 2023

Interview with Matt Harding, BSBI Scotland Officer

Matt at Lees Hill, Stirling
Image courtesy of M. Harding
In December Jim McIntosh, BSBI’s long-standing Scotland Officer, retired and the hunt was on to find a replacement. Those were very big shoes to fill but after a long and rigorous interview process, we appointed Matt Harding to join BSBI's small staff team. Matt has hit the ground running, but I managed to catch up with him recently for this interview:

LM: So Matt, welcome to the BSBI staff team! Some readers will already know your name as BSBI’s joint County Recorder for Stirlingshire. When did you join Philip Sansum in that role?

MH: I joined Phil as joint County Recorder for Stirlingshire in 2018. I began recording regularly in Stirlingshire for the Atlas 2020 project and was blown away by how much botanical exploring there was still to do, even in a relatively accessible vice-county. Perhaps botanists have tended to drive through Stirlingshire, drawn by the montane delights of Ben Lawers and other famous botanical hotspots to the north!

Matt at a BSBI field meeting in Ullapool, 2014
Image courtesy of M. Harding

Becoming a joint County Recorder, using the BSBI Distribution Database to help target my recording, and working on the Plant Atlas 2020 project was a great journey in itself. Since 2020, I’ve begun work on the first Rare Plant Register for the vice-county, which has been a fantastic way to get to know the area better, and has turned up all kinds of exciting local records and new species. 

I’ve also started a local botany group, sharing a seasonal newsletter summing up recording activities to our BSBI Stirlingshire webpage, and am hoping to get a programme of regular meets up and running in 2023.

LM: Sounds like you're really getting to grips with the plants of your vice-county - a perfect grounding for a Country Officer! So could you tell us a bit about yourself, Matt? When did you first get interested in botany/ ecology? 

Matt and Lizard Orchids on Jersey
Image courtesy of M. Harding
MH: With a dad who was a keen hillwalker and fell-runner, and a mum who was a biology teacher and amateur botanist since her teenage years, I was always going to be a keen naturalist! I graduated from a childhood love of dinosaurs to a passion for birding, which my poor parents supported despite pre-dawn starts and the dreaded LBJs (little brown jobs) – not without some justified grumbling, at least in my dad’s case! We spent many of our holidays in Scotland, where all our interests intersected with mountains, birds and flora galore. One of my earliest botanical memories is lying in a bog somewhere near Achiltibuie looking at sundews with my mum.

LM: Ooh that sounds fabulous! So what happened as you grew up, and kept developing your interest in the natural world and building up your skills? 

MH: After university I worked for the RSPB on short-term survey contracts for a few years, did a Masters in Environmental Philosophy and trained as a secondary school science teacher. In 2011 I moved to Scotland to join a renewable energy consultancy and became an ecological consultant, and this gave me the opportunity to develop my botanical skills. After a few years I set up as an independent ecologist, and have been traipsing around Scotland for the last eight years doing habitat surveys, hunting for mammal poo and sitting on hillsides in all weathers watching birds (or not, as the case may be).

Matt and members of the HWDT survey team,
cetacean surveying in the Hebrides
Image courtesy of the Hebridean Whale &
Dolphin Trust

LM: I bet you spotted some great plants while you were hunting for poo and looking out for birds, and not just in Scotland: I gather that you love climbing, mountaineering and trekking in fabulous places such as Greenland and the Canadian Rockies, as well as in Scotland’s mountain ranges? You must have seen some amazing plants and other wildlife in your travels?

MH: Yes, mountaineering has taken me to some terrific places and given me some wonderful experiences. Although I must confess that I’ve not always been on the lookout for plants at the same time, being a bit preoccupied with clinging on! One trip that really stands out was an expedition to East Greenland – landing on a glacier in a ski-plane, digging tents out in a four-day snowstorm, going to the loo on skis… 

Top of the world Matt?
Aonach Eagach Ridge Traverse, 2013
Image: Steve Sharland
I was there for nearly a month and recall seeing three species – a magical moment when several Ivory Gulls appeared from nowhere to check out our camp, a small unidentified passerine flitting around a cliff face (those LBJs again), and one lichen. Not the most productive trip from a botanical perspective!

LM: Hmm, so far we've had mammal poo, trips to the loo and lots of birds... but what about the plants Matt?!

MH: Perhaps unsurprisingly, I’m particularly keen on montane flora, and really enjoy searching out plants in the Scottish mountains. After getting very excited about seeing Tufted Saxifrage Saxifraga cespitosa on the North Face of Ben Nevis, I was amused to find it growing in pavement cracks in north-west Iceland, with Alpine Bartsia Bartsia alpina also at road level there!

Matt debates the wisdon of climbing
The Chasm, Glencoe
Image: Tim Elsom

LM: I think that finding plants that are rare, or restricted to certain habitats, in one region, but behave quite differently in another, is one of the delights of field botany, as many participants in BSBI field meetings across Britain and Ireland have discovered! And those Ben Nevis plants are quite something, as your predecessor Jim reported in 2021.  

MH: My partner Liz is also a keen traveller, although generally drawn to warmer climates than I! Some of our standout moments include seeing baobabs and the spiny forests in Madagascar (complete with lemurs and incredible birds), exploring the fynbos around Table Mountain in South Africa, coming face-to-face with an Ethiopian Wolf in the remarkable Afroalpine landscape in Ethiopia, and being dazzled by hummingbirds in Costa Rica. But nothing comes close to re-finding Great Lettuce Lactuca virosa in Stirlingshire after 125 years (obviously).

Baobabs in Madagascar, 2014
Image courtsey of M. Harding

LM: Ah, now you're talking! Great Lettuce may not raise many eyebrows if you're based in eastern England, as this BSBI distribution map shows, but to anybody in Wales, Ireland or much of Scotland, coming face-to-face with Great Lettuce would be very exciting! And arguably less scary than an Ethiopian Wolf...   

What were you doing immediately before you joined us, Matt? 

MH: I was working on a range of projects across Scotland, including native woodland creation schemes and renewable energy developments, doing ecological surveys. However, after eleven years the appeal of getting up at 2am and traipsing around looking for Black Grouse every spring was on the wane, and since becoming a dad long stints away from home were starting to be less attractive. I spent a couple of brilliant days with the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Cumbernauld Living Landscapes Project, leading botanical walks for their terrific volunteer group, and began to wonder whether there was a job out there that combined botanical recording, engaging with other people who were passionate about the natural world around them, and helping to train the next generation of naturalists. And just then, Jim announced his impending retirement…

LM: So, perfect timing and a perfect opportunity for you to transfer the skills and experience you’ve built up as an ecologist to your new role at BSBI. What are your priorities for the next few months?

Enduring sub-optimal birding conditions
Image courtsey of M. Harding

MH: Firstly, getting to know the amazing network of volunteers we have here in Scotland! One of the few positives to come out of the national lockdown was that we are all so much better at meeting up with each other virtually, and it would be great to use the technology to chat to as many County Recorders as possible over the next few months, to find out more about their vice-counties and the brilliant work they do.

Secondly, the Atlas! After so much effort over so many years, I’m sure that everyone is just as excited as I am to finally see the result of this phenomenal project. The main Plant Atlas 2020 launch event will be online on 8th March, but we will be holding a face-to-face Scotland launch event on the evening of 9th March at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, to promote the Atlas to policy-makers and journalists and to make sure they understand about the huge contribution of all our members and supporters who worked so hard to bring this remarkable project to fruition. 

Matt and the Maidenhair Ferns,
southern England, 2019
Image courtesy of M. Harding


LM: Yes, that is absolutely key in all our promotions around the Atlas, flagging the thousands of recorders who went out in all weathers to collect the millions of records that fed into the Atlas. Without them, there would be no Atlas to promote! After the Atlas is well and truly launched, what will your next focus be?

MH: 2023 will be the third and final year of the Scotland HectAd Rare Plants Project (SHARPP for short), and another priority for me will be encouraging recorders to search out populations of these special and threatened species that managed to slip through the net of Atlas 2020 recording. I caught the SHARPP bug last year when hunting down old Stirlingshire records, and a trip up Ben Lomond had me punching the air when I spotted a population of Hoary Whitlowgrass Draba incana tucked away in a deep cleft, last recorded in 1968! Inevitably some searches end in disappointment, but one of the strengths of the project is that null recording is built in. In some ways it is as important to know that a rare plant population has been lost as it is to re-find it.

LM: I couldn't agree more! And I know you are also passionate about botanical training and have worked with the amazing Faith Anstey on her plant family ID courses, so is that something you plan to do more of?

MH: Absolutely! The Scottish field meetings programme is looking great for 2023 – we are truly fortunate to have so many botanists willing to reach out and share their knowledge and experience with others. I’ve joined Faith on some of her plant ID courses as a tutor in the past, and hope to again, and I know just what great work she and the other members of the BSBI Scotland Outreach Committee do to support and train people taking the first/next steps in their botanical careers.

Matt with the BSBI Stirlingshire Saltmarsh Team
Image: Roy Sexton

LM: I agree, I'm one of Faith's biggest fans, her books are a great way to get started with plant ID. What about longer term? What goals would you like to have achieved by the end of the year? 

MH: On the subject of botanical training, I’m really looking forward to working with Chantal Helm, the BSBI’s new Training Coordinator, to help support and develop the Identiplant course here in Scotland, and hopefully in time the Field Identification Skills Certificate as well.

LM: Great, I'm planning to interview Chantal very soon, so readers will be able to find out more about her and her plans. What else? 

MH: We currently have Rare Plant Registers for a little under half of Scottish vice-counties, but I’ve been excited to discover that several recorders have been working away at them, and am really looking forward to seeing the results. Helping recorders to get started with projects like Vice-county Checklists or Rare Plant Registers is something I’d like to prioritise over the longer term, and I know from personal experience that it is a great way to get to know your vice-county better. If you’re thinking about taking on one of these projects then please get in touch.

LM: Great, sounds like you are going to be really busy! Is there anything else? 

Selfie taken while bog restoration
monitoring in central Scotland, 2022
Image courtesy of M. Harding 

MH: Yes! The Scottish Botanists’ Conference is a super day that brings together the Scottish botanical community. The standard has been set phenomenally high in previous years, and I’m looking forward to taking it on and, hopefully, delivering a great event this November!

LM: Really, really busy... Jim set that particular bar very high indeed, so you have your work cut out for you there Mr Harding! But you'll have the wonderful Committee for Scotland and all your colleagues ready to help you! Meanwhile, if people have questions about the Conference, about Scotland’s wild flowers, or if they are thinking of tackling a Rare Plant Register, can they email you? And follow you on social media?

MH: Of course, I’d be delighted to hear from them! You can email me at, and follow me on Twitter at @BSBIScotland.

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

MH: Thanks!